As recruiters in an exciting industry, we know better than most just how exciting it is for candidates when they land a new role.
But that doesn’t mean it’s all plain sailing. Some aspects of starting a new role can be nerve-wracking to say the least: new starters want to make the best possible first impression, but there are so many unknown variables at play.
To find out more, we asked over 500 UK adults to tell us about their biggest fears when starting a new job.
We’ve also enlisted the help of our experts to coach both employers and employees through those first nerve-wracking days.
At home or in the office?
The first thing we asked our respondents was whether they would feel more nervous if their first day was in the office or at home. 7 in 10 told us that they’d be more anxious starting their first day in person than they might from the safety of their laptop.
Despite this, 2 in 3 (64%) would still rather start their job in person, being introduced to their colleagues face to face.
Brian Johnson, Managing Director at Forward Role, believes this reveals a tension between short-term pain and long-term benefits.
“While candidates might feel an in-person first day is less comfortable than working from home,” says Brian, “they’re willing to put themselves in that position to reap the benefits of a better first impression with colleagues, and get a better sense of the company culture.”
But Brian believes it doesn’t actually have to be that way. “The data here shows that people find an office environment intimidating, but still want to meet colleagues face-to-face. Businesses with flexible working policies in place can use this to their advantage.”
“Employers can ease in their new staff with a day-one induction just for introductions, followed by a couple of days working remotely to take the pressure off. It’s a great way to ensure new starters feel well informed and connected without being overwhelmed by the new environment.”
Battle of the sexes?
When we asked respondents to tell us their biggest fears around starting a new job, the top answer was “Worried about disliking the role or work environment”, with a quarter of all the responses.
But we spotted some interesting differences when we segmented the results by gender.
Women were over 70% more likely to worry that they were under-qualified for the job than men, despite being the successful candidate. Women were also more likely than men to worry about messing up or people not liking them.
Men, on the other hand, were far more likely to worry that they won’t have a good relationship with their new boss, or that they’d inadvertently violate the dress code.
“The trend we can see here is that women are typically more concerned with underperforming in their new role than men, and are possibly more likely to experience imposter syndrome too,” says Rachel Wheeler, Executive Search Director at Forward Role. “This relates fairly closely to a study published in the Harvard Business Review, in which women were almost twice as likely as men to avoid applying for jobs if they thought they might fail.
“While there’s evidence that women in senior positions are judged more harshly than men, we need to be careful that this doesn’t make us afraid of failure. Women are at a higher risk of being too cautious and missing out on great opportunities as a result.”
“Employers should be aware of this too,” Rachel points out. “Fostering a culture that celebrates successful women rather than scrutinises them can help you get the most out of your new starters and make it irresistible for future candidates.”
One of the key takeaways from our survey was just how differently people feel about new jobs depending on their age.
For instance, while the majority of our respondents wanted to start their new role in the office, 18 to 24-year-olds (dubbed “Gen Z” in pop media) were generally in favour of kicking things off at home instead. More than half (54%) wanted to start their new job remotely.
Gen Z also gave a different top answer for their biggest new job fear. While other demographics were most concerned about whether they’d enjoy the job or not, “being late on the first day” was the top worry among 18 to 24-year-olds, accounting for nearly a third (29%) of the answers for this age bracket.
And despite being the least experienced working demographic we surveyed, 18 to 24-year-olds were the least likely to be worried about “messing up” (the top group for this was 25 to 35-year-olds).
Phil Stott, Group Recruitment Director at Forward Role, feels that Gen Z’s quick adoption of hybrid working has contributed to these results.
“Gen Z are less experienced with the commute, especially since a large segment of their working lives has been dominated by lockdowns and travel restrictions,” Phil observes. “Older candidates aren't as phased by the traditional commute as they're likely to have more experience with it.”
There are also some advantages to working from home, which Gen Z is primed to capitalise on. A study published in Bloomberg found that 40% of 16 to 24-year-olds in London find it easier to volunteer for key tasks and ask questions when working remotely. In our survey, they were also the least likely to want one-to-one meetings with members of their new team.
But Phil points out that wanting to start work at home doesn’t necessarily mean Gen Z is more averse to working in the office. “Gen Z has learned how to work remotely: they’re simply more accustomed to starting a new job remotely. The notion of a first day in the office has basically been untenable for a large chunk of their young careers; is it any wonder they’d prefer not to divert from what they’re used to now?”
Employers who want Gen Z candidates to get off on the right foot need to focus on building organic relationships in a world where the water cooler is no longer a given.
“Businesses can prioritise constructive relationship-building by pairing the most experienced employees with junior-level staff, “ says Phil. “That way, they can build culture and skills at once, without having to be draconian about being in the office when it doesn’t really suit their staff.”
What employers can do to help
When asked “What would help you feel more settled in a new job?”, the top answer was a full company induction, with more than 30% of the vote.
But respondents were also highly in favour of receiving plenty of notice on what to expect. The second-most popular answer was “information ahead of time” (including dress codes and sign-in times), and third on the list was a full first-week schedule prepared in advance.
There were several generational differences, though. Gen X is twice as likely as Gen Z to want one-to-one introductions with their new colleagues, whereas Gen Z was most likely to expect a welcome gift. No Gen X respondent listed this in their answers.
Grant Dove, Associate Technology Director at Forward Role, believes that despite the slight deviations between demographics, employers should focus on the universal desire for one thing: transparency.
“There’s a clear statement here showing that new starters need information to help them feel calmer about a new job — more so than a nice lunch or a gift.”
“Employers will do well by sending welcome packs filled with key information out to candidates before they start, to eliminate as many of the unknowns as possible. They should also prioritise full company inductions on day one and prepare them as best they can: candidates are relying on this to help them feel at ease and get a good sense of their new company’s culture.”
Learn more about Forward Role
While there are plenty of new jobs to be anxious about today, a lot of candidates struggle to find them — and many employers find it challenging to get those quality candidates in the door.
At Forward Role, we have the expertise to match top-quality candidates with market-leading digital and tech businesses throughout the UK.