Newcomer Proactive Behaviour and How to Encourage it With Digital Support

Much of what we have focused on throughout our onboarding series until now has put an emphasis on the role that employers play in creating onboarding programs for their new deskless employees. However, as it often is, these things are two-sided. Employees also play a significant role in their own socialization, onboarding and adjustment to the new organization.

Helena Cooper-Thomas has identified a broad categorization of newcomer proactive behaviours, which include (1) changing the role or environment, (2) changing the self and (3) mutual development. So, new frontline employees will either try to: 

  • change their job or the environment to better suit themselves;
  • change themselves to better suit the job or environment;
  • or, change a bit of both. 

In this article, we will focus on the three types of employee proactive behaviour identified by Ashford and Black: positive framing, sense-making and relationship building. These behaviours are important for newcomers merging their environment with their social identity within the organisation. 

Positive Framing

Positive framing, as a newcomer proactive behaviour, involves interpreting the environment positively. One of the purposes of new employees engaging in proactive behaviour is to increase their feeling of control. One way to do this is by seeing work as a challenge (not a threat) and focusing on sources of support within one’s environment.

In their research, Ashford and Black found that positive framing is significantly related to job satisfaction and newcomer performance. Therefore, new frontline employees in your organization that engage in positive framing are more likely to have a better onboarding experience than those who focus on the negative. 

In order for frontline employees to interpret their work as a (positive) challenge, it can be helpful to increase their awareness of the bigger picture. Clifford Morgan recommends continuously promoting the organization’s vision and talking about how frontline work contributes to the company’s goals. Managers can literally provide the bigger picture through meetings, but also with programs like GuavaHR. For example, posts about (quarterly) goal achievements, customer reviews and other information can all make a helpful contribution. Not only will this support newcomer positive framing, but it is also important for sense-making. 


Newcomer sense-making behaviour includes seeking out information and feedback. Sense-making proactive behaviour can help new frontline employees to better cope with all of the information they are presented with. For example, Miller and Jablin suggest that sense-making lowers uncertainty and helps employees to understand their position within the organization.

Therefore, it is important that new frontline employees make an effort to get information about their work setting and understand organizational norms, as well as ask for performance-related feedback. This can be made easier by providing information about the company’s vision, mission, goals and achievements in a structured and easily accessible manner on a digital platform like GuavaHR. 

Relationship Building

Relationship building amongst newcomers can also be considered as general networking behaviour, which Ashford and Black’s research has shown is important for new frontline employees to be able to build a social network and identity within the organization. Virtual onboarding can support relationship building by sharing information about new frontline employees’ colleagues via a digital platform.

One fun way to do this is by creating short clips of employees introducing themselves. It is also important to provide information about who newcomers can and should reach out to in a transparent manner. Some examples of relationship-building behaviours are networking to find out which people to approach when; making small talk during breaks to build relationships and taking part in formal social activities organized by the company (e.g. team events) for the purpose of general socializing. 

Supporting Newcomer Proactive Behaviour

In order for newcomers to feel comfortable engaging in these behaviours, the organization should do its part in making them a norm. For example, the organizational culture should support an open atmosphere that encourages asking questions and supports employees getting to know one another. To make sure this is happening and to continuously improve the process, you can share a survey with your new frontline employees via your internal communication tool assessing the support they received. 

Being aware of the ways in which your organization’s new frontline employees may perceive and engage with an onboarding program can help you to provide them with better support. For example, Feldman suggests that training plays an important role in new employee socialization, helping them in sense-making and adjusting to the new job. Next to that, researchers have also found that manager support plays an important role in how new employees adjust to the organization. 

In conclusion, the success of your virtual onboarding program will ultimately be a symbiosis of the effort put into it by both your organization and its frontline newcomers.