How to Help a New Co-worker (When You Have Your Own Work to Do)
The latest water cooler gossip has leaked the news that someone new is finally getting hired, which means your overloaded plate may actually see some lightening in the near future.
But, before you can let out a sigh of relief, you remember what a chore it was the last time someone new joined the team—and your excitement is quickly replaced with a feeling of dread.
Adding a new person to your team in the office can be a bittersweet experience. On the one hand, when he or she finally gets up to speed, your workload should get a lot more manageable, and ideally, your team will become more efficient. On the other hand, new hires—no matter how experienced they already are—require a lot of training.
Fortunately, you’re not necessarily doomed to suffer through a months-long ramping up period for a new hire. Here’s how to handle the inevitable barrage of questions with style and grace—and stay sane.
1. Flash Back
There’s a strange thing that happens when someone new joins a team. While we naturally understand that new hires couldn’t possibly know how things are really done in the office, we somehow expect them to know everything already, or at least be able to figure it out on their own. After all, they were hired for a reason, right?
It’s something that’s particularly hard to overcome, unless you change your perspective.
This happened not too long ago when I was helping train a new hire who had joined a small, very tight-knit team. Although I knew there was no way for her to know all the ins and outs of how our team worked, I somehow expected her to just fit right in, immediately.
Until I reminded myself what it was like when I first started several years before. From accidentally setting off the office alarm after forgetting the code to completely botching one of our daily reconciliation procedures, I was probably a nightmare to my peers. I also remembered how cohesive the team was and how hard it was being the “outsider” trying to break in to the group. With that in mind, I was able to keep my frustration in check and be much more compassionate about what she was going through as she adjusted to life with our tiny team.
2. Set Boundaries
I know, boundaries sound like limitations, but try to think of them less like restrictions, and more like a roadmap for a happy relationship. No matter who you are, there are rules to the road that you just won’t know when you first start out. At least, not until someone tells you. And, that’s where the boundaries come in.
Take my first gig as a manager as an example. My second-in-command made it clear from day one that she had a certain aspect of the team’s procedure under control. It was specific to our firm, and it just made sense that she’d be in control of the process until I was up to speed.
Rather than waiting for us to have an uncomfortable confrontation about me being the boss, yet not having a clue how things really worked—or didn’t—she saved us both the awkwardness and laid it out for me right away. As a result, we breezed right past a lot of potentially painful discussions, leaving more time and energy for us to focus on figuring out how to improve and expand on all the other aspects of our roles and responsibilities.
Sometimes, you can see a disaster from a mile away, so don’t be afraid to head it off as soon as possible. If you’re a tyrant before your morning coffee infusion, make sure the newbie knows not to come knocking unless the office is on fire. Not a fan of the 4 PM Friday afternoon team meeting? Make sure your new hire knows that on day one, and you’ll avoid resenting him for rest of his tenure. Whatever your pet peeves and professional thorns in your side may be, the more upfront and honest you are about your own boundaries, the happier and more productive everyone will be.
3. Get in the Game
Sometimes, you just can’t avoid all the questions. The job is complicated, and the culture is unique, and whoever is joining the team will need the secret handbook if he or she stands a chance at being successful—not to mention, help you out. That’s when it’s helpful to view the newbie onboarding process as a game, rather than an added burden.
This tactic was especially helpful to me when I had a recent graduate join my team. I had well over a decade of experience over her, so looking at her joining as a coaching opportunity just made sense. I knew things she couldn’t possibly know, and it was my responsibility to teach her. And, if I did it well, we’d both come out winners. While I’d have to give up about half the hours in my day until that point, I liked those odds. I ended up sharing everything I knew with her and answered all her questions with the same enthusiasm as my junior high basketball coach had when I asked him to explain a certain offensive play. And it worked.
At the end of the day, a job is just like any other game. There are rules and certain ways to get things done that work better than others. And, in many cases, taking the time to step back and be a coach—even if it’s not necessarily your job—is the only way to make sure your team will work effectively together.
Whether it’s the ins and outs of how to complete the TPS reports or the idiosyncrasies of the coffee machine, your new colleague is going to have a lot of questions, and chances are, you’ll be answering some of them. Keep these tips in mind, and you’ll soon enjoy the benefits of having a new, awesome, addition to your team in no time.
Photo of people working courtesy of Shutterstock.
About The Author
Jennifer Winter is a freelance writer, editor and career consultant. She translates her 14-years of corporate combat experience to help others navigate their own careers, and become advocates for their own success. Need help negotiating that raise or writing the perfect email to your boss? Jennifer’s your girl. Find out more about her services on her blog, FearLessJenn or follow her on Twitter @fearlessjenn.