If you’ve ever had to pop your ears on a flight, you’ve experienced altitude acclimation: how your body adjusts to drastic changes to its environment. When we apply this concept to new employees adjusting to workplace culture, we can influence this process for the better. Here’s what you need to know to help your new hires avoid cultural “altitude sickness.”

Table of Contents

Watch the world’s largest HR encyclopedia be built in real-time

Subscribe to get a weekly roundup email of all our new entries

What Is Culture Acclimation in the Workplace?

Acclimation is the process or outcome of becoming fully adjusted to a new environment. The word itself describes what happens physically, emotionally, and psychologically as someone enters a new environment that is drastically different from their previous environment. For instance, during a major altitude change, one’s body undergoes physical acclimation which sometimes includes “altitude sickness,” manifesting with symptoms such as dizziness, headaches, shortness of breath, nausea, general disorientation, and more. This understanding of acclimation can be applied to an employee entering a new position or workplace to learn how they become fully integrated and comfortable in their new work environment and culture. To help employees acclimate is one of the primary functions of onboarding.

Why Is Intentional Culture Acclimation Important?

How your new hires acclimate to your company culture relies on a number of factors. Acclimation occurs whether your hands are in it or not. When a company intentionally guides integration for new hires, the employer helps ease them into their new environment, thus making acclimation less painful. Think of it as stopping at a number of rest stops on a journey from the sea to the mountains. This contributes to:

  • Reducing turnover. The SHRM Onboarding Guide puts it this way: “Onboarding new hires at an organization should be a strategic process that lasts at least one year, staffing and HR experts say, because how employers handle the first few days and months of a new employee’s experience is crucial to ensuring high retention.”
  • Building rapport. You can help new hires acclimate by taking them out to lunch on their first day and checking in to build rapport and trust.
  • Increasing engagement. A well-acclimated employee will be more engaged in their responsibilities, invested in the company mission and loyal to the organization overall. 
  • Improving productivity. With overall new job discomfort out of the way, quality acclimation creates an environment conducive to productivity. A new staff member who is fully acclimated will know who to ask for help regarding specific responsibilities and will be more likely to collaborate with peers. This all contributes to a sharper learning curve and more efficient, quality work output.
  • Putting current employees at ease. In certain situations, the addition of a new role/hire can concern some workers who might suspect they are being phased out. Having a new-hire acclimation process in place will clearly define responsibilities and eliminate any job security concerns as well as social discomfort.

Culture Acclimation Strategies for New Employees

Once a solid understanding of culture acclimation is in place, the reins are in your hands. Unfortunately, there is no magic formula to acclimate every employee in the same way. Each person is different and will acclimate in their own way at their own pace. However, directing culture acclimation to be efficient and as smooth as possible is helpful in every scenario. This can be as simple as:

Refocusing Your Onboarding Program

Orientation is where a company has the most influence on cultural acclimation. As such, it’s a prime opportunity to incorporate acclimation seamlessly. With so much going on in onboarding, it’s easy for this to take a back seat or get lost in the shuffle. Review your onboarding program to ensure this doesn’t happen.

Preparing the Environment

Ensure the environment is prepared to receive a new employee on their first day. This will include making sure their workspace is cleared of prior employees’ belongings, cleaned, and ready for a new occupant. Moreover, have all equipment and resources the new hire will need to fulfill their duties ready and accessible. This will help the new hire feel both comfortable in the environment and more prepared to do their job with excellence. This helps them feel a sense of belonging and that they are (already) important to the company.

Setting Expectations

Setting expectations happens as early as when the job posting goes public. Throughout the hiring process and first few months, make the expectations clear. This includes policies like attendance and dress code, the extent of a new hire’s responsibilities, involvement in company programs or events, training timeline, and so forth.

Making Introductions/Mentor Program

This is for the new employee as well as current staff. Present opportunities for the ice to be broken. This can even be started prior to the employee’s first day through involving the staff. A fun example would be involving staff in the creation of a welcome booklet covering information like what streets to avoid when going to/from work, where to find the best coffee, and a guide to industry acronym meanings (give wrong answers only if you want a good laugh).

Checking In

Culture acclimation doesn’t conclude with onboarding, so don’t stop there. Check on your new hire periodically, especially during the first few months. Cover the general question and concerns but also make a point to touch on each aspect of culture acclimation. Avoid questions that are too open for the employee to pin down specifics. For example, if you ask, How are you adjusting? the lack of specifics makes it likely that nothing may come to mind and they’ll answer, Fine, thanks. Rather, aim for more pointed questions like if David from accounting has told them that one joke yet (social) or if their office gets too hot or too cold (environmental). Questions like these are more direct and will spark specific memories and begin conversations to answer those big questions.

Parts of Culture Acclimation

A fully acclimated employee must be acclimated with each aspect of the job. These parts of culture acclimation include:

Responsibilities and Expectations

In order for one to be acclimated in this way, they must be fully trained and equipped for their job. Additionally, their responsibilities must be made crystal clear as well any and all expectations for them.

Social

To be socially acclimated, an employee needs to feel accepted and needed. Part of this is knowing coworkers as well as who to go to for specific questions or concerns.

Environmental

Physically, an employee needs to adapt to the workspace. This ranges from as simple as knowing where the bathrooms are to as complex as adjusting their office to suit their ideal focused environment. Additionally, being environmentally applicamated covers things that are non-tangible, such as having their email set up, password chosen, and gaining access to the employee portal.

Psychological and Emotional

This adjustment cannot be rushed. However, if the previous parts of acclimation have all been on target, this compounds to affect psychological and emotional wellbeing.

Questions You’ve Asked Us About Culture Acclimation

Culture acclimation starts before your new employee even applies. This is part of why your brand image and company personality is so important. Culture acclimation begins the first time a future employee gets an impression of your company through advertising, social media, job postings, word of mouth, etc. This continues through the hiring process, orientation, and ends on a person-by-person basis depending on their adaptability.
An employee who does not acclimate well to the company culture will likely not stick around for long. Even if they do, deacclimation contributes to a negative outlook that will overflow into their quality of work and overall engagement.
Kayla Farber
Kayla Farber

Kayla is the Chief Innovation Officer at Hero Culture, where the passion is to create company cultures of retention using the power of personality.

Want to contribute to our HR Encyclopedia?

Posts You Might Like

The Ultimate Guide on How to Manage Employees in a Small Business

The Ultimate Guide on How to Manage Employees in a Small Business

When it comes to running a small business, we know that managing employees is often one of the most difficult tasks. People are complicated, and finding a way to keep your employees happy and productive can be challenging. This article shares specific advice for what you can do in the three phases of the employee lifecycle to get the most out of each employee.

Read More »

Want to join our network of contributing HR professionals?

Scroll to Top

Submit a Question