What Am I Doing Here?
Warm welcomes work wonders for those who are new to the crew
By Neil Houtman, National Board Member
Although what am I doing here? is arguably the second-greatest philosophical question of all time (close behind what’s for lunch?), day one of my first job after university was not about existentialism.
I literally had no clue what to do, where to go, who to report to, or what was going on. It was not a large company—maybe 30-40 employees. But it did not feel that way. It felt like a faceless corporation. People were hurriedly getting ready to head out for the day but seemed to go out of their way to avoid eye contact with the new guy. It was rather awkward when I reached out and asked a gentleman what to do, or who to speak to, and he asked me who I worked with. I didn’t even know that. So he just walked away.
Eventually, my new foreman came over and introduced himself to me and began to give me a piecemeal education about the company—always holding some information back as leverage, or a way to make himself seem more important. It took a while to get into the swing of the company, but even after two seasons, there was still an overtone of an insider/outsider mentality.
The corporate culture had nepotism in its genes: brothers, nephews, friends, children of friends—all the usual employees of a small business. But the shaping of the culture was in the hands of the owner—a good man, but very protective of his company and its goings on.
Corporate culture may be shaped by policy and actions from the top, but workers have a lot to do with it too. The first day of my second job, at a much larger company, I was greeted by a friendly smile, a barrage of well-meaning questions, good advice, and pointed opinions from a seasoned employee. There were other guys around and I was welcomed into the fold. This is not to say that the company was cold or impersonal; but the sense of belonging came from people who did not officially set policy.
Most of those guys are gone now—either retired or moved on—and as the company has grown, it has become harder to be that welcoming. But the importance of ground level welcoming and mentoring has stuck with me. I remember the awkwardness of being new to the crew, and how it felt to be avoided and ignored and left to learn the ropes myself. I also remember the opposite feeling: being greeted warmly, welcomed into the fold, and shown the ropes. I try to do the same for others. It’s one of the reasons why I’m here.