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KHO Hyun-Cheol

Experienced Employees Need Help, Too

KHO Hyun-Cheol

Nov. 5, 2012

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Heightened competition and shorter product lifecycles are compelling companies to hire experienced workers in the hopes of gaining the abilities needed to produce fresh ideas and drive new ventures. At the same time, irregular or contract employment is more prevalent and workers are increasingly willing to sacrifice job security for better perks and more opportunity for personal growth. While these dynamics appear to mesh for an efficient job market for experienced labor, both management and workers often end up losing because companies fail to smoothly absorb experienced personnel.

Companies realize the value of mentoring inexperienced employees but they give scant attention to newly hired experienced personnel, assuming they already possess the tools to adapt. In reality, the latter workers often find it more difficult to assimilate. To make matters worse, they are quick to move on if they don't reach a personal comfort level, resulting in lost time and effort for everyone concerned. The main culprits usually are misperceptions and faulty assumptions between the employer and the experienced employee.

One impediment involves job responsibilities. Experienced employees may feel their assigned tasks do not mesh with their skills and experience, and their employer's desired results are thus too difficult to attain. If employers do not recognize the mismatch of abilities and work assignment, they feel the employee has fallen short of what his or her resume suggests. Another potential miscommunication involves networking at the workplace. Establishing relationships with the veterans at any company can be difficult because of invisible social barriers. Again, if management does not realize the circumstances it could jump to the conclusion that the new hire is aloof or not making an effort to fit in. A third trouble area involves organizational culture and operations. For example, if certain tasks require some collaboration or reporting but newly hired experienced employers are not told, management may mistakenly conclude that they are only concerned with their own duties and have no feeling of attachment.

To prevent confusion, companies need to rethink their hiring process. The human resources department of companies is geared to choosing inexperienced job applicants. The metrics are calibrated toward the growth potential of candidates and thus not suitable for assessing seasoned workers. Hence, the heads of specific departments should take the lead in hiring experienced personnel, from screening the applications to technical interviews, because they have a much better sense of the applicant's work experience and abilities. Moreover, department heads are better positioned to determine if an applicant is suitable for a specific position that requires unique talent. Finally, departments can better communicate duties, expectations and procedures, which will prevent misunderstandings and frustration later.

Secondly, companies must have a program in place to adjust the work habits of newly hired work veterans, who will naturally be attuned to the ways of their former workplace. They must undergo a rapid and intensive orientation to break away from past practices. Organizational conflicts are minimized when new employees are provided with as much information on the organization and the department as possible even before they start. And upon arrival, companies should provide experienced workers with mentoring programs to provide them with practical advice and information to adapt to the workplace just as they do with inexperienced new hires. Still, the organizational socialization process is a bilateral exchange. If the experienced employees do not invest themselves in the process they will not make a smooth transition. To wit, job applicants who are wedded to a working style that would cause friction must be shelved during the screening process.

Thirdly, support for in-house networking must be provided. Companies recognize the importance of helping new inexperienced employees acquire the basic knowledge and know-how to perform their job. But in assimilating experienced workers a different dimension is required. For them, what matters the most in fully utilizing experienced talent is not so much what you know but who you know. Generally, employees who are quick to adapt to an organization all have the commonality that they have established expansive official and unofficial human networks during the early stages. To aid this, 3M, the sprawling US maker of household and office products, regularly holds technical forums for its engineers to help them broaden their networks, exchange specialized knowledge and promote new ideas.

Ultimately, a company must aggregate the skills and know-how of both newly hired inexperienced and experienced employees, and steer the whole organization toward the same goals and strategies. In addition experienced workers need to be given opportunities to advance, just as inexperienced cohorts are groomed to climb the corporate ladder. This will help establish a happy equilibrium and foster high morale and sense of belonging among all new hires.

This column originally appeared in Korea JoongAng Daily.
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