Most people find new situations nerve-wracking. Who doesn’t get a bit scared when they move to a new area, joining a new group, or start a new job?
Human psychology dictates that, when faced with new situations, people tend to feel fear. It stands to reason, then, that most employees are nervous when they join a new workplace.
As a human resources practitioner, you are in a great position to help your team’s newest addition overcome their fears and settle in. The key is to understand the fears new employees typically have, the reasons behind them, and how to alleviate those worries.
But first, let’s look at why new situations are scary.
The psychological reasons why new employees experience fears
Humans fear change because it puts us in situations wherein we can’t anticipate the outcome. Our brains prefer a predictable outcome over an uncertain one. Even if an outcome is negative but predictable, the brain prefers that to an unknown outcome. That’s why some people stay in bad situations, even though they know things are unlikely to improve. The fear of change is powerful.
Potential Psychology cites three reasons for why many people hate change:
- It’s a shock we’re not ready for.
- It brings about feelings, and feelings are often not comfortable.
- It makes the future look scary.
However, even when we’re afraid, our minds actually adapt because they are flexible. Check out the change curve that describes the stages humans go through as they adapt to change.
Most people are at least somewhat capable of moving through the stages on their own. However, as an HR professional in your company, it’s your job to help new employees overcome the fear of change and settle in more quickly.
You want each new employee to feel accepted in the workplace. This will help them feel comfortable, which will lead to a happier workforce. Apart from this being the right and ethical thing to do, happier employees are more loyal and more productive.
How management can identify fear in the workplace
To be able to calm a new hire’s fears, you should be able to spot the signs that they might be struggling or feeling nervous. For this, you can go back to the change curve.
Let’s look at each stage one by one, and the signs you can watch out for that might indicate fear in a new employee:
- Stage 1. If your new employees are blaming others excessively, they may be in this stage. Apportioning blame to others is often a symptom of shock or denial caused by change.
- Stage 2. In this stage, your new employee may start to become critical of themselves. Do they feel as though they are lagging behind or not competent? If so, they’re probably in this phase.
- Stage 3. If confusion and doubt set in, this is a sign that the individual is starting to move through their fear. Watch out for questions such as “Is what I’m doing right?” or “How do I use this?”
- Stage 4. At this stage, the new employees start to test and explore in the workplace. They might start to seem a little more confident, willing, and able to work independently.
- Stage 5. The new employee starts to embrace the workplace. They become creative and express innovative ideas. At this stage, the new employee starts to become more productive. At this stage, they have largely overcome their fears but you should still keep an eye on them. Without appropriate support, they could backslide to an earlier stage.
- Stage 6: The new employee has settled in, conquered their fears, and fully embraced the culture of the new workplace.
Be observant. Once you spot a sign, act quickly to offer help and support. Overcoming fear in the workplace takes time, but you can fast-track the process by reacting in the right way when a new employee is struggling with it.
Six types of fears new employees face & how management can help
But what exactly can you do to help? It’s probably more than you think!
In this section, let’s look at the six most common fears new employees have, and how you can provide appropriate support to handle each one.
Fear of asking questions
New employees are often scared of asking questions. They fear being judged for what they say, and coming across as stupid or incompetent if they ask a question that someone thinks they should already know the answer to.
However, everyone has tons of questions when they begin a new job. You can help in overcoming fear in the workplace by making the new employee feel valued in the team. Encourage them to ask if they are unsure about anything, and remind them that there are no silly questions. And of course, never deride or make fun of them for asking a question.
A good workplace culture embraces questions from employees, both new and established. Asking questions is how we learn. It’s also a way of encouraging high morale. If people feel empowered to ask questions, they’ll be better equipped to seek out information as they need it.
Fear of rejection
The natural human fear of rejection sets in when people are in new environments. This is often allayed with time, as long as the employee feels welcomed and part of the team. Management can help by fostering a collaborative culture from the start.
What is a collaborative culture? In short, it’s an environment where everyone’s input is valued. Management should avoid shooting down ideas and suggestions, even from entry-level employees. If they do this, those employees won’t be encouraged to actively participate and make suggestions in the future. When new employees observe this culture, they will clam up.
