Earlier in my career, I worked in a major state university and remember being surprised that the university was going to institute a mandatory meal plan for incoming freshmen. Like a lot of people, my first thought was that this was simply a plan to drive up food sales at the campus cafeteria. I was intrigued to learn that, in fact, a mandatory meal plan is one of the most effective tools to increase student retention a university can adopt.
New college freshmen, away from home for the first time and thrust into a whole new social environment, can easily become isolated and alone. They get up (alone or with at most a single room mate), go to class and sit surrounded by strangers, grab a burger (alone), eat it alone in their dorm room and repeat this pattern day after day. Many students have difficulty with the transition and lack a support group of friends to socialize or study with. They get frustrated and their grades suffer. In a very short while, they are leaving the university to return their homes and friends.
However, by taking part in group activities such as regular meals in a cafeteria, these same students quickly feel like they belong. They develop support groups and make friends…all of which result in increased student retention.
At our company, we adopt this lesson to increase our workforce retention over the long term. One a new hire’s first day at work, the entire department takes that person out to lunch. In the casual social environment of a quick lunch break, away from the pressure of learning a new job skill and proving yourself to the team, a new hire can start the process of fitting in very quickly. It builds on the relationship between the new hire and their supervisor. It helps the new hire talk about things other than work they may have in common with everyone else at the table. It helps them begin to understand what kind of company they have joined and see the pride that everyone else has for our team. It’s a great way to form a bond that can last for years…if it is started effectively (and casually) on day one. What are you doing from day one to ensure that your workforce stays intact over the long term? I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions!