Orienting employees to their workplaces and their jobs is one of the most neglected functions in many organizations. An employee handbook and piles of paperwork is not sufficient anymore when it comes to welcoming a new employee to your organization. The most frequent complaints about new employee orientation are that it is overwhelming, boring, or that the new employee is left to sink or swim. The result is often a confused new employee who is not productive and is more likely to leave the organization within a year.
With an ongoing labor crunch, developing an effective employee orientation experience continues to be crucial. It is critical that new hire programs are carefully planned to educate the employee to the values, history and who is who in the organization. A well thought out orientation program, whether it lasts one day or six months, will help not only in retention of employees, but also in productivity. Organizations that have good orientation programs get their people up to speed faster, have better alignment between what the employees do and what the organization needs them to do, and have lower turnover rates.
A well thought out orientation process takes energy, time and commitment; however it usually pays off for the individual employee, the department, and the organization. One such example is Mecklenburg County’s (North Carolina) success in revamping its employee orientation program, to live up to its credo of employees being the organization’s greatest resource. In 1996, as part of a larger initiative to redesign services to meet customer needs, the Mecklenburg County Human Resources Department staff made a smart decision- they viewed new employees as part of their customer base and asked their customers what they wanted.
Purposes of Orientation
A thoughtful new employee orientation program can reduce turnover and save an organization thousands of dollars. One reason people change jobs is because they never feel welcome or part of the organization they join. The most important principle to convey during an orientation is commitment to continuous improvement and continual learning. That way, new employees become comfortable with asking questions to obtain the information they need to learn, problem solve and make decisions.
Employers have to realize that orientation isn’t just a nice gesture put on by the organization. It serves as an important element of the recruitment and retention process. Some key purposes are:
- To Reduce Startup Costs
Proper orientation can help the employee get “up to speed” much more quickly, thereby reducing the costs associated with learning the job.
- To Reduce Anxiety
Any employee, when put into a new, strange situation, will experience anxiety that can impede his or her ability to learn to do the job. Proper orientation helps to reduce anxiety that results from entering into an unknown situation, and helps provide guidelines for behavior and conduct, so the employee doesn’t have to experience the stress of guessing.
- To Reduce Employee Turnover
Employee turnover increases as employees feel they are not valued, or are put in positions where they can’t possibly do their jobs. Orientation shows that the organization values the employee, and helps provide the tools necessary for succeeding in the job.
- To Save Time for Supervisor & Co-workers
Simply put, the better the initial orientation, the less likely supervisors and co‑workers will have to spend time teaching the employee.
- To Develop Realistic Job Expectations, Positive Attitudes and Job Satisfaction
It is important that employees learn as soon as possible what is expected of them, and what to expect from others, in addition to learning about the values and attitudes of the organization. While people can learn from experience, they will make many mistakes that are unnecessary and potentially damaging.
The orientation process has three stages:
- A general orientation
- A departmental orientation, and
- A specific job orientation
They are conducted by different parties. The General Orientation is usually managed by either the Training Department or the Human Resources Department, with the Departmental Orientation by the Department Head or first Assistant, while the specific Job Orientation can be carried out by an experienced and trained employee (trained on how to train). These guidelines are intended for people conducting the General Orientation:
A general rule of thumb for having the audience interested in the general orientation is to
- Make them feel at ease (open circle).
- Make sure that they had enough time to read the employee manual ahead of orientation time.
- Spend a good portion of the introduction time towards self-introductions, spiced with open questions.
- Get them to know who Management is: have a big chart in the orientation/training room which depicts how the organization is set up, with photos of the management team next to their title.
- Get them acquainted with the operation: have another large chart in the room depicting the flow of work and communications regarding the organization; this flow should include customers, suppliers and all parties affecting the organization (I had just planned such a chart for the hotel where I dealt with Training and Development, wrote it out in text, had an artist depict it with cartoon characters on a big white chart, making it educational but humorous – after all this was a hotel. Maybe in a technical company humor is not allowed. I explained it to the artist and we showed how each job position affected the final product since the customer’s / guest’s first contact with the operation and ending with the last contact.
- Have them know and see departments in operation: based on this drawing I conducted the orientation and explained all functions of the hotel, promising a personal tour of all the departments we discussed, including back areas, where the Department Heads received us personally and gave further insight on their departments.
