The first day on the job is exciting as a new employee learn the ropes and the way around the office. There are dozens of fresh faces and it is easy to be swept away in the rush of new experiences. A few months later, the new job has become more like the old job and the employee often finds himself back where he started: wondering if the grass is greener someplace else.

Why is it that the novelty of a new job wears off so quickly? Does the company need to keep employees as excited about their workplace on day 100 as on day one?

Wendy Boswell, associate professor of management, Mays Research Fellow, and Director of Center for Human Resource Management and Abbie Shipp, assistant professor of management, collaborated to take a deeper look into the nature of this process and the measures employers might take to lessen the effects of the let down after the initial high.

According to research by Mays management professors Wendy Boswell and Abbie Shipp, employee satisfaction with a job tends the peak after three to six months after joining an organization.
According to research by Mays management professors Wendy Boswell and Abbie Shipp, employee satisfaction with a job tends the peak after three to six months after joining an organization.

The researchers’ paper, “Changes in Newcomer Job Satisfaction Over Time: Examining the Pattern of Honeymoons and Hangovers,” breaks the new job experience into two phases: honeymoon and hangover.

“The goal of this study was to understand what happens when you join an organization that leads to that decline in job satisfaction…how can organizations mitigate people from having a hangover, or at least better understand why it happens,” said Boswell.

In their article, Shipp and Boswell explored the attitude shift in a set of new employees over the course of one year. The sample group of new employees came from a public service organization in the southwestern United States, and were surveyed at four points throughout the year: the first day, and the three-, six-, and twelve-month marks. The surveys assessed the new employees’ levels of satisfaction both with their previous places of employment, as well as with their current position.

The research indicates that it’s fairly typical for an individual to go through the honeymoon to hangover process, though the severity of the shift from high to low varies between individuals. The employees that the Mays’ professors found to be the most at risk for a steep decline in satisfaction were those who came to the new job with baggage from their old job. People started the new job feeling deep dissatisfaction about their previous job will more likely feel a greater let down after the newness wears off because they felt the new job would be such an improvement. They’ve set themselves up with unrealistic expectations, says Boswell.

The data they gleaned from this study indicated that the peak of a new employee’s job honeymoon tends to be between three and six months. Shipp reasoned that this makes sense, as it is during this period that a new employee is no longer apprehensive about beginning work, and the realization of his or her permanence in the organization is finally setting in.

One of Boswell and Shipp’s hypotheses was that greater socialization would have a role in preventing the hangover. This turned out not to be the case. The organization where the research was conducted took several steps towards making socialization important, including a first-day new employee orientation and planned activities and social events throughout the first year. The surveys revealed that even well socialized employees experience the honeymoon to hangover shift.

After examining the data, Boswell says it seems that job satisfaction has more to do with the individual’s attitudes and previous experiences than the managers’ efforts. Also, the honeymoon to hangover process is a natural occurrence, and does not necessarily represent a problem. “Even if you’re really enjoying what you’re doing and contributing to the organization, you may still experience this decline,” she says.

In fact, the absence of a rise and eventual decline in enthusiasm could indicate a problem, says Shipp. If an employee doesn’t exhibit those signs, it may be an indication that he or she is less engaged and more likely to leave the position.

Instead of trying to prevent a hangover, Boswell suggests that managers could do more to re-recruit their employees—in essence, give them a second honeymoon.

This opens the door for more research, says Boswell, who will pursue further studies to understand the relationship between the honeymoon and hangover cycle and its impact on employee retention.