New on the Job? Study Finds Men, Not Women, Are Rewarded for Getting to Know Their Coworkers

men standing in the background excluding female coworker in the foreground
The results of the study might help to explain how women’s careers get held back right from the beginning, according to a Rutgers human resources expert.

A Rutgers-led study raises questions about employee onboarding and workplace culture

Building relationships with colleagues is critical when starting a new job, but a Rutgers-led study in the Journal of Management Scientific Reports suggests that only men are rewarded for their efforts.

In surveys with nearly 200 new hires at another large public university, researchers discovered that men who invested time and energy into getting to know their new coworkers received valuable support in return. But women who invested the same time and energy received virtually no support. The study raises questions about employee onboarding and workplace culture, not just in higher education, but across all organizations.

“This might help to explain how women’s careers get held back right from the beginning,” said Lawrence Houston III, an assistant professor of human resource management in the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations and lead author of the study. “Coworker relations are considered the most vital factor in adjusting to a new workplace, and we know from prior research that most turnover occurs among new hires who struggle to adjust.”

Houston and Anthony Klotz (University College London) surveyed 183 new hires in 93 different departments at a large public university in the Pacific Northwest in 2016, controlling for differences in personality type and education level. The researchers asked questions 30, 60, and 90 days after each participant’s start date to assess how they were fitting in.

The findings revealed a significant and startling gender disparity.

Men who took the time to converse and go to lunch or happy hour with new colleagues during their first 30 days on the job reported positive outcomes at the 60- and 90-day marks. They felt supported by their coworkers, had a better understanding of their role, and felt socially integrated in the office. Combined, these factors positioned them for more success on the job.

Women who made the same effort to socialize with their new colleagues did not report any positive outcomes. They did not feel supported by their coworkers, did not have a better understanding of their role, and did not feel socially integrated.

“We suspect that gender stereotypes play a major role in these results,” Houston said. “Men often build relationships at work in order to gain leverage and be successful. But women are expected to care about others, not themselves. They are punished for doing anything that’s perceived as trying to get ahead.”

The study has practical implications for managers and HR professionals. To facilitate better adjustments to the workplace and prevent employee turnover, the researchers recommend:

  • Creating opportunities for new hires to build relationships with current employees, rather than waiting for them to happen organically;
  • Developing mentoring programs to support women who are joining the organization;
  • Finding ways to begin relationship building before the new hire’s start date;
  • Expanding the onboarding process from several weeks or months to one full year; and
  • Making special considerations for hybrid and remote workers.

“Relationship building is complicated to stimulate in virtual environments,” Houston said. “For example, remote working restricts interaction between junior workers and their senior colleagues. Managers should invest in developing virtual ways to correct this.”

Future research is needed to study the relationship-building experiences of transgender and non-binary workers, and the effects of racial and ethnic differences.