The Japan News by The Yomiuri Shimbun

Home > Opinion > Society



Does Socialization Matter for New Employee Development?

Norihiko Takeuchi
Professor at the Waseda Business School (Graduate School of Business and Finance)

The Science of New Employee Development

The Golden Week holidays have ended and the spring greenery here in Japan creates a refreshing environment for all to enjoy. It is also the time of year when new graduates, having finished school at the end of March, join the work force and are assigned to their posts at their companies after completing initial training. It is during this period of the year that we often come across articles and news on how to nurture or train new employees. As best practices and tips on this topic are widely available in the media, I will focus, from a slightly scientific perspective, on what issues companies should address when training new employees and the reasons for doing it.

Many readers may wonder if human resource development for “newcomers” has ever been the subject of scientific research or knowledge in the first place. In fact, there are a number of studies on this issue in business administration, especially organizational behavior, which is an interdisciplinary field of business administration and psychology. Human resource development for newcomers has been a major topic in this field. Although research on this topic has predominantly taken place outside Japan, a Japanese research team, of which I am a leader, has been conducting empirical research and disseminating findings on new employee development techniques of Japanese companies for the past 10 years, with attention to the socialization of new employees (newcomer socialization).

Simply put, newcomer socialization is a process through which new employees of a company become part of the organization. Becoming part of the company does not merely mean signing an employment contract; it refers to the way new hires adapt to both the organization and their job, or more specifically, their acceptance of the company's goals, values, rules and culture, their recognition of their role at work, as well as the acquisition of skills and knowledge suitable for the said role. Many studies have found that new employees who successfully complete this process of socialization develop a sense of belonging to or a feeling of identity with the company, which will consequently improve their job performance and make them more eager to stay in, and contribute to the company. From an organizational point of view, high-quality socialization of as many new employees, as quickly as possible, is a crucial employee development issue for many companies.

Three Effective Approaches to New Employee Development

How can we effectively nurture new employees? Overgeneralization on this matter is, of course, dangerous, yet our research on Japanese companies (and their new employees), as well as a review of research results over the past 30 years in this field, indicate that in general, the following three approaches are highly effective for increasing newcomer socialization.

Table 1. Proven approaches to new employee development from past research and their benefits to socialization

Highly effective for socialization Less effective for socialization
Off-the-job training:
一Group training that takes place by taking the new hires away from the workplace temporarily。
Having new employees start working immediately, without group training
Career sharing program:
Sharing specific education programs and career plans with new employees
Having vague education programs and career paths (e.g. by not establishing or communicating the existence of such programs)
Workplace support:
Have role models support socialization (e.g. supervisors, senior colleagues, mentors)
Having no role models or taking the stance that new employees are solely responsible for adapting to the workplace
(1) Off-the-job training

The first approach is off-the-job training. This is a type of group training which takes place by having new employees leave their workplace temporarily. This may be surprising and may make some readers think "Really? Is it that important?" However, even among veteran or senior employees who have received many training sessions, probably only a few have completely forgotten about the initial training they went through decades ago. There is a behavioral principle (known as uncertainty reduction theory) that the more uncertain the situation is, the more one would try to obtain information about the situation, in order to reduce uncertainty. New employees, having just joined the company and starting their careers, face a very high level of uncertainty about issues such as their new job, relationships with people at work, their career and life ahead. Going through group training just after joining the company provides a crucial opportunity for new employees to gather information so as to reduce the uncertainties in their new environment.

Initial off-the-job training is also beneficial for new employees in that it helps them form a community with their fellow newcomers. In Japanese companies, douki, or "fellow employees" who join a company at the same time, is an important community (rather than network) that stretches beyond departmental boundaries. This douki community, formed through the joys and hardships shared during initial training, plays an essential role in promoting socialization (the process of becoming a member of the company), working autonomously through mutual communication even after the new employees have joined their respective departments.

(2) Career sharing program

The second approach is career sharing program. This is related to company providing explicit explanations to new employees about specific education programs and career plans in their future. This approach has also been continuously proven by studies all over the world to be effective in newcomer socialization. Our team conducted several follow-up surveys on Japanese companies and their employees, and found that new employees who were aware that they had been introduced to a career program in any way within three months of employment scored significantly higher than those who were not aware, for indicators such as willingness to contribute to the company, agreement of values with those of the company, intention of staying in the company and so forth in both 6-month and 12-month follow-up surveys. Interestingly enough, studies show that a career sharing program is, despite its high ability to promote socialization, "the least frequently used" among the three effective approaches described in this article.

