It doesn’t matter what college they attended, what degree they may hold, what skills they have acquired or what work prior experience they have earned. Every individual who has ever held a job shares a single common experience – a first day on the job. If polled on the topic, most would probably admit to feelings of anxiousness, isolation and discomfort that first day. Others could share horror stories of alienation and embarrassment.
Despite the time, energy and expense companies dedicate toward the recruiting, interviewing and hiring processes, too often they do little to introduce those hard-earned new hires to the company. Employers get one chance to make a first impression, so it is crucial that they seize the opportunity to make new employees feel comfortable and confident through a proactive orientation, or “onboarding” process. The sooner new employees become oriented to a company’s culture, values and policies, and understand what is expected of them, the sooner they can begin to positively contribute to the organization’s operations and its bottom line.
Research suggests that an effective onboarding process can accelerate an employee’s productivity and help to ensure that the employee stays with the company, thus decreasing the company’s total cost of turnover. On the other hand, an ineffective or nonexistent onboarding process can cause a new employee to feel overwhelmed, undervalued and frustrated often resulting in the employee leaving the company within the first year.
Successful orientation programs introduce a company’s history, culture, processes and people in a fun, exciting and interesting way. When new employees are engendered with positive emotions toward their company, they are excited and eager to do good work. But an orientation method that works for one company will not necessarily work for another. Monday morning orientation seminars are common for larger companies that have a new group of employees starting each week, but for companies that may only hire one or two people every six months, they can be inefficient. If scheduled bi-monthly or only once a quarter, by the time a seminar comes up on the calendar a new employee who has been on the job six to eight weeks has already had to sink or swim on his own.
So what are some alternative methods for onboarding new employees?
Send an email to employees prior to their start dates welcoming them to the company. The email could provide a link and password to the company’s intranet site where organizational information is posted. In this way, new hires can take some time to review things like a company history, managerial bios and frequently asked questions before they show up for their first day of work.
Conduct a shadowing program where new employees spend their first few days or weeks alongside a coworker assigned to show them the ropes. Shadowing can be especially effective when a job involves a process or function that the new employee needs to learn and understand. By thoroughly explaining the why, when, where and how of the position before unleashing them to tackle a project on their own, employees will feel better prepared and more confident when they receive their first assignment. Mentors are an effective means for orienting new employees who are filling managerial or professional positions. These new hires may be experienced in their field, but need guidance to navigate the organization’s policies, protocols, and politics. A mentoring relationship can last a few weeks or indefinitely depending on the connection that forms between two people.
In addition to education, environmental and social factors play an important part in successful employee orientation as well. Nothing would make an invited guest feel more unwelcomed in your home than having you seemingly forget their scheduled arrival. The same is true when a new employee shows up on her first day and no one seems to have prepared for her arrival. It sends a signal that her arrival is either unexpected or unimportant.
Assign someone the responsibility of greeting a new employee. Whether a human resource representative or someone from the department where the new hire is assigned, greeters can help new employees establish their bearings and feel immediately welcomed. (Just knowing where the coffee and bathrooms are located can make someone instantly feel more at home.) Also, remember to send out an email or post a notice welcoming a new employee. Encourage everyone to introduce themselves to their new co-worker throughout the day. Finally, if possible, arrange for a small group to have lunch with a new employee the first day or throughout the first week. It is a great way for someone new to learn the informal workings of the company, to begin to feel a part of the team, and to avoid the awkwardness of eating alone in a strange place.
Supervisors are critical to making new employees feel valued and engaged from the outset. They should determine in advance where a new employee will be physically located, and if people, files or equipment need to be moved to create space, arrange for that before the new employee’s start date. Supervisors should also set aside time to spend with a new employee to discuss in detail the expectations and goals for the job, as well as company and departmental protocol. The sooner a new employee is up to speed on processes and procedures, the sooner she can be productive without the constant oversight of a supervisor.
Successfully orienting employees to a company involves more than one method, one step, one person or one day. It’s a process that, when executed effectively, can result in one more committed manager, one more productive sales person, or one more fulfilled administrative assistant. Do the math – an investment in your company’s orientation process can make a meaningful and measurable impact on your company.