Experience Blog

The Ethnography of Experience

Re-Boarding Your Employees after "The Thrill is Gone"

Gary David, PhD

In May, it will be 25 years, or 9,125 days, since my wife and I had our first date. This length of time is more than half of each of our lives. In other words, we have been together longer than we have not. No matter how you phrase it, it’s a long time.

The place where my wife and I met and played cards.

The place where my wife and I met and played cards.

Of course, I don’t remember all of those 9,125 days. I can barely remember conversations we had last week. However, like many other couples, I can recall how we met. Our meeting involved the card game Euchre, which requires two teams of partners. The person I was playing with no longer wanted to play, and my wife jumped into the game. I guess you could say our partnership lasted longer that those games. I can’t recall if we won or lost in those games, but over the long term I would say it has been a win.

Along with that night, I can recall many glimpses of that initial stage of courtship. Walks, conversations, evenings out, trips made together, the period of getting to know one another. In organizational terms, I guess you could call that our hiring and “on-boarding process.” We passed each other’s interviews, our respective reference and background checks (I actually did run a background check with friends who knew her), and then the hiring process to become a couple. We worked through our initial projects and engagements to eventually become engaged (although that took a while). Our mutual employment has undergone relocation to different cities, expansion in the form of three kids and pets, attrition of some pets from natural causes, and many many corporate retreats. So far, I have gotten positive evaluations with constructive comments on how to improve my performance by taking advantage of developmental opportunities.

There are few things like the excitement of new relationships, the sensations experienced when everything is new. Science backs up what we already knew: the initial stage of a relationship feels fantastic:

As neuroscientific research has proven, when you are in a new relationship, during the first six to 18 months, our brain throws out a variety of neurochemicals, which helps to expedite our biological mating dance. Our brains are aglow in serotonin and dopamine, which keeps passion alive and kicking with little endeavor from us.

As relationships go on, however, those neurochemicals recede. They are replaced with just the regular old neurochemicals of everyday life.

This biology of the mundane is the reason why so many couples start to look for ways to rekindle that initial fire. Marriage therapists (of which my wife is one) try to help couples not only work through problems, but figure out what their relationship means as couples move through the years and decades. Long married couples might even decide to renew their wedding vows, reaffirming what drew them together in the first place.

Captain Stubing welcomes you back on-board

Captain Stubing welcomes you back on-board

Companies might think of their own version of renewing their vows with employees. The on-boarding process exposes a new hire to the company culture, the business objectives, building relationships with co-workers and managers, and overall identifying as part of the team. Re-Boarding, then, can refer to the process of:

  • re-invigorating that sense of purpose that the employee’s work is meaningful not only the company, but to those around her/him;
  • re-socializing the employee into the culture and story of the company, what makes them unique and what drives their work;
  • re-engaging with the employee as if the person was a new member of the company, as well as showing appreciation for what they do;
  • re-establishing lines of communication between employee and organization, having the opportunity to clear the air with frank and open conversations;
  • re-vitalizing the employee’s sense of identity belonging to the company and the group.

Clearly, an employee who has been with a company does not have to re-learn every aspect of an organization, just as a husband and wife do not need to re-learn each other’s first names (hopefully). It simply is a good opportunity to touch base with an established employee and re-develop that relationship.

There is a lot of advice out there on how to bring back that flame and fire to your relationship. Drawing from that, we can start to envision some recommendations of how to re-board employees to create a new sense of connection:

De-stress in conversations
Refrain from unsolicited advice and criticism and instead opt for empathy and a sense of “we-ness”. It is important for your partner (or employee) to know that you are on his or her side.

Renew Communication
Long-term employees are a wealth of tacit knowledge. Communicate with these employees to show that you value their insights, ideas, and experiences. Use that as an opportunity to knowledge transfer to newer employees.

Breaking Routines
Routines are comfortable and predictable, but they can also lead to mindlessness, disengagement, and a loss of purpose. Trying new things, or allowing the chance for innovation can create a sense of newness and (dare we say it) excitement.

You and your employee going off into the sunset.

You and your employee going off into the sunset.

Be Surprised
It is not uncommon for workers to get accolades after certain periods of employment, such as 5 years, 10 years, 20 years, etc. While appreciated, this is like getting gifts of your birthday. Another approach would be to be spontaneous with symbols of appreciation.

More gratitude
“There is a lot of research out there now on the power of gratitude, individually and in relationships. Express appreciation for each other when possible. Notice the good rather than focusing on the not so good. It’s easy for couples to slip into negative cycles together. Make the effort to shift to a more positive (and reinforcing) cycle of support and gratitude for each other.”

Taken together, re-boarding provides a chance to enhance the employee experience for those employees who have been there for you in the past, and you want to be there in the future.