Why are companies less eager to use this approach? There are at least two reasons or cases. One is the case where the company has no education or career planning programs (even in a provisional form) for new employees. When we interviewed the human resources managers of such companies to find out more, we quite often come to the conclusion that the problem lies in the company or business unit's strategy being too ambiguous, or in the lack of coordination between the company's strategy and human resources management, especially hiring and education.

The other case is one where the company is unaware of the importance of explicitly communicating their education programs and career plans to its younger staff. Although dividing the career by age is not always appropriate, past career studies have found that people in their early to late 20s, or at least those who have entered the labor market within few years since they have left school, are regarded as being at the “exploration” or “trial” stage in their career development. At this stage of their professional life, a person's identity and career plan, which would form the basis of their future, are more vague than specific for the most part. In this regard, this is the time when the person needs something that would guide them in their career. People at this stage of their career are also more oriented toward self-development than those in other generations are.

This means that presenting clear education programs and career plans to new employees will greatly help them determine where their self-development should be directed in the interests of the company and understand in which areas they can contribute to the company. Whether individual employees accept these programs and plans without resistance is another issue. The career development of newcomers and young employees is an indispensable aspect of human resource development.

(3) Workplace support

The third approach is workplace support, which is as effective as the preceding two approaches for socialization. This refers to supporting the process of "becoming a member of the company" for new employees who begin working at their respective departments, with support provided through the use of role models, such as supervisors, senior colleagues, and mentors. Our research has found that new employees who feel that they are being supported by their supervisors and senior colleagues after being assigned to their departments can smoothly adapt to the workplace.

Past studies also indicate that supervisors and senior colleagues have different roles to play in supporting new employees, and that the type of support they provide is also different (especially in terms of the information they give when educating new employees). Individuals who smoothly socialized into their company are often found to have gathered information from their supervisors that is closely related to their duties (e.g., work preparations and procedures, expected roles, goals to achieve, feedback on their own performance), and from senior colleagues social information unrelated to their duties (e.g., corporate or workplace culture, interpersonal relationships, feedback on their non-work-related behavior).

Naturally, different people have different feelings about how well they fit into the culture of the company they have just joined, and may therefore need a variety of support from their supervisors and senior colleagues. Our research shows that when new employees readily accept the company's values at the beginning of their employment, subsequent work-related support from their “supervisors” promote their socialization. In contrast, new employees who are less able to accept the company's values at first demonstrate that subsequent social support from “colleagues” helps with their socialization. These findings suggest that companies should, while individually monitoring the development of new employees, have an adequate agent, such as a supervisor or senior colleague, to provide suitable support.

Importance of Systematic, Rather Than Individual, Approaches

Explanations above are the three new employee development approaches that have been proven effective by past studies, with emphasis on why they are effective. This is because I believe that by learning the "know-why" rather than the know-how, companies and organizations will be able to understand the nature of new employee development, and thus able to apply these approaches to their specific context or situation.

Lastly, there is an essential point to take note of: the above approaches should be applied systematically, rather than individually as in a cafeteria program. At the very least, our research evidence from Japan shows that, if a company chooses to only implement off-the-job training while dismissing the other two (career sharing program and workplace support), the mismatch of values between new employees and the company will be greater six months later, and new employees will show a stronger urge to leave the company a year later, which may be worrisome for companies. Of course, the results vary depending on the kind of training provided, but this will at least make companies realize that merely offering training is not enough. No matter how impressive the company president's or executive's welcoming speech to new employees is, it will not leave a lasting impression in them if the company has no employee development policy or fails to provide appropriate workplace support. It is also important to know that people tend to experience a reality shock right after they join a company. It is even proven that when there is a big difference between expectation and reality, new recruits could end up with psychological trauma.

Norihiko Takeuchi
Professor at the Waseda Business School (Graduate School of Business and Finance)

Norihiko Takeuchi received his Ph.D. from the Graduate School of International Development, Nagoya University. He specializes in organizational behavior and human resource management. Prior to joining Waseda Business School in 2012, he served as an Associate Professor at Tokyo University of Science and Aoyama Gakuin University, his current post as of April 2017. He has also held positions such as the President of the Association of Japanese Business Studies (AJBS) of the U.S., Editorial Advisor to the European journal Evidence-based HRM, Director for the Japanese Association of Industrial/Organizational Psychology (JAIOP), and a Board Member of the Academic Association for Organizational Science (AAOS). He has developed many organizational diagnosis survey tools and given numerous lectures and seminars for companies. He is a winner of the 2015 Waseda Research Award (High-Impact Publication).