Have you ever noticed that if an employee decides to leave your company, it’s often within a few months of taking the job? Don’t worry, it’s not just you! In fact, 9 out of 10 employees are willing and actively considering leaving a job within the first 3 months, and it’s your responsibility as an employer to bring that number down. You see, your new employee is going through a time of great transition, and those first 3 months are key to the journey being a success or a failure. It’s known as going through the ‘change curve’, and it’s something every employer should know about. 

The Change Curve 

In 1960, a woman called Elisabeth Kublar-Ross developed a theory to explain the grieving process. You might be familiar with it as ‘the stages of grief.’ Kublar-Ross’s 5 stages – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – have been adapted in many different ways over the years, and this general model has been widely used as a way to understand people’s reactions to change – including a new job – and how their performance is likely to be affected. There are 3 main stages to the change curve: 
 
Stage 1 – Shock And Denial: The first reaction to change is often shock. This initial shock, while frequently short-lived, can result in a temporary slowdown and loss of productivity. Performance tends to dip, and individuals who are normally clear and decisive may seek more guidance and reassurance. This shock is often due to: 
 
Lack of information 
Fear of the unknown 
Fear of looking stupid or doing something wrong 
 
As a response to shock, it’s common for individuals to then experience denial. Here, the focus tends to remain firmly in the past, and how things used to be. Whether that’s dwelling on their old job and how they used to do things, or just struggling to adjust to the new role and not admitting it, denial can be a big part of the initial dip in performance in a new role. 
 
Stage 2 – Anger And Depression: Next up is anger. This one can be difficult for management to deal with - if the employee even expresses it at all. Focussing the blame on someone or something allows a continuation of the denial by providing another focus for the fears and anxieties that the change is causing. Common feelings include: 
 
Suspicion 
Scepticism 
Frustration 
 
These feelings of anger quickly bring us to the lowest point in the change curve. This is when performance plummets and the employee is genuinely considering their abilities and their future at the company. Self-doubt, anxiety, isolation and apathy are all experienced, and that’s why this stage is absolutely critical for employers. You need to know this is coming and how to handle it, or you will lose a lot of employees at this stage. 
 
Stage 3 – Acceptance And Integration: If stage 2 is handled correctly, your employee will move into acceptance and integration. They will adjust to the change, come out of their shell and start to blossom in the role. Now come thoughts of: 
 
Exciting new opportunities 
Relief that the change has been survived 
Impatience for increased performance 
Trust of those around them 
 
During the early part of this stage, energy and productivity may remain low, however, the new attitude will be one of discovery. It brings questions about possibilities and opportunities. 

Why Is This Relevant? 

By now you’re probably trying to work out why I’ve been talking so much about change curves and stages. The answer is simple – because not knowing about it is why you’re losing good employees within 3 months of hiring them. Many of those employees will have amazing potential and could do fantastic things for your business. But because you didn’t understand the process they were going through, or have a well-designed onboarding process ready to support them through each stage, they left. Which means you now need to spend more time and money hiring someone new. 
 
Rinse, repeat. In fact, here’s an example for you: 
 
Amy has just been hired by Globex, a medium-sized business, as part of their HR department. There are around 30 people in the business, and Amy will be part of a department of 5 people. Amy has experience in HR and is very well qualified for the job. On her first day, Amy is given a quick tour around the office, introduced briefly to a few key people and led to her desk, where she spends the rest of the day getting to grips with things. The next day, Amy is given some basic training on how the business works and what is expected of her before being asked to “hit the ground running” just like the job advert said she would need to. At the moment, Amy is in the shock phase, having now started her new role, expectations now meet the realities of a new and unfamiliar environment. Amy isn’t sure how to go about some aspects of her job, but being new she’s not as forthcoming with questions because she can see her colleagues are stretched. This pattern goes on for a few days, with more work being given to Amy and her having more unanswered questions. 
 
After a few weeks, Amy starts to feel frustrated. The job she is doing isn’t quite what she expected, and she feels like she has been thrown in at the deep end without a life jacket. Her anger isn’t unfounded – while there have been some efforts to help her settle (some kind co-workers who give her tips and a manager who is always happy to answer questions), she still feels as though she isn’t getting the support she needs in a new role. As this continues, she starts to feel disheartened because she isn’t performing as well as she could and is concerned about how her performance is perceived. This starts to impact her work, which diminishes in quality as she struggles with her new environment and duties. It is at this stage that she starts to wonder if she made the right move, or if she will ever be able to be happy in this job. It’s also at this stage that the business starts to question their hiring decision. 
 
After some conversations with her friends and a very candid discussion with a co-worker, Amy asks her questions, receives helpful answers and starts to adjust to the new ways of working. Her work now starts to improve. Her acceptance of the difference between expectation and reality has allowed her to adjust her views, and now she has a better idea of how things will be for the future. Now she isn’t expecting something different, she finds she enjoys her work, and quickly becomes excited by the prospect of new challenges. She has become a fully integrated member of the department and soon is one of their top performers. On this occasion no probationary dismissal has happened. There was helpful dialogue - albeit at a later than ideal point in time, and not with a manager. 
It’s something I see happen all too often, and something I try to warn my clients of during the hiring process. It’s all about understanding the difference between change and transition. Change is situational, and this refers to the new site, the new boss or the new job. So an employee will change to a new job, for example. But transition is a psychological process that people go through to come to terms with a new situation. Change is external and happens very quickly, while transition is internal and happens more slowly. Many years after its initial proposal, The Change Curve started to be referred to as The Transition Curve, in order to reflect the fact that it is a psychological journey undertaken at a time of change. 
 
When an employee starts a new job, it’s a period of great change for both the employee and the employer. It might not be a business restructure or a drastic change for the business, but for a new employee it is a life-changing time, and they are going to go through this cycle with their new role. If any of this blog has felt familiar to you, I’d love to have a chat about how to handle your next new hire, and how onboarding needs to start at the job advert, not on the first day of the job. 
 
Just get in touch here to get started! 
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