Timing is Everything Series: Intro, Anxiety, (Part 2 Information Overload coming May 17th)

The Anxiety of a New Job

Although it might sound counterintuitive, the anxiety that employees feel to perform on the job at the outset of a training program actually helps them to retain information more effectively.1,2


This makes the curve of anxiety the most crucial stage of a training program. Of course, there is a balance between optimal anxiety levels, too little anxiety, and crippling anxiety that should be respected.3 However, on-the-job-performance can be accelerated much more quickly than normal during this stage of training.

An excellent way to promote healthy anxiety levels for programs and increase learner retention is to issue pre-training materials and communications to employees.4 Pre-training can include quizzes to assess learner knowledge ahead of the program, expectation-setting emails, or a sneak peek at what subjects the training program will cover.

Beyond pre-training activities, the curve of anxiety also encapsulates the first “official” training event in a program. The first training event should ideally be a contextual, personal, role-based introduction to the program rather than a generic “off-the-shelf” introduction. The best learning modalities for this are classroom-based instructor-led training and self-paced e-learning (and both should be customized). The first training event should provide base information upon which knowledge will be built upon later.5

Ending the first training event with a terminal objective and a “certification” for learners to work towards will also help to maximize their efforts and boost knowledge retention.6


The curve of anxiety in the context of new hire onboarding begins as soon as an employee is hired, and should even be played upon prior to the employee joining the company.7

Too often companies wait until their new hires’ first days in the office to start getting them ramped up and ready to contribute. However, companies that pre-board their new hires have significant advantages over those that do not:


Like pre-training, pre-boarding techniques increase the feelings of anxiety that employees have before officially joining a company, priming them for accelerated learning. Rather than scaring new hires away from a role before they even begin, pre-boarding gives new hires a heightened sense of purpose.

A new hire’s first days on the job are marked by an eagerness to learn and a drive to prove oneself to colleagues: it is a time for high impact learning. Setting performance expectations for new hires from the outset helps them to learn and grow much faster.8

We will be sharing information on decreasing the learning curve on our blog through the Timing is Everything series, but to read more now download the Timing is Everything White Paper!

Download the Timing is Everything White Paper


  1. Stossel, S. (2014). “The Relationship between Anxiety and Performance.” HBR.com, January 26, 2014.
  2. Yerkes, R. & Dodson, J. (1908). “The Relation of Strength of Stimulus to Rapidity of Habit Formation.” Journal of Comparative Neurology and Psychology, 18, 459-482.
  3. Schlanger, D. (2012). “The Optimal Level of Anxiety You Need to Perform Well.” BusinessInsider.com, June 19, 2012.
  4. Kohn, A. (2014). “Brain Science: Pre-training is Essential to a Complete Training Package.” Learning Solutions Magazine, November 13, 2014.
  5. Merrill, D. (2002). “First Principles of Instruction.” Education Technology, Research and Development, 50(3), 43-59.
  6. Cohen, S. (1998). “The Case for Custom Training.” Training & Development, 52(8).
  7. Bradt, G. & Vonnegut, M. (2009). “Onboarding: How to Get Your New Employees up to Speed in Half the Time.” John Wiley & Sons: Hoboken, NJ.
  8. Lahey, Z. (2014). “Welcome to the 21st Century, Onboarding!” Aberdeen Group, November 17, 2014.


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