Monday, 11 November 2013

Organisational newcomers respond to ebbing support by making less effort to fit in

New research about the experience of new entrants into an organisation, suggests that early support from co-workers and supervisors tails off across the first 100 days. The study shows this to matter at two levels:  week on week, support influences the newcomer's state of mind and how much effort they make to settle into the workplace. And across those 100 days and beyond, it can influence successful integration as well as efforts put back into the organisation.

Typically, research on organisational entrants focuses either on monolithic organisational factors such as on-boarding (how entrants are introduced to the organisation’s people and processes, or examines the newcomer as if they were an autonomous agent, freely choosing whether to put effort in to integration. This study, headed up by John Kammeyer-Mueller, instead focuses on the local circumstances of the newcomer – the behaviour of the people they see day-in, day-out – and investigates whether these circumstances shape the efforts that the newcomer makes. After all, 'pro-socialisation behaviours' such as asking questions, seeking feedback, or making overtures for closer relationships all involve making demands on people still unfamiliar to you. Isn't it possible that newcomers are more prepared to do so when they see co-workers and supervisors as supportive rather than hostile?

The results of this study suggest so. In their first week in a non-faculty position at a research university, the 255 participants performed more pro-socialisation behaviours when they received higher levels of support from supervisors or from co-workers.  Data collected over the following thirteen weeks showed that when support declined - which it tended to do, steeply at first before levelling off - pro-socialisation would also fall; when support happened to increase, then these behaviours also tended to increase. Support was also related to positive mood in a similar manner.

Each week newcomers also recorded levels of undermining behaviours, dark-side tendencies measured through statements like '[this person] made my life difficult'. Although undermining behaviours affected weekly mood, they had no effect on pro-socialisation behaviours. One reviewer speculates that an effect could be masked by individual differences, with some participants exposed to hostility becoming dispirited, while others actually try harder, energised to succeed in spite of the climate.

What about longer-term consequences? Co-worker and supervisor support affected several measures taken at the end of the 14 weeks, with more support (initially or in an increasing trend over time) leading to higher organisational commitment and more proactive efforts to solve work problems, together with fewer withdrawal behaviours such as skipping meetings. Each effect was mediated by the higher levels of pro-socialisation behaviours produced by a supportive climate. Undermining had less sweeping effects, but one potent one: newcomers exposed to undermining supervisors were more likely to leave the organisation voluntarily within the year.

There's a growing body of evidence that suggests the first 100 days of a job are crucial. Jobholders undergo more attitude change during this period than any other of their tenure; this time shapes our idea of 'what it is to work here'. In the current study, we see that when new entrants fear asking too much of others during this period, they will tend to foresake the very behaviours that will help them be useful to the organisation at the end of it. But if we start rewarding early support behaviours, and give leeway to co-workers and supervisors so they also have time to help out, this gives newcomers the support they need to make an impact.

ResearchBlogging.orgJohn Kammeyer-Mueller, Connie Wanberg, Alex Rubenstein, & Zhaoli Song (2013). Support, Undermining and Newcomer Socialization: Fitting in During the First 90 Days Academy of Management Journal, 56 (4), 1104-1124 DOI: 10.5465/amj.2010.0791

Further reading:
Ashforth, B. E., Sluss, D. M., & Saks, A. M. 2007. Socialization tactics, proactive behavior, and newcomer learning: Integrating socialization models. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 70: 447–462.


  1. Nice article.This describes more information about the Onboarding process of an organization.

  2. Great article. Would love to see this study replicated in different sectors.
    Please could someone point me at the evidence for 'Jobholders undergo more attitude change during this period than any other of their tenure'? I'd love to get my hands on that!

  3. Hi again Dawn
    Here's the cite:
    "Research has furthermore shown that the first three months of a newcomer’s tenure
    represent the greatest amount of change in work attitudes (Lance et al., 2000)."

    Lance, C. E., Vandenberg, R. J., & Self, R. M. 2000. Latent growth models of individual change: The case of newcomer adjustment. Organizational Behavior & Human Decision Processes, 83: 107–140.

    Hope you find it useful!