The First Couple of Workdays

by Dr. Tim McGrath & Dr. Victoria McGrath

How important are the first couple of workdays to a new employee? It probably has been so long since we were the new firefighter that it is hard to remember. Your City/District has spent considerable money on the recruitment and testing in order to bring the new employee on board. The employee is filled with enthusiasm, hope, excitement, pride and yes, apprehension - only to mention some of the emotions those first few workdays.

Oh, you probably send them over to Human Resources to sign forms and talks about their benefits and pay, etc. Perhaps they have already been fitted for their uniform and gear and introduced to the crew. However, here are some steps to help your new employee become a part of the department.

The first days are extremely important in making a positive impression on a new employee - and as an organization it is imperative that every effort is made to make the individual feel welcome. Let's begin with the easy part - the orientation:

  • Develop a checklist that covers all of the basic items that you deem important. This may even be multiple checklists - one for basic benefit and payroll information; one for the supervisor to cover the daily activities; and of course the one you probably have in place to train the new recruit on basic operations of the department.
  • It is advantageous to have the new employee sign the checklist that all items have been covered. This can limit your liability if the employee indicates 'they never heard that before'.
  • Try to separate items over the course of a period of time to avoid 'information overload'. Cover the essentials the first day, and try to spread some of the other information over the next couple of shifts.
  • Performance expectations - now is a great time for supervisory ranks to delineate the performance expectations of the department. Go through the job description, performance evaluation, and SOG's so that the employee understands what is expected.

Now the hard part! What enivornment are you placing the individual in? Remember the culture of the organization is stronger than most individuals. Even the strongest individual will adjust their values and expectations to fit into the enivornment they find themselves in - especially if they fell helpless to change it.

What will the new employee hear at the lunch table? Negative begets negative. It is always easier to be negative than positive. Negativity takes little effort and of course you don't have to take responsibility for your actions because it is the department's fault - you're a victim. A buddy system or formal mentoring program can pay big benefits to the future attitude and behavior of the new employee. Don't assume the mission, value, and guiding principles of the department will be learned - ensure that they are. A mentoring program is worth its weight in gold if you have the right mentor.

I'm still amazed how many departments send their problems employees to Station #2 and all on the same shift. Out of sight out of mind is alive and well in way too many departments. I hear all sorts of justification for this: well "the problem" will retire in a year or so; it is better to keep all the bad apples together; nobody really listens to them anyhow... Believe me; this group will live up to YOUR expectations - they might even surpass them!

Believe it or not if that isn't bad enough, I recently found the "new guy" assigned to that group. I asked the Chief what he anticipated would happen to the individual immersed into that enivornment? His response was "he has to learn to be tough". No wonder the Chief couldn't understand why the City had hired a consultant to address the department's dysfunction. Duh!

Getting the employee off on the right foot pays big dividends later. A well designed orientation program and strong mentoring system are worth your investment.