Ideas for New Employee Orientation

Many companies today are taking extra care to make their employees feel comfortable in their work surroundings. From flex-time to telecommuting, companies are accommodating, some even encouraging, alternative "work-styles". Yet orienting new employees to the workplace is too often neglected, resulting in a weak welcome… or none at all.

Imagine for a moment that it’s your first day at a new job. You arrive in the office at 8:00 and call your new supervisor from the reception area… and no one answers. You sit down in the lobby. And wait. And wait. People are trickling in, but you don’t recognize any of them. 8:15… 8:30… Finally, your new boss shows up, greets you, and tells you they’re not sure where you’ll be sitting, but they’ve arranged to have a desk set up in the hallway for you until they find out. Then you spend a long, tedious day reading a mountain of human resources documents and job files.

Interesting. They couldn’t wait for you to start, but now that you’re there its as though they weren’t even expecting you. If this describes your initiation to your current company, you’re not alone. Many others have experienced similar problems when starting a job. Or perhaps you were in a different, but equally frustrating position:

  • The “relaxed” work environment explained to you during the interview turns out to be apathetic – or, conversely, stressful and competitive
  • There are no human resource people or otherwise to help familiarize you with the day-to-day processes that all other employees take for granted
  • Everyone is so happy you’re there to ease their burden – and they ease it onto you all at the same time, with no management or supervision
  • No one will answer your questions about the profusion of paperwork tossed onto your chair – because they don’t understand it themselves

Few things in life are as exciting—or as harrowing—as starting a new job. As a hiring authority or human resources representative, it’s important that you make the new kid on the block feel welcome and valued. Remember, first impressions last a long time and this is your opportunity to make it a good one. How important is your company’s first impression? Many HR managers agree that a favorable experience in the initial few days on the job is critical to an employee’s continuing success and motivation. A new employee orientation, be it a large-scale presentation or one-on-one meeting, can help to create a positive perception of the firm. In fact, studies have shown that a well-planned orientation can effectively contribute to:

  • Length of employment
  • Fewer mistakes
  • Improved client relations
  • Better work attitude
  • More effective communication among the partners, managers, and new employees

The orientation must provide concrete information as well as create a comfortable – but not false – environment. So, how can you develop a rewarding orientation program? Here are some ideas that will help:

  1. Ask their supervisor or co-worker, even a partner, to call them a few days before their start date. They should tell the new hire the firm is looking forward to having them aboard, what they’ll be doing the first few days, and if they can answer any questions. A simple phone call will reduce first day anxieties by presenting a friendly, helpful face to the company.
  2. Send a welcome note, if appropriate, to their family, offering to answer any of their questions.
  3. Let them know what time they are expected to arrive on their first day. They’ll feel more comfortable having an initial "goal" and knowing someone will be expecting them.
  4. You or their manager should fill them in on the "unwritten rules":
    • Ethics – Despite its importance, moral code is frequently unspoken. Don’t be shy about filling them in on the acceptable vs. the unacceptable.
    • Dress code – They won’t want to show up in a three-piece suit on casual Friday
    • Organizational chart – this chart may change continuously, so keep them up to date on the latest version
    • Departmental goals – How does the department measure success? How does it measure performance? What are the "official" and "unofficial" goals?
    • Telephone procedures – These days, mastering the phone system is a bit like neuro-surgery. Make sure they know the system and any “phone etiquette” i.e. do employees forward their phones to voicemail at night? Are they expected to pick up the main line when the receptionist is away from his/her desk?
    • Mission statement – These statements can be helpful in fostering a team environment. If your firm has one, make sure they know it.
    • Customer service philosophy – How are they expected to treat clients and vendors?
    • Office supplies – Where should they go for extra staples and paper clips? Which items need to be special-ordered?
    • Parking – Is there special parking for their department? If you work in the city, maybe there’s cheaper parking known only to an insider.
    • Extracurricular – Do you have a firm softball team? Are there any parties or field days coming up? They may want to put it on their calendar.
  5. Organize an orientation class with other new employees – it helps to know there are other people in the same situation. Take this opportunity to review the employee manual, discuss the "rules and regulations" and even take care of some administrative tasks.
  6. Give them a list of "important numbers and people to know". This list should include the mailroom, fax center (if you have one), receptionist, maintenance, security, and any main contacts in the departments with which they’ll be most closely associated. Also, be sure to explain the functions of each person along with their job titles and responsibilities
  7. Show your new employees a firm video starring the partners, managing partners, other executives whom they may not see on a regular basis. It will familiarize them with your firm’s leaders and better acquaint them to the firm culture.
  8. Assign a mentor to take them out to lunch and answer their questions. Or, allot them $100 to spend on whatever they wish: dinner, drinks, playing squash at a nearby club, or getting manicures during lunch break.
  9. Speaking of lunch, what about it? Does your company have a cafeteria or restaurant? Are there any good places to eat outside of your office space? Clue them in to the best places so they won’t waste their lunch hour wandering aimlessly in search of sustenance.
  10. Take them on a tour of the office. You may know your way around, but they don’t, and most offices can be confusing to the newcomer.
  11. Wrap up their new office supplies like a gift basket. It makes their first day a bit more "celebratory’ and is a fun, inexpensive way to liven up an empty office or cubicle.
  12. Make sure they have a pass, keys, or whatever else they need to be self-sufficient.
  13. Say "hi." It’s the fastest and easiest way to make a new person feel welcome and wanted.

No matter what your time and expense budget, you can always make your new people feel like vital members of your accounting firm. After all, an employee’s first few days are the ones that are remembered the best, and their experience will then affect the rest of their tenure. Make sure that you both start off in a positive direction.