Orienting new employees for career success

Effective onboarding ensures smoother integration and faster productivity

During the first days and weeks on the job, new employees need a period of acclimation — that well-known corporate rite of passage called orientation.

While there’s no one-size-fits-all formula that will work for every employer, an effective orientation program can help new employees become productive more quickly and give them a solid foundation for future success at the company.

But, according to a survey of 492 office workers released by Robert Half International in May 2007, one-third of employers are not providing formal orientation programs.

Some employers may not offer extensive programs because they feel they lack sufficient resources or time. Other companies may think an informal, ad hoc approach to integrating new employees is adequate.

But a lack of structure or formal process can negatively affect employees because they may not develop a clear understanding of company policies, expectations and operating procedures. This also makes it more challenging for them to adjust and can limit their ability to make an immediate contribution.

A comprehensive orientation program — now often referred to as onboarding — will help ensure new hires are smoothly integrated into the company. To be most effective, these programs should include both practical information and a broad overview of the organization’s culture and how employees’ job responsibilities tie into company and departmental priorities. The following guidelines can help create or refine a company’s existing onboarding program.

Involving the team

A surprising number of companies forget to tell existing staff ahead of time a new employee has been hired. To set the stage for a rousing welcome, send a departmental or company-wide e-mail announcing the newcomer’s name, title, phone extension and location of her workspace.

Onboarding is not solely the job of the employee’s immediate supervisor. Various team members should be brought in to help the employee get up to speed. For example, an HR specialist can cover compensation, benefits and employment policies, an IT employee can help with passwords and log-on procedures and a department colleague can talk about departmental best practices. This approach gives the new arrival a chance to promptly meet and get to know a variety of co-workers.

Onboarding process overview

An effective program can be implemented over a few days, weeks or months. Overall it should be seen as an ongoing process and its length should be determined by the amount of information to be imparted. While there are no clear-cut guidelines, it’s important to allow the new employee sufficient time to feel comfortable and confident in her role. When in doubt, it is better to opt for a longer, more gradual transition instead of a compressed, often overwhelming, information dump. Here’s a sample orientation structure:

Prior to day one: New employees should be given information related to parking, security procedures, appropriate attire, arrival time and where to report. Providing a detailed job description to the new hire prior to her start date will help her prepare questions in advance and save time on the first day.

First day: Introduce the new employee to team members and ensure she gets essential supplies, such as a security badge and a copy of the employee handbook. Pick up where the final interview left off. Review work responsibilities, reporting relationships and current projects and be sure to pay attention to both large and small details — everything is brand new for the employee.

First week: To foster the new employee’s feelings of familiarity and confidence, discuss: the company’s basic products and services; the general organization of the company; the industry and the company’s position within; competitors; the company’s mission, core values and culture; and the strategic goals and objectives of the work team. During the first week, the new employee should also take care of administrative paperwork, such as the completion of benefits forms, and review company policies about personal phone calls, e-mail, time off and similar matters.

Second week and beyond: Consider arranging ongoing guidance for new hires, either by establishing a formal mentor or simply appointing an informal “go-to” person to answer questions as they arise. It’s also a good idea to hold follow-up meetings with the employee at regular intervals — at two, six and 12 weeks, for example — to assess her progress and solicit input on how she feels things are going.

Fine tuning the program

It’s important to gain feedback about the orientation program so improvements can be made. Questionnaires, surveys or other mechanisms can ask new staff to evaluate their experiences and gauge possible program revisions.

Focus on obtaining recommendations on the type of information that should be included or excluded, which components were the least or most useful and whether they had enough time to process the information.

Although it takes time to create a comprehensive orientation program, the payoff is a system that will help newcomers thrive. Whatever form it takes, onboarding will be most effective when it helps new employees understand their responsibilities and company procedures and when it enables them to quickly become a productive part of the team.

Anna Montesano is a Vancouver branch manager for staffing firm Accountemps. For more information call (800) 803-8367 or visit www.accountemps.com.

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