In this lesson we will study the impacts that socialization and orientation processes have on the attitudes of union members. We will also look at some ways that orientation programs may be implemented by a local union.
In this lesson we ’ll discuss some key points about orientation and socialization. These points will include the the role and importance of the individuals first impressions of the union; how creating positive socialization processes, both formally and informally, can build new member loyalty and commitment; how the quality of an orientation program can influence the attitudes of the new member, and we ’ ll look at the critical role that distribution of information has in the socialization process. Let ’s begin our discussion with first impressions.
All of us familiar with first impressions. First impressions can affect our attitudes about a person, place or thing. When we are interviewing for a new job we want to make a good impression, a lasting impression. We put put forth a determined effort to dress appropriately, groom ourselves, and mentally rehearse answers to questions that may be asked. We put forth our best effort. Why, because we want the job. We know we have to make a good impression if we expect the person to have positive attitude towards us. If their attitude is negative were not going to be hired. Making a positive first impression in a union is no different. We are want to make a positive first impression on the new member, or new potential member. But is the benefit of first impressions real or just perceived? Separate behavioral science studies in 1979 and 1993 confirm that first impressions are in fact influential. These studies found that first impressions and early experiences within an organization go along way in shaping an individual ’s attitude.
The initial socialization period is the period of time a person is first exposed to an organization, in this case the union. This period of time occurs in the early days, weeks and months of the person ’s association with union. This is the time the individual will learn about the goals, values, customs and rituals, as well as practices of the union. This is an important window of opportunity for the union to make a first and lasting impression on the member. The impression that union should obviously be seeking is a positive one. This is the period of time the union’s contact with the member will have considerable influence over how the member may feel about its representative organization. Research has pointed out the more positive an individual’s experience is with their organization, the more positive and stronger their attitude will be towards the organization.
There are two types of socialization experiences that an individual will be exposed to early within their organization. They are the formal and informal processes. We ’ll discuss the formal experience first. Examples of formal socialization actions consists of organized and structured group activities that attempt to gain individual loyalty and commitment to the union, instruction about the unions rules and procedures, and presenting information about the formal groups expectations. We ’ll discuss specifics of how these activities may be carried out later. Next we ’ll look at informal socialization.
Informal socialization is less structured and more spontaneous. It is more of an individual than a group experience. Each individual ’s experience is more likely to differ. This experience usually involves the conveyance of information from senior employees about expectations. These individual experiences can be a reinforcement of information and expectations put forth in the more formal process. This socialization type is more often a one-on-one experience between the new member and a seasoned union member. The seasoned member is more likely to express and share information about customs, traditions, and practices of the union. Later we’ll discuss some specific ways this informal process can be effective in influencing the new member’s attitude and gaining their loyalty and commitment.
In a study of four local unions representing hundreds of workers at a utility company that examined the informal socialization process within the unions, the study found a relationship between the member ’s experience in the informal process and member commitment. The study concluded that the more positive the union member ’s informal socialization experience the greater the member’s level of commitment to the union. It was also found that the frequency and intensity of positive informal socialization activities led to more commitment from the member. Another aspect of the study found that informal socialization is not enough to gain member commitment. The socialization process also requires a positive formal socialization experience as well. A 1993 study by the author of our textbook concludes that member commitment can be maximized through a positive and effective formal and informal socialization process.
Before we discuss types of formal activities, let ’s take a look at some important findings by the University of Minnesota’s Labor Education Service. In a study which it conducted, the outcome found that children that are exposed to their parent’s union activities are more likely to feel positive towards unions than the children of parent’s who did not. It is assumed that as these children grow towards adulthood and enter the workforce their positive attitudes will continue. This study points out that positive exposure to unions is never to early. Efforts by parents to expose children to unions is not within the control of the union but the union can certainly encourage parents to educate their children about unions. The union does have the ability to create education materials for school aged children.
