What Is Employee Orientation?

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There was a time when employee orientation involved pointing someone to a workstation, showing them the basics of their job and, after signing a few forms, leaving them with an information package about the company. Today, we know that this wouldn't be a successful orientation.

Studies have shown that the time and planning you spend on new employees in the first weeks, and even in the first hour, will benefit you both, with higher job satisfaction and reduced turnover rates. Orientation shouldn't just be a one-way street — just as the new employee is getting to know the organization, the employer should also be giving the employee a chance to introduce her unique skills and talents to the organization.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)

In its strictest sense, orientation refers to explaining an organization's structure to a new employee; however, in a more general sense, it refers to this and the entire process of welcoming an employee to the organization and ensuring she's integrating successfully.

What is Employee Orientation?

As with many terms, one company's use of the word orientation can be different from another's. There are essentially three different processes involved with bringing in a new employee. At its strictest sense, orientation is the portion where an employee is given an overview of the company and its structure. There's also a much looser definition of employee orientation, meaning it can include induction, which includes filling out forms and explaining employee benefits.

Orientation can also include onboarding, which helps new employees become an integral part of the organization, understand their roles and begin building relationships. Onboarding can take from a few days to up to a year, depending on the organization and the person's position; however, the objectives of onboarding are the same regardless.

Before the Start Date: Preparation

Much of the work for the employee's orientation should begin before she arrives for work. A lack of preparation or confusion can cause a bad first impression of your organization, so make a list of everything that will be needed, the forms to fill out and ensure all other administrative requirements are taken care of first.

Ensure the new employee has been set up with the tools she needs to do her job, such as an email address, a desk and chair, telephone, computer and permissions within the company's servers. Obviously, a millwright would need different tools than a web developer. Other tasks include:

  • Send a welcome email to the employee's new email account, which she'll receive the first time she logs in. 
  • Send an email to employees with the employee's name, position and start date.
  • Schedule training.
  • Prepare the employee's first work assignment. 
  • Prepare a welcome package that includes information on company policies, parking options, lunch options and where to go for supplies. 
  • Choose a company ambassador, usually a coworker who's nearby and does a similar job, who can answer questions as they come up. 

Day One: New Employee Orientation Best Practices

When your new employee arrives for his first day of work, ensure someone is there to greet him if you can't be there yourself. After welcoming him, the first thing you should do is to complete administrative tasks and introduce him to his colleagues. Additionally, you should:

  • Give him the welcome package and review the important details with him. 
  • Share the organization's mission statement. 
  • Review the organization of his department and the company as a whole. 
  • Review the department's management style.   
  • Explain the employee review process and expectations.
  • Review policies on lunch breaks and employee leave.
  • Introduce him to his company ambassador. 
  • Ensure that he has access to required tools like email and telephone voicemail.
  • Assign him his first tasks for the day.

First Week at Work Best Practices

Any training required for the job should be started as soon as possible so your employee can get into the flow of her new position. How often you meet with the employee can range from a few times each day to once a day. During this first week, you should also ensure that you:

  • Explain policies and procedures that may not be in writing.
  • Specify the scope of the job and explain performance expectations.
  • Assign meaningful work to the employee once training is complete.
  • Explain the flow of work and how it is assigned.
  • Explain the management hierarchy or circle of management.
  • Introduce the employee to upper management. 
  • Ensure the employee is in email distribution lists.
  • Take the employee to lunch and ask about his first impressions.

The First 90 Days: Successful Onboarding

Induction and orientation tasks should be completed within the first week or so. Successful onboarding, however, usually requires a much longer time period. Part of the goals in successful onboarding is ensuring that the new employee is building important relationships on the job and sees a track toward her success. This requires regular communication with the new employee. Tasks during the next 90 days or so should include:

  • Providing all remaining essential training.
  • Continued introduction to senior managers and stakeholders.
  • Monitoring the employee's performance and providing feedback.
  • Scheduling period one-on-one meetings to receive feedback from the new employee and to recognize positive employee contributions to the organization.
  • Begin creating an employee development plan.

Is Your Organization a Strong Team?

Unless you're a sole proprietor hiring your very first employee, successful orientation and onboarding should never be a one-person job. Coworkers should be directly involved in welcoming the new employee and helping them navigate their new environment and processes. This is why having a coworker act as a company ambassador is always a good idea.

A 2014 study at Cornell University for its own employees showed a strong correlation between the involvement of other employees in the orientation and the new hires' feelings toward their new place of work. Those who stated afterward that they felt they belonged at Cornell and wanted to be there in two years also reported that other employees helped bring them up to speed in their new position and taught them how things were done. Those that didn't receive support from their coworkers were significantly more likely to have left their jobs within 18 months.

Is Your Orientation a Two-Way Street?

Many managers claim they hire people based on individual strengths they can bring to the organization, yet they use orientation as a way to discreetly get new hires to conform to the current company culture and processes without giving much thought to what the employee hopes to bring to the company.

A study done in 2013 divided new hires at one company into two groups. A control group went through the standard orientation, which introduced them to the new company. A second group was instead asked to discuss the individual strengths they'd be bringing to the company before being given sweatshirts embroidered with their names. After seven months, the turnover rate for the control group was 47% higher than in the group asked to focus on their individual identities.

In the same project, a second experiment was done in which college students were asked to do some routine tasks, including data entry. Those who were in groups focusing on individuality, including creating personalized name tags, were much more likely to return the second day. Researchers determined that giving employees personal identity socialization during orientation significantly reduces turnover by increasing job satisfaction.