Designing The “First Day At Work” Experience

Designing The “First Day At Work” Experience


Employer branding is more than just a recruitment ad. The experience you design for your team stays with them much longer than you can imagine. Here is how you should approach this process.

Try to remember your first day at work. Can you recall the accompanying emotions? It was probably preceded by some stress during the interviews and the recruitment process; then – hopefully – joy when you received the information that you got in. When you’re eventually outside of your new workplace and are ready to go in, what do you feel? Excitement, anxiousness, sense of anticipation… 

What emotions did your employer create for you on that first day? The employer’s brand will be harmed if they mess this up.

Your first day at work

We’ve all been there: you enter the building and introduce yourself to the receptionist who then summons your contact person. Or, if you’re less fortunate, they’ll just point into the general direction of the office of that person and it is up to you track it down yourself. The unluckiest will spend quite a bit of time looking for the right door, accompanied by suspicious looks from the people on the floor. 

You get your own (hot) desk and – at least theoretically – your own PC, but guess what: the IT crowd did not manage to set it up on time and you can’t do any proper work. So you get some riveting reading material instead – the company brochure, a once-in-a-blue-moon used mission statement along with the values, some standard operating procedures… You begin reading.

Finally, the PC arrives (it would be great if it happened on day 1 – however, it’s not unheard of to be waiting for it for a week). Your supervisor comes along and assigns a task to you and you start getting into the actual job. Slowly you also get involved in the informal structures of the team, although no one is making that easy for you – you’ve got to initiate all of the chats in the kitchen or at the water cooler by yourself. What’s your emotional balance at the end of the day? The anxiousness probably trumped the initial excitement.

Let’s have a look at how they do it in Asia, in the Chinese HQ of the American company John Deere. The legendary agricultural machines manufacturer has never had a problem with building their brand as an employer on the American soil – almost every American had a farmer in their family at some point, and that farmer most likely owned a John Deere machine. That advantage did not exist in Asia; on top of that, the job market was highly competitive. To tackle this, the board hired a team of specialists to design an unforgettable first-day-at-work experience. What did they come up with?

The perfect first day at work 

John Deere logo
John Deere designed the perfect
first day at work experience

A few days before your first day, you receive an email from your ‘John Deere friend’ (I know, I know but it works). Apart from her name and her photo, you are also supplied with some handy tips – how to get to the office, what to wear, what time to show up… as well as the information that your Friend will be waiting for you at the reception.

You enter the building and there she is! And next to her, just above the reception, you see a flat-screen TV that says ‘Welcome, Paul!’ (fine, it would actually say your name). Your Friend accompanies you to your desk, which is signposted by a huge, few-meters-big welcome banner. It can be seen from every corner of the open space, which makes the other employees approach you to say ‘hi’ and make you feel at ease.

Your computer is already there, waiting for you. You turn it on and are faced with a wallpaper: the iconic John Deere tractor shining in a sunset, with a subtitle ‘Welcome to the most important job you’ll ever do in your life’. And there is also an email waiting for you – its sender is Sam Allen, the CEO of John Deere himself. In a short video he introduces you to the mission of the company that you’re now a part of – to provide nutrition, shelter and infrastructure for the growing world’s population. You have to admit, this sounds a lot more interesting than browsing through manuals and procedures… Sam Allen ends the video by saying ‘Have fun during your first day at work. I hope that you’ll have a long, successful career as a member of the John Deere team’.

During the break, your Friend is back and she takes you out for lunch with a few other colleagues who are genuinely interested in you, ask you multiple questions and tell you all about the projects they are currently working on. After lunch you find a gift on your desk – a miniature self-cleaning plow, designed by John Deere in 1837. There’s also a card outlining the designer’s motivation and inspirations, as well as explaining why farmers instantly fell in love with this machine. You start to understand and feel the legend.

At the end of the day the Department Director (the boss of your boss – a big fish) approaches your desk and makes a lunch appointment with you for next week to get to know you better. You finish your day with a feeling that your work will be significant. You feel part of a team – a team that is interested in you and for which you are someone important.

The employer’s brand is well-designed emotions

Sounds a lot better, doesn’t it? Obviously, if you’re building an employer’s brand at your company, you can’t just copy the entire John Deere experience (however, some of the elements like e.g. an email before the first day or welcoming your new employee at reception can be implemented in any company). But there are some key emotions that you should take into considerations when building the process:

  • Profoundness – a sense that something important is happening. Profoundness is a complicated emotion, combining positive (the joy of anticipation of something new) and negative elements (anxiousness, the feeling that something’s ending). These are emotions usually found during endings (or rather transitions, because e.g. the end of high school signifies the beginning of university and the end of university means the beginning of work). It’s crucial to celebrate this transformation, to ensure it’s treated with the right magnitude. Think graduation ceremony or the medal ceremony at the Olympics. Notice how the sportsmen and sportswomen are celebrated. Try to mimic that in the first-day-at-work experience design.
  • Sense of belonging – we are and we will be herd beings. So even if you think that you’re managing a team of introverts, let them do something together. And if you’re onboarding a new team member, include them in the ritual, even if you have to force them a little bit. A joint meal, a game of football or foosball – plan something in that will encourage cooperation and not competition.
  • Gratitude – it’s one of the best ways of building strong relationships. Research shows that it is also highly effective when it comes to motivation. Ensure that your new employee has reasons to be grateful from day one. How do you do that? The easiest way is to put Robert Cialdini’s reciprocity rule into action. Give your employee something without asking for anything in return… and voila, you’ve created gratitude. Gifts, the interest exhibited by colleagues, time invested into the new employee – all those things are something you can start with. 

Remember that the first day at work is one of the most powerful memories we can have. Therefore, it’s paramount that we spend even a disproportionately significant amount of time on designing it and making it right. If the employer’s brand is something that you want to seriously consider – you cannot disregard this opportunity at making an impact on your new employee.

Written by
Paul Skah