- Allay their fears and doubts: cover subjects which are usually never mentioned in orientations, such as the difficulties new employees or supervisors experience, about turnover figures, about how people assimilate better after hanging out three months, about how they can turn to you for any difficulties they experience, be it regarding their rejection by existing old-timers or other matters. Let them know they can always turn to you for confidential advice (do not forget that any new person has fears and doubts regarding being accepted, succeeding or failing).
- Encourage friendships among new employees: try to create a team spirit among the existing group of newcomers – by the end of the day or the two days you will have created a group of employees at different levels and from different departments who will cooperate and enhance communications across the organization.
- Extend respect to them as human beings: have lunch with them as a group (I saw too many people who conduct orientations go to a different lunch room and this is very insulting).
- Enable first hand contact with upper management: have different Executives come to welcome the group and assure them of management’s commitment to help them succeed. Introduce each of the newcomers; dwell on their position, career background and personal interests.
- Assure them that the organization welcomes their observations, comments, and critiques.
- Last but not least, share company goals with them. Discuss it with them. Ask what their own personal and career goals are and try to (right there and then) mesh their own goals with the company goals.
This strategy (action plan) has proven to be highly successful. It cuts down on turnover drastically, engenders trust, cooperation and motivation.
Human Resource professionals and line managers first need to consider key orientation planning questions before implementing or revamping a current program:
- What things would new employees need to know about this work environment that would make them more comfortable?
- What impression and impact would I want to make on new employees’ first day?
- What key policies and procedures must employees be aware of the first day to avoid mistakes on the second day? Concentrate on vital issues.
- What specific things can I do to ensure that new employees will begin to know their co-workers without feeling overwhelmed?
- What special things (desk, work area, equipment, special instructions) can I provide to make new employees feel comfortable, welcome and secure?
- What positive experience can I provide for new employees that they could discuss with their families? The experience should be something to make the new employee feel valued by the organization.
- How can I, as the supervisor, ensure that I will be available to new employees on the first day to provide personal attention and to convey a clear message that they are important additions to the work team?
- Remember, first impressions are crucial. Here are some tips for putting your best foot forward.
- Begin before the new person does. Send an agenda to the new associate with the offer letter so the employee knows what to expect. Stay in touch after he or she has accepted the position to answer questions or help in other ways. Also, make sure the new person’s work area is ready for the first day of work.
- Make sure everyone knows the employee is starting and encourage them to come to say hello before orientation begins.
- Assign a mentor or partner to show the new person around, make introductions, and start training. Let the mentor have sufficient notice so he or she can make preparations.
- Start with the basics. People become productive sooner if they are firmly grounded in the basic knowledge they need to understand their job. Focus on the why, when, where, and how of the position before expecting them to handle assignments or big projects. Don’t overwhelm them with too much information.
- Provide samples on how to complete forms as well as the individual’s job description with the orientation packet.
- Have some fun. Do not spend time on every aspect of the handbook, only on the very important topics. Play some games because this can help the learning process.
- Provide a list of frequently asked questions with a contact person/department, and phone number or extension
- Plan to take them to lunch. The first day on the job the new employee is left in the lurch. This is a good time for the manager/supervisor to take the employee to lunch; include other co-workers, making sure the employee is at ease.
- Give the new person some responsibility for his or her own orientation. Offer opportunities for self-directed learning, under appropriate supervision.
- Keep the new person’s family in mind. A new job means adjustment for the entire family, especially if they have relocated. Do what you can to ease the transition and help them feel comfortable in the community.
- Ask for feedback. Find out from former new hires how they perceived the orientation process, and don’t be afraid to make changes based on those recommendations. You can send an evaluation two to four weeks after the employee has started, saying something such as: Now that you have been with the company awhile, did the orientation meet your needs? After they have been working there awhile they find out what they should have known but did not. At Mecklenburg County, one of the trainers, Allyson Berbiglia says, “We recognize that we have to continuously improve orientation to meet the changing needs of our customers. What works now may not serve our employees well next month or next year.”
The main reasons orientation programs fail:
- The program was not planned.
- The employee was unaware of the job requirements.
- The employee does not feel welcome.
All new employees should complete a new employment orientation program that is designed to assist them in adjusting to their jobs and work environment and to instill a positive work attitude and motivation at the onset.
An effective orientation program (or lack of it) will make a significant difference in how quickly an employee can become more productive, and also has long term effects for the organization. The end of the first day and the first week is just as important as the beginning. Let your employees feel you want them to come back the next day and the next…..