During the past two decades, I have created a variety of new hire orientation programs and worked with numerous employees as they joined a new organization.
The orientation and development programs contained hours of training, complete with technical, computer, communication and soft skills (which I would prefer to call “power skills”). Regardless of the generation of the new hire or their profession or the region of the Midwest that they live in, I quickly found that every new hire needed additional training in two areas — focus and manners.
We have successfully taught ourselves how to be unfocused. We allow and encourage distractions in every part of our day. If there is any downtime in our day, we have learned how to fill it by picking up our smartphone.
If we are in uncomfortable situations, we again pick up our devices to fix this painful experience. When is the last time you sat bored? I cannot even sit through a commercial without grabbing my phone to entertain myself.
Some might argue that we are focused as we toggle between apps.
Consider the value of thinking. Those times of boredom tend to create our best ideas as we listen and think.
When is the last time that you went to a meeting with only a notepad and pen — no computer or phone? Or when is the last time that you turned on your camera during a zoom meeting? We all know that you are doing more than taking notes on your computer as you type away during a silent portion of the meeting. We all know that you are not listening, and we may need to repeat ourselves later.
If we can teach ourselves how to be unfocused, then we can retrain our brain to focus again. Suggestions that we give to new employees are:
• Silence your cellphone during working hours and put it in a drawer until your scheduled breaks. Give your spouse and day care provider the number to the office to call you if there is an emergency. (Just like back in the 1900s.)
• Turn off email notifications on your computer. Better yet, close the email application. Instead, treat email like a project. Open it a few times a day and tackle all new messages during a 30-minute time slot.
• Clear your desk between projects. Avoid cluttering your brain with other requests. Only have in front of you the materials needed for the task at hand.
I have heard every reason in the book why these recommendations cannot work for certain employees. And I have a rebuttal for every justification you can give me. Your excuse to be unfocused is not convincing.
Instead of thinking, “This cannot be done,” I challenge you to think, “How can we do this?” How can I meet client needs and give my uninterrupted focus on a project?
Not everyone was raised learning the same set of manners. On top of that, every organization has a unique culture and expects certain behavior from its employees. It is important to communicate these expectations to all employees, especially on day one. This open dialogue avoids any uncomfortable conversations later on. Unique topics included during this training were:
• When to say please and thank you.
• How to shake someone’s hand.
• Why it is important to look someone in the eye when you speak to them.
• How to greet people.
Some of these topics seemed silly to address. However, the interaction during these sessions always proved its value.
As we recover from a year (or more) of uncertainty and social distancing, manners training is becoming more of a popular request — particularly addressing social awkwardness. Even though we might not have wanted to distance ourselves from the world during the pandemic, we adapted and created new social habits. Now it is time to adjust again. We need to be prepared to handle what used to be common interactions.
• How do I greet a business colleague now? Should I shake hands? What if they want a hug? How do I avoid being rude yet friendly?
• How do I keep my space clean without being an obsessive germaphobe? Is it OK to offer antibacterial spray to visitors?
• Should I wear a mask or not?
• Can I get closer than 6 feet to someone, or is that now considered personal space?
• What if I am not comfortable with something others request I do?
Recently, I taught an in-person class for the first time in 13 months and found myself struggling with these challenges. I responded as if it were 2019. I smiled and joked and complied. After the training class was complete, I returned to my vehicle and washed my hands in antibacterial gel.
Later that day I realized that I need to be proactive and think about what my comfort level is and how I want to respond in these common situations.
As you evaluate the culture of your organization you might see other power skills necessary to include in your orientation. You may find that manners and focus need to be addressed with all employees. Do not ignore what you find to be obvious. Talk about the potentially awkward topics.
People will appreciate and feel more comfortable talking about the elephant in the room.