The best opportunity that a union has to influence a new employee ’s opinion of the union is when the employee is first hired. This is the time to make the union’s case by informing the new employee about the union’s efforts and actions to improve wages, benefits and other conditions. This is the best opportunity to inform the person of their contractual rights. Most employers have some form of orientation. The company’s orientation efforts should not define the union or take credit for improvements the union has made. Only the union should assert the role of the union and the best way to start is through a formal orientation program very soon after the employee is hired. This is the first opportunity for the union to seek loyalty and commitment from the employee to the union. This is the time to ask the new employee to become a member of the union.
Studies support that formal orientation programs should be conducted as soon as possible after a new employee has entered the workplace. Often these orientations are conducted in group settings with other new employees. Regardless, if there are sufficient numbers to hold a group session, or only one or two new hires to do a more one-on-session, a formal orientation should be conducted very early. Research has shown the more time that passes after the individual is initially employed the more likely other groups or individuals will influence the new employee ’s attitude in a different direction in which the union prefers. Remember the employer usually has the first crack at influencing their new employee. The location of the orientation program is also an important consideration. Options include conducting the orientation on the employers premises, a neutral location such as school, church, community center, or the local union building. There are advantages and disadvantages to holding the orientation session on the employer ’s property. The advantage may be that all new hires will be present but a disadvantage may be the time allotted for the union’s orientation is brief. Regardless hold an orientation is important. Conducting the orientation session at union’s offices provides more opportunity for flexibility and time. The new hire ’s orientation should be formal with structured quality program and should be presented by positive, knowledgeable, and respected members and officers. This also presents an opportunity for new members to become familiar with leaders of the local union. The program should include relevant information. Research has found that the amount of relevant information that was acquired by the new member is what impresses them more.
Examples of an orientation program may include officer introductions, the history of the union, the union ’s structure, contractual rights and benefits, overview of a probationary status and workplace issues. This lesson plan includes a 16 page leader ’s guide to conducting a new employee orientation program that is produced and published by the American Federation of Government (AFGE). This is an excellent resource that can be adapted by other unions for their own orientation program. I believe this document can speak for itself on potential content that can be presented and done at an orientation session in addition to suggestions made on this slide. The document is not what is given to new employees but what AFGE local leaders are provided as resource for conducting an orientation session. This document is offered for your information and will be discussed in a class forum.
Research confirms that new members appreciate receiving publications. These may be specially printed publications for new members. These my be placed in new member welcome kits. This information may used to reinforce what is presented during the verbal presentations during the orientation meeting. The materials may include the contract, union bylaws, officer contact information, and information about benefits and services. Many unions now produce a promotional DVD that promotes and projects the union in a positive light. An example of such a video, produced by a Canadian Union is included in this lesson plan. Please be sure to watch this video and be prepared to discuss it in class forum.
Remember the purpose of an orientation session is to help shape the attitude of the new member to be positive about their new union. This positive attitude may translate in to a behavior, participation. A few tactics that may be used to reinforce a positive attitude is by presenting a small gift, such as a union pin, t-shirt or bumper sticker. In fact should the new member choose to wear their pin or t-shirt, or display their bumper sticker, this is actually their first act of informal participation. The orientation is also an opportunity to join the union and to be recognized. Joining the union is another form of informal participation. Another tactic the union may use is to hold a follow up orientation meeting. The new hire has been on the job and may have questions or concerns. This is an opportunity for the union to demonstrate that it is there to help and doesn ’t’ disappear after the initial introduction. Lastly on this slide, unions should be cautious not to overstate what it can deliver. This may create expectations that are unrealistic. Expectations that are unfulfilled will negatively impact the attitude of the member.
Building a positive attitude toward the union does not end at the orientation meeting. The building process continues as an ongoing activity. Another activity that can help in establishing new member’s attitude is the union meeting, particularly their first union meeting. Again this is an opportunity for the union to make a positive impression. Here are some of the first union meeting activities that impress new members according to surveys conducted by researchers. Invite the new member to their first union meeting by written invitation, not through an e-mail or text message but through a personally signed invitation. Ideally, this would be signed by the union president, an actual signature, and not a by an auto writer. Compliment this with an actual escort to the union meeting. The escort, who could be a union steward or officer. Yes this means actually picking the new member up at their home. The escort may consider taking in a pre-meeting or post meeting meal. Upon arrival at the meeting the escort should introduce the new member to others before the meeting and upon convening of the meeting the presiding officer can formally welcome and introduce the new member. During the union meeting conduct an official membership swearing-in ceremony and present them with a union pin and their membership card. A short story about the new member and a photograph can be published in the local’s newsletter.
