Many fresh employees don’t know whether they are doing a good job until months after their first day on the job, according to a new report from FAFO. They lack clear descriptions of what is expected of them and call for closer follow-ups. (Illustrative photo: Plainpicture)

Ambiguous bosses cause recruits to quit

Newly hired employees are often unclear about what is expected of them, according to a new study.

Many of us would like to switch jobs. Norwegians are clinging to what they have because of the country’s rising unemployment rate but many will be looking for new jobs this year.

They might have lost their jobs or they might have made a New Year’s resolution to break their chains, submit their resignations and find new source of income.

They might be wise to anticipate stumbling blocks, even after the job of their dreams has been secured.

“A successful recruitment is not complete once the contract is signed. This is when stage two starts, which is to get the hireling to enjoy the job and master the new role as an employee,” write the researchers of a new report from the independent Norwegian research institute FAFO.

Many new recruits are worried about their job proficiency and whether they fit in, long after their first day at work, according to the fresh report.

Doubts about expectations

The Fafo researchers investigated how 15 employees at ten different firms experienced their initial weeks on the job. They questioned employees in various lines of work, including hotels, hospitals and the IT trade.

“Am I doing what is expected of me? Do I fit in at this job? It’s hard to tell,”  said a new employee.

This was the expression of concern from one of those interviewed. The new recruits are in a phase most of us recognise and few yearn to repeat.

“An attribute of this phase is a tendency for all sentences to start with ‘excuse me’ and end with a question mark,” says Erika Braanen Sterri, one of the two authors.

They found that a conspicuous number of new employees don’t fully know what it means to perform well in their jobs. Everyone queried shared a degree of uncertainty about what their employers demanded of them, even after two to six months on the job. 

Risky to ask for help

Employees certainly have a duty to do what they can to integrate into the work environment and learn their work assignments, stress the researchers. But newcomers want their superiors to be straight forward about what is expected. They would like their work tasks to be evident and know whether or not they are performing as expected.

At the same time, they want to be perceived as self-reliant and find it somewhat risky to ask for help.

“This is a dilemma for them. They fear being discerned as ignorant and incompetent if they ask for help,” explains Braanen Sterri.

As a new employee explains:

“I was sort asked to just shout out if there was anything. But when you are new you don’t want to be a bother. And you don’t want to ask for help too often. This has been my biggest challenge.”

The FAFO researchers point out that recruits need information to become productive employees. But hirelings are often everyone’s responsibility and thus nobody’s in particular. Their colleagues have little time for them.

Flat structure can lead to insecurity

It is common for organisations in Nordic countries to give new employees a large share of responsibility for attaining knowledge on their own. There are clear advantages in working in companies with a flat structure rather than a fixed, steep pyramidal hierarchy. But the researchers

acknowledge that this can cause some uneasiness. Another employee put it this way:

“I keep wondering, nearly every week, whether I fit in here.”

“The employee reported having ample freedom in organising his own work as he wished, but he couldn’t shake doubts about whether this was the right way of doing things. Nobody had given him the answer yet,” write the researchers.

Many reported having informal and sporadic follow-ups.

“This tends to make follow-ups fairly uneven and varied, depending on the relationship the new employee gets with an immediate superior,” comment the researchers.

The work relationship becomes vulnerable if the immediate superior is responsible for on-the-job training and follow-ups. They stress that the result depends on the chemistry between the two. Preferably, the new employee can be given a help-mate in addition to the boss.

Fewer follow-ups in independent jobs

The Fafo report reveals that the more independent the job assignments the fewer the follow-ups given to newcomers.

“Recruits in clearly defined jobs such as hotel room-cleaning entail less freedom but trigger less insecurity about one’s own role,” say the researchers.

Even when employees cultivate and welcome such independence, having a free hand can turn out to be an impediment. Too much responsibility too soon can be confused with being left on one’s own. Receiving little feedback and follow-ups can appear to be a greater problem in fields of work where the assignments are not clearly defined.

“Clear feedback is what they miss, there too,” emphasises Braanen Sterri.

A fresh employee put it thusly:

“The ultimate form of praise here is the absence of criticism. I feel like I’m shooting in the dark, actually. I think I’m doing a good job because I’m not getting showered with criticism, but I don’t really know for sure.”

All the employees in the sample had a clear feeling that the employer had a bunch of expectations of them. They found it frustrating that these anticipations were not verbalised by their bosses.

“This is especially challenging for new employees who are expected to work independently,” explain the researchers.

Read the Norwegian version of this article at

Translated by: Glenn Ostling

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