they had to be at work promptly at 9 a.m.
was entirely new. They were used to doing
household chores before leaving and then
catching a bus whenever it might come.
They had to learn how to carefully plan their
It turned out that the less-experienced
trainers, though sincere, tended to focus only
on specific job skills and left the new workers
to figure out the rest on their own.
“I noticed a pattern where the
experienced trainers talked about a lot of
different topics, not just the specific job,”
Ranganathan says. “They would talk about
what it had been like for them when they
first started. They focused on broader skills
to survive in the work force: how to show
up on time, what to wear, how to speak to
strangers — even questions like ‘Where is the
The experienced trainers had gradually
gleaned the importance of those issues as
they noticed the emotional struggles that
many of the new hires were suffering.
Many of the women, for example, were
extremely unsure about taking enough time
for eating or work breaks. Some women
went all day without going to the bathroom,
simply because no one had told them where
it was. Meanwhile, many new workers were
agonizing about their responsibilities back
In shadowing some 510 first-time workers
and recording more than 200 pages of field
observations, Ranganathan noticed that
some women went through a dramatic
transformation during their first few weeks
on the job.
Almost all of the women started out
painfully shy, reluctant to make eye contact
or to talk to anyone. If they did speak,
Ranganathan noted, their voices were often
so quiet that she could barely hear them.
Over the next several weeks, however,
some of the women would display a new self-confidence. They would become talkative
and cheerful, even making jokes in a way
that had seemed unimaginable weeks earlier.
Training Needs to
First-time employees often need help with
“unwritten skills,” such as overcoming shyness
or just getting to work on time.
BY EDMUND L. ANDREWS
The bustling garment factory near
Bangalore had a curious problem: Even
though it offered above-market wages,
almost half the women it hired were
quitting within three months.
The owners were baffled. The women
who dropped out (90% of the workers were
female) were just as productive as those
who stayed on, but they were much
less happy. By contrast, those who stayed
past three months appeared to thrive
and exuded new confidence.
What accounted for the difference?
Aruna Ranganathan, an assistant
professor of organizational behavior at
Stanford GSB, spent nearly two years
studying the workers and the factory to
It turned out that most of those who
stayed and thrived had one thing in
common: They had been trained by veteran
supervisors who had taught them more
than just sewing and stitching.
The highly experienced trainers had
also coached the new hires on the unwritten
skills of workplace readiness: how to
balance work and home; how to overcome
timidity and communicate with coworkers; how to make sure they arrived on
time at work; even how to find the restroom
or take an adequate lunch break.
“These were women who had never had
a formal job before and often never been
outside their villages,” says Ranganathan,
who is publishing a new paper on her
findings. “For many of them, the idea that