If you foster a culture of collaboration, on the other hand, employees feel they are part of the decision-making process. This helps to build trust in the workplace and show new employees that management values everyone. The result? That initial fear of rejection disappears.
Fear to express self & new ideas
Some workplaces are extremely “set in their ways”, meaning they are unwelcoming to new ideas and perspectives. You want to avoid this type of culture at your company. Otherwise, new employees might be afraid to express their ideas and thoughts. Managers have a major part to play in fostering a culture that rewards self-expression and new ideas.
For example, an employee might express apprehension or displeasure at a change in policy. If so, managers should not shut down the comment or discourage the employee from expressing their views. They should instead thank the person for their input. If they think the suggestion is valid, they can then act on it. If they believe the new policy is for the best, they can take the time to explain why.
If your new employee sees that people are able to express their views without reprisal, they’ll feel empowered to offer their own opinions and ideas. If you actively solicit employee input and feedback at every stage, so much the better. This feeling of safety is a critical component of overcoming fear in the workplace.
Fear of career move
It’s normal for new employees to feel insecure about their decision to change jobs, especially if they were in their last role for a significant amount of time. As they settle into their new role, the individual will naturally question their decision to leave a known and familiar situation for one that is new. Most people, when they change jobs, wonder at least once whether they have made the right decision.
Managers can help allay this fear by ensuring the employee has a positive experience from day one. Create a robust onboarding system that will make them feel welcome, and ensure they are introduced to all the relevant people. If you have several new employees starting at around the same time, you might create a group training or workshop to help them acclimate to the company. Another way to support a new employee is to assign them a mentor who can guide them as they settle in.
You should also ensure that your new employee understands their role, the company structure, and where they fit within it. If they understand how they fit in and the role they play, they’ll remember why they decided to make a career move in the first place.
Fear of communicating with authorities
Don’t over-emphasize the hierarchy in your workplace. There most likely is one, of course, but even entry-level employees should feel able to reach out to management where necessary. Foster a culture where nobody is too important to talk to anybody else. This will ensure everyone understands you’re all part of the same team.
If a new employee sees dynamic interaction between employees at all levels, they’ll follow suit. This interaction should not be confined to formal meetings, either. Aim to foster a culture where anyone, from the CEO to the receptionist, can have a friendly chat by the watercooler with anyone else.
One easy way that HR leaders can foster this kind of environment is to organise informal meet-and-greet events or team-building activities. These allow employees at all levels to get to know each other as human beings as well as coworkers.
Fear of underperformance
Everyone puts their best self forward in an interview. But once they’ve landed the job, new employees often fear they won’t live up to the expectations of their new employer. The best way to help them with overcoming fear in the workplace around underperformance? Ensure expectations are clearly communicated, and that your employees have all the tools they need to meet them. For example, you might use an employee schedule template to schedule their work.
Make sure you give your team members regular feedback on how they’re doing, too. This can take the form of informal feedback as well as regular performance reviews. Remember to be constructive and to tell your employees what they’re doing well at least as much as you talk about areas for improvement.
Tracking performance is one of the best ways to let your new employee know how they’re doing at every stage. For example, if time management is a factor, you might ask them to use an employee timesheet app to ensure they’re apportioning their time to tasks effectively.
It’s human nature to feel fear in a new environment. Since most of us spend 40+ hours of our week at work, starting a new job can feel like an especially high-stakes new situation. The employee must put in the effort to overcome their fears in order to become a productive member of the team, of course.
However, the HR team and managers also have a role to play. A big part of being a good manager is supporting your employees at every stage of their journey with the company. Senior leaders have a responsibility to foster a positive, collaborative culture in the workplace, and to spot employee problems, and offer support as quickly as possible. You can do this by understanding the most common fears new employees have, where they come from, and what is needed to overcome them.
The better the support you offer to your new employees in overcoming fear in the workplace, the happier they’ll be. And if they are happy and feel welcome, they’ll settle in and become loyal and productive workers more quickly.
About the Author
Owen Jones is the Senior Content Marketer at Zoomshift, an online schedule maker app. He is an experienced SaaS marketer, specializing in content marketing, CRO, and FB advertising.