Sometimes, you have the good fortune to find qualified staff within a short time to replace those who have left, minimizing the disruption to your daily routine. More often than not, it takes a while to find the “right” person for your lab. In the meantime, the remaining techs have to take on extra shifts, work in other specialties or take on additional responsibilities. So, everyone’s glad when a qualified “newbie” has been hired.

This is the time to have a comprehensive orientation and training protocol in place not only for the purely technical responsibilities of the position, but to facilitate their integration into the working culture and value system of the laboratory. This is important for the smooth transition from being an “outsider” to an accepted member of the team. Institutional culture is a combination of commonly agreed upon values, behavior, performance and expectations for the work environment.

The institutional culture of the laboratory is characterized by expectations that peer behavioral and performance standards for work will be met. This not only refers to technical competencies, but also to social-interactive competencies such as whether it is okay to be connected to your iPod while working; the frequency of personal calls or texting; or rotational preferences. It also defines the consequences of not meeting these standards and how tolerant the rest of the staff is when these occur.

None of the examples above are meant to diminish the importance and right of individuals to be who they are, but to promote how vital it is to have an awareness of your “mini-society.”

Culture is also defined by the type and direction of communication. Is yours a top-down or a bottom-up lab? The former is where decision making primarily flows from supervisors and managers to staff; the latter is where staff participation in decision making is encouraged and appreciated. If a new employee is unaware of this dynamic, there can be problems.

Of course, these dynamics are not usually incorporated into job descriptions or the Human Resources handbook, but a lack of awareness of group dynamics can contribute to an uncomfortable work environment. An assigned mentor who can provide both cultural and technical orientation and training will increase the probability of successfully retaining the newly hired member of the laboratory team.

Originally published in the Lab Quality Advisor Blog of Advance for Administrators of the Laboratory on October 6, 2015