A historic wave of job turnover has companies working hard to recruit and onboard new employees. But what about those who aren’t job surfing? Many employees are looking around and seeing many new faces on their teams. They may suddenly find that they are the senior member on a team of new recruits. If you’re in the position of suddenly being the senior member on a team of new recruits, there are four ways you need to manage yourself and your team. First, give yourself space to process the changes around you, then focus on developing your on re-onboarding plan. Recognize that you will need to mentor new colleagues, but that you should not forget to learn from them at the same time. Finally, consider whether you can grow at your current company, but don’t write off the option of leaving if the right opportunity arises. To ensure you have as many options as possible, avoid burning any bridges with your former associates.
One of my clients is an executive who has been with her company for more than 20 years. Over the past several months many of her peers have moved on from the company, part of 2021’s turnover tsunami. She’s now surrounded by new hires and she worries that she is being associated with the “way things used to be” and unfairly seen as someone who isn’t innovative, strategic or willing to take risks by virtue of being a “long-timer” at the company.
With a historic number — over 40% — of the global workforce reporting that they plan on leaving their jobs this year, my client’s story is not unique. You might even be in a similar situation and wondering what happens to the workers who are not job surfing. When employers are heavily concentrated on engaging and supporting their new hires, loyal employees can feel left behind. In many cases, simply being a new employee in a new company can pay off, as external hires enjoy many benefits not afforded to internal hires in similar positions. In addition, with so many new people joining a team, the work environment shifts in both subtle and obvious ways.
If you’re in the position of suddenly being the senior member on a team of new recruits, here are four strategies to help you manage yourself.
Give Yourself Space to Process the Changes Around You
When you see others leaving your company, you may feel an urge to start looking for new opportunities as well. Their departures can trigger a feeling of social exclusion as you feel left behind. It’s not uncommon to engage in what psychologists call “affective forecasting,” imagining the regret you may feel in the future if you don’t follow suit. But before you do anything hasty, give yourself time to think rationally about how you should move forward.
Start by reflecting alone, or with the help of a trusted partner, on your intrinsic values and goals, irrespective of others’ movements. Ask yourself, “What is truly important to me in my professional life now and in the future?”
Then do an honest inventory of your current capabilities and reputation, as well as where you still need to develop, in order to achieve your ideal work life. At the same time, explore whether your values and goals are aligned with what your employer defines for success in your role. You may find that you’re motivated by a different set of criteria than your company, or that with a bit more adaptability you could find a way to be fulfilled by staying.
The key is to engage in some patient introspection and observation before acting. In this way you objectively evaluate whether your employer will sufficiently respond to your growth and nurture your career the way it supports your new colleagues or not.
Develop Your Own “Re-onboarding” Plan
The new hires around you are likely to have been provided a consistent onboarding plan of intentional activities with colleagues to enable knowledge sharing and make sure they fit in with cultural norms that preceded their arrival. If they have a playbook designed to help them excel, why not follow suit and “re-onboard” yourself? Doing so may not only open your eyes to strategic opportunities to add more value and keep you competitive with your peers, but also reinvigorate your sense of purpose at work.
Be a Teacher and a Student
In addition to executing your own re-onboarding plan, consider helping your new colleagues with their onboarding. Doing so can enhance your perception as a leader and bring harmony to a potentially competitive office dynamic. Just be careful to strike the right balance between being the wise caretaker of the company’s traditions and being an adaptive agent for future change.
Without question, there’s value in sharing institutional wisdom when you’re a company veteran. But be aware of when relying on traditions impedes motivating others forward and welcoming change. The best strategy is to simultaneously teach and learn. Share your experiences as a wise mentor but be willing to invite their input with a beginner’s mind. You will not only stay relevant as things change, but your openness will help you cultivate greater influence with your colleagues.
Stay Competent, not Complacent
Even after you do all the above in making the best of these changes around you, you may still be dissatisfied. Perhaps you feel you’ll never be at par with your new peers and that instinct may even prove right, which can compel you to find a home elsewhere. Staying too long at your company has disadvantages, particularly if you become resentful and demotivated. Financially, you may be stuck behind new hires because of “salary compression.” This means that since your company knows the financial return of attracting high talent, they are willing to pay outside candidates much more than they give raises to current employees.
Another disadvantage to staying too long is that you may never advance to levels at which new hires enter, and even worse, if you’re over 50, studies show you may be let go before you’re ready. So do consider whether you can grow at your current company, but don’t write off the option of leaving if the right opportunity arises. And to ensure you have as many options as possible, avoid burning any bridges with your former associates.
One leader I worked with was deeply affected when he found out several of his colleagues were leaving their company. He took it personally, feeling abandoned at first and then insecure about how he compared in a job market he wasn’t even thinking about before.
His ego took over and he wondered, “How did they get that job?” By falling victim to superiority bias, he underestimated his colleagues’ competency while overestimating his own. This dual feeling of inferiority about his value and superiority relative to his former colleagues made him turn inward instead of being happy for their new endeavors. Ultimately, he not only lost meaningful friendships with them, but also potentially helpful external connections if he decided to enter the job search. Don’t make the same mistake as he did, and instead invest in the relationships you have with colleagues that are leaving, just as you are doing with the new hires around you.
Managing your Career in Changing Workplace Dynamics
The above principles have been successfully used by several executives I’ve worked with. One client, an executive who had been with his company for more than 25 years, crafted his own 90-day “re-onboarding plan,” laying out a map of key stakeholders to influence above him, below him and across his peers. He also focused on key success criteria like business goals, strategy, execution and people development. Then he set up a cadence to meet with these colleagues to align on performance in each focus area and gather ongoing feedback as well as explore ways to add value to their priorities. In just the first month of carrying out his re-onboarding plan, he reported that his colleagues were impressed with his initiative even started asking him for feedback. The exercise also lifted his spirit, bringing him resilience and optimism despite the otherwise unpleasant changes around him.
Another client, a VP at a Fortune 500 company, found himself suddenly surrounded by several newly hired VPs and directors from other competitors. Given his extensive company knowledge and experience, he committed to mentoring these new employees. He was aware of a recent study that showed that mentors are six times more likely to get promoted to a bigger job, but in our coaching, we explored how much he was able to learn from the mentees themselves.
Managing your career in today’s competitive and ever-changing workplace is tough, and even when you commit to staying with your employer, the entry of new colleagues and exit of old ones can deeply impact your future advancement and personal fulfillment. But by following these strategies, you can make sure to respond to the changes in your office in a way that maximizes your potential value whether you stay or leave.
Nihar Chhaya is an executive coach to senior leaders at global companies, including American Airlines, Coca-Cola, GE, and Dell. A former F500 corporate head of talent development, he is the President of PartnerExec, helping leaders master interpersonal savvy for superior business and strategic outcomes. Access his tip sheet on delivering tension-free feedback to your team.
Copyright 2021 Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation. Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate.