UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School


Self-expression boosts employee orientation efforts



“Just be yourself” may sound cliché, but for managers looking to train more effective employees, it’s a piece of advice worth incorporating into the orientation process.

UNC Kenan-Flagler assistant professor Bradley Staats studies the onboarding process, the period of orientation and socialization that occurs during a new hire’s first few days on the job. During this time companies typically focus on skills training and building pride in the organization. However, Staats’ latest research has revealed that emphasizing self-expression and personal, rather than organizational, identities may create more beneficial outcomes for firms. Orientation programs with a more individualized approach result in lower turnover rates, greater job satisfaction and improved operational performance down the road.

“By following these four principles of personal identity socialization, companies can really reshape the onboarding process to be one that helps employees recognize and use their unique abilities from the very beginning,” said Staats, in a webinar presented by UNC Kenan-Flagler’s Center for International Business Education and Research. “The result is that employees bring more of themselves to work without additional financial rewards.”

1. Break Out of the Traditional Employment Trap

The typical mindset of an employer is just to pay employees at the market rate to complete tasks and do what they’re told. But this approach causes companies to miss out on the opportunity to really engage their employees, particularly those in Generation Y or “Generation Me.” Managers need to remember that their organizations are made up of people who have a natural desire to use their signature strengths and abilities. Particularly during orientation, they need to frame work differently; it’s about achieving personal fulfillment, not just collecting a paycheck.

2. Help Newcomers Identify Their Authentic Strengths

Before introducing newcomers to their fellow employees or even to the job, set aside some time in orientation to allow them to pinpoint and describe their individual strengths. Ask personalized questions, such as “what is unique about you that leads to your best performance and happiest times at work?” Encourage them to reflect on their past successes, put together a personal highlights reel and consider what made those accomplishments possible.

3. Ask Newcomers to Consider How Their Authentic Strengths can be Applied to the Job

Invite newcomers to brainstorm how they can incorporate their personal strengths and experiences into the new position. This simple exercise helps employees view the job as an opportunity to use their strengths, while integrating their own personal purpose and motivations into the job’s parameters.

4. Facilitate Introductions to Other Organizational Members

Structure introductions so that employees have the opportunity to present themselves in a way that emphasizes their individual strengths. Rather than asking obscure icebreaker questions, have newcomers share moments when they were at their best. By talking about their successes, new hires will have a chance to affirm themselves in a new setting and construct a social identity around their strengths.