There is a substantial correlation between the stewards interaction with a new member and their perspective of the union. Research confirms that the same members that have negative attitudes towards unions are the same members that complain they rarely see their steward or representative. The study suggests the most critical period for maintaining contact with a union member is during their first six months of employment. This is the period of time when the new member ’s attitude is developing about the union. Unions should not miss this opportunity. Unions can create standard procedures for ensuring insuring initial and ongoing contact with a new member. Unions can create a mentoring system. These are just a few ways that the union can provide for an ongoing socialization process of new members. Stewards and officers should all be educated about the importance and benefits of new member socialization.
A mentor program is an excellent way to ensure new member socialization. The union can develop a checklist for mentor activities with the new member. This ensures that the process of socialization and orientation is systemic and thoughtful. These activities, among others, include meeting with the member each day to provide information about union activities and answer questions the member may have. The mentor can introduce the new member to others and escort the new member to union meetings or sit with the union member if the member chooses to bring themselves. Importantly any mentor must be carefully chosen to ensure the union is being presented positively by the mentor.
Membership Orientation and Socialization
Member Orientation and Socialization1Jim Walker - LS 13
Key Points First Impressions shape attitude toward union Unions can build union loyalty and commitment Orientation Program quality important Information distribution necessary component 2 Jim Walker - LS 13
First Impressions Assumption that first impressions are important Unions can benefit from first impressions Studies support as fact that first impressions matter First impressions and early experiences impact attitude 3 Jim Walker - LS 13
Union Socialization Socialization Period with union Period to pass on goals, values, customs Important time to make first impression Time period with considerable influence More positive experience shapes attitude 4 Jim Walker - LS 13
Formal Socialization Organized and structured group activity Activity pursues individual loyalty and commitment Provide Instruction about rules and procedures Present Information about formal group expectations 5 Jim Walker - LS 13
Informal Socialization Less Structured Spontaneous Different for each member Conveys expectations Customs, traditions, practices 6 Jim Walker - LS 13
Union Socialization Research Informal experience and commitment More positive results in greater commitment Frequency and intensity of positive experience Supplemented by positive formal activities Formal and informal process maximize member commitment 7 Jim Walker - LS 13
Early Childhood Exposure Youthful exposure to unions More likely to support union as an adult Youthful non-exposure to unions Less likely to support union as an adult Union members encouraged to educate their children 8 Jim Walker - LS 13
New Member Orientation First opportunity to influence opinion of union Union make case in early stage of employment Do not let company define union Assert the role of union Orientation most important mechanism Seek membership, loyalty and commitment. 9 Jim Walker - LS 13
Orientation Experience Orient new employee earlier Location Experience should be formal Orientation quality Provide relevant information Choose the right presenters 10 Jim Walker - LS 13
Orientation Program Officer introduction History of union Union structure Contractual rights and benefits Probationary Status Workplace Issues 11 Jim Walker - LS 13
Welcome Kit New members appreciate relevant publications Reinforces verbal presentation May include contract, bylaws, contact info, services Promotional DVD 12 Jim Walker - LS 13
Orientation Closure Arrange Follow up orientation meeting Present small token or gift Present t-shirt, bumper sticker Seek union membership Do not overstate what can be delivered. 13 Jim Walker - LS 13
First Union Meeting Invite new member to meeting Send a written invitation Assign an escort - offer to pick up and drive Consider a dining experience Introduce new member at union meeting Conduct swearing-in ceremony 14 Jim Walker - LS 13
Informal Socialization Impact of steward interaction Create procedures for new member contact Ongoing new member contact Establish a mentor system 15 Jim Walker - LS 13
Mentor Role Create a checklist of activity Meet with the member once per day Answer questions Introduce new member to others Escort new member to union meeting Discuss union in a positive light 16 Jim Walker - LS 13