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Hires' Remorse

Recent research finds half of new employees experiencing remorse after accepting a job offer, with many employers expressing similar regrets. Experts say hiring managers and HR must vet potential employees more thoroughly, and set and communicate realistic expectations to more consistently hit the mark with new hires.

Monday, March 25, 2013
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A recent survey from Pittsburgh-based management consulting firm Development Dimensions International finds half of 2,000 new hires expressing "buyer's remorse" after accepting a recent job offer.

They aren't the only ones feeling pangs of regret, however. The same DDI survey also polled 250 staffing directors, who, on average, said they consider nearly 14 percent of their new hires in the last year to be mistakes.

The number of new hires second-guessing their decisions "doesn't surprise me," says Elissa Tucker, a research program manager with the American Productivity and Quality Center, a Houston-based nonprofit focusing on benchmarking and best practices. "The economy is improving – slowly – and that might be driving this situation where [newer hires] see other opportunities opening up and have that buyer's remorse."

Or, in some cases, employees may have knowingly chosen a less-than-ideal fit in fear of picking up the dreaded "long-term unemployed" label further down the road, continues Tucker.

"In some cases there's probably a feeling [among job seekers] that they need to jump at that first offer, because there might not be another one coming for a while. Employees are making pragmatic decisions based on the current environment."

Some employers are working with a similar mindset, she says.

"I wonder if hiring managers aren't in some cases doing the same thing, maybe lowering their standards. Or they feel rushed to get someone in quickly. I think it probably all goes back to the economy and the fact that things are getting better, but not that quickly."

Indeed, the business climate of recent years has contributed to some not-so-wise hiring choices, says Jazmine Boatman, manager of DDI's Center for Applied Behavioral Research and co-author of the study.

"When things got tight and companies started to get very lean, they were doing that because they were focused on business and making sure their organizations would be sustainable," says Boatman. "When the focus gets away from talent, you start taking shortcuts.

"I think that's what it comes down to," she continues. "Organizations with positions to fill had to make hiring decisions quickly, and were gathering information [on candidates] quickly. I think sometimes employers lose sight of the fact that not making a smart hiring decision is going to have some severe repercussions."

All parties involved in the hiring process sometimes fail to appreciate the significance of their choices, says Dave Ulrich, professor of business at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan and a partner at the RBL Group, a Provo, Utah-based consulting firm.

"There may be superficial preparation on either side, [but] potential employees may not fully study the company, and companies may not fully vet potential employees," says Ulrich.

"Hiring is not something that should be done capriciously or suddenly, like choosing a restaurant or a movie. Some spend more time buying a car than selecting a company."

A primary reason for the recent spate of regrettable decisions may be organizations' overreliance on hiring manager evaluations, which nearly one-third of the staffing directors polled by DDI cited as the No. 1 contributing factor to bad hires. Another 21 percent, however, pointed to candidates exaggerating their skills.

Realistically, employers should expect a certain amount of "overselling" from would-be employees, says Boatman.

For example, "there are a million books out there on how to interview better. You're dealing with a savvy audience that's not only capable of overselling themselves, but motivated to oversell."

An increasingly shrewd candidate pool "inherently implies we need a savvier HR audience," she says, "to read between the lines and find what [the organization] is really looking for in a job candidate."

DDI's research does indicate that many employers and hiring managers could stand to be a bit savvier in evaluating job candidates. The survey found less than half (48 percent) of all responding organizations rating their hiring processes as highly effective. Study authors described this finding as "a very painful look in the mirror for hiring managers and the staffing directors they support, especially considering that organizations said that 14 percent of their new hires were failures in the past 12 months."

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A key first step to seeing that 14-percent figure decrease would be to recalibrate employee expectations at the start of the process, says Ulrich.

"Hiring is too often about selling, and in selling, expectations may be overblown," he says. "It is important to do realistic job interviews, so the candidate knows what the job will really entail. Misplaced expectations lead to disappointment. Candidates may overstate their experience, and companies may overstate their opportunities. These false expectations face stark reality when real skills and opportunities become known."

Of course, HR's role in establishing and managing realistic expectations continues throughout the employee lifecycle, adds Ulrich. Take employee orientation, for example.

"Some organizations focus orientation on the superficial things -- parking passes, keys, offices," he says. Other companies, however, "help orient employees to the culture and unwritten rules, which might include mentors, cultural awareness sessions and early assignments that lead to success."

Other tools -- pre-employment tests, personality profiles, job simulations -- help provide a more complete picture of job candidates that offers information beyond that gleaned through the interview process, adds Boatman.

"If you think about selection, it's one of the oldest formalized systems we have in HR, but we're still running into the same problems," she says. "That's what it comes down to. We don't know enough about who we're hiring. And, on the flip side, candidates don't always know what they're getting into. It really goes both ways. We in HR could be better informing candidates, and helping them determine if this is the right job for them. We want to make that [hiring] decision for the long term."

Ultimately, "I think the onus lies on HR and organizations," says Boatman. "They can do a lot of homework, and they're the ones who know what sort of knowledge and experience candidates need to be successful in a particular job. Without defining what you're looking for, it's like you're looking for a needle in a haystack."

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