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"Fitting in" in the workplace requires some awareness of the unwritten rules. Often a new employee is left on his/her own to figure this out, sometimes resulting in a less-than-positive experience in the first few months.

When we hire a new employee how can we help ensure they know what our unwritten culture rules are so they don't have conflicts throughout their onboarding process?

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    Could you make it more clear what sorts of rules you have in mind? Are these truly distinct parts of your specific workplace culture, or more general cultural differences that are common between workplaces? – Bryan Krause Jul 25 '18 at 16:13
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    why not make them written? – bharal Jul 27 '18 at 6:33
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This is usually why new starters are taken out for lunch or shown the ropes by members of their team. If no one appears to have offered, there's nothing wrong with doing so yourself, or suggesting it to someone else.

The informal lunch setting, sometime during the first week, is the perfect time to bring up the things you won't find written down anywhere. Unwritten rules demand an informal atmosphere, after all.

That's the unofficial approach. If, on the other hand, you want to smoothen the onboarding process, have a look at Matthew Gilliard's Supporting a new starter, specifically the Onboarding buddy section:

Goal: Make sure the initial onboarding instructions are accurate and provide help with things which starters need to do only once.

The onboarding buddy is usually expected to be the previous most recent new starter (who has it all freshest in their memory). I’ve worked with this arrangement before and it’s helpful for keeping things up-to-date.


edit Incorporating Chris H's comment:

Sad to say, if the new starter is a member of an under-represented or under-valued group , it may be worth having someone with similar experiences support them. As a man who's worked in male-dominated fields, for example, with the best will in the world there are gaps in how I could support women

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    Sad to say, if the new starter is a member of an under-represented or under-valued group , it may be worth having someone with similar experiences support them. As a man who's worked in male-dominated fields, for example, with the best will in the world there are gaps in how I could support women. – Chris H Jul 26 '18 at 8:14
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    thanks -- to be perfectly honest my comment could probably be applied to itself, and the input of someone other than a member of the majority could improve on it further! – Chris H Jul 26 '18 at 9:08
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    @ChrisH But be careful not to overburden the under-represented employees you already do have. They often share an extra burden of mentorship which their peers do not. It seems that a team of supportive people, some old, some new, some under-represented, some majority would be best. Indeed, an informal lunch with a few supportive individuals is good advice. – Josiah Yoder Jul 26 '18 at 14:09
  • @JosiahYoder absolutely, that's a very good point. I know that type of burden has been real enough for some colleagues that they struggle to find time for their main tasks, potentially affecting their progression and perpetuating the problem. Those of us with the responsibility to introduce new people are often fairly junior and can't do much about corporate culture, but we can introduce new starters to the right people, informally or otherwise – Chris H Jul 26 '18 at 14:37
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The best way to address this is to pair the person with a mentor who has been with the company a while and has good relationships with many of the fellow employees.

This doesn't have to be someone in a similar role. This person can give introductions to people in the department, company, and people they might be working with in different departments.

The person should know the personalities involved and the goings on. The person should be able to give pointers like.

Don't approach Bob on Thursdays, it's his busiest day.

or...

Sue is a great go-to person. She may not have the answer, but can send you to the person who does.

In other words, a person who has been around a while, has good relationships with people, and is involved in creating back-channels and knows who to go to for what.

You want to make this as unofficial as possible and it may need to rotate among several people depending on workload as you don't want this to become a full-time job for anyone as that will put them in an official role and thus become part of the "official culture" as opposed to one who is effective of navigating the unofficial one.

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    You want to make this [mentoring] as unofficial as possible (...) as you don't want this to become a full-time job for anyone Why wouldn't you want that? Is there any objective disadvantage to having such a dedicated role? – xDaizu Jul 26 '18 at 7:25
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    @xDaizu It costs a full salary and is only used when someone's just joined. That could be once every five years. – Lightness Races in Orbit Jul 26 '18 at 9:42
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This is why companies compose an employees handbook. It serves as a reference for most work related things as well as giving civil defence information and things like that.

If you have unwritten rules that need to be adhered to, write them down and give them out.

If it's just minor common sense stuff like 'don't pee on the floor' which you don't trust staff to know on their own, then put up a sign.

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    The unwritten rules are the informal rules, part of the culture not in the handbook. I marvell at how I have to only see common sense used to loosely. – Rui F Ribeiro Jul 27 '18 at 3:25
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The unwritten rules are mostly acquired through common sense. Often they are what it defines the culture of a company.

It migt help pairing rookies with someone slightly more senior, however observation and asking around informally when in doubt are still the most common used strategies.

Depending on the culture, hanging around with workmates in breaks or mealtime also help, as they tend to confide on you to some extent how things really work from an insider perspective. Coffee breaks serve as a good excuse to hand around with people.

Often a strategy to fit in, if you are the type of bringing meals to work, is on the first 1 or 2 months going to meals with the guys of the office outside to restaurants.

PS. I come from a very informal culture. We also have a strong habit of eating in the restaurant, it is cheap compared to other European countries. There is always a core group that eats everyday at the restaurant in any job.

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