Onboarding: Employee Orientation Beyond Sink or Swim

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Onboarding: Employee Orientation Beyond “Sink or Swim”
Why current orientation programs are failing corporate America, and what to do about it.


mployee Orientation. Despite all efforts to the contrary, it often comes down to this: a recently overhauled employee orientation program makes use of the company’s high quality marketing handouts. The program’s knowledgeable, personable presenter uses good visuals like computer slides and is enthusiastic about what he writes on the easel. After the morning presentation, employees take a guided tour of the company, and go home at the end of Day One with their new (if somewhat wordy) employee handbook, securely tucked away for future reference. Yet these new employees go home and tell their families they’re not sure they made the right decision. They are apprehensive, overwhelmed, and feel dramatically like outsiders. Of course, the orientation program described here was developed with great intentions, but in today’s hypercompetitive recruiting environment, intentions are not enough to maintain sought-after talent. There are 3 basic reasons that orientation programs fall short of their goals: lack of planning, disillusionment about the position itself and employees who feel that they simply “don’t fit” the company. Today, attracting qualified workers includes offering higher salaries, better benefits, improved training, and advancement opportunities. With these increased costs, it’s no wonder retention has become the focus of so much attention lately. Indeed, orientation efforts have been elevated to a high priority in many companies in an effort to reduce turnover rates in excess of 25%. The effort has even been given a new name – employee onboarding – to encompass not just the first few days of a new employee’s career, but a mainstreaming process that can take up to a year to complete. Unfortunately, this process is often neglected. Done poorly, the employee orientation program can leave new employees wondering what on earth they’ve done to themselves - and to their career. And with far more jobs available than employees to fill them, it’s likely that the poorly oriented new employee will be out the door in less time than it took to recruit and hire them. So the solution is not as neat and simple as some would like, but there are answers. First, there are some basic, but commonly made mistakes that are easily avoided: • bombarding the new hire with facts, figures, names, and faces, all packed into one eight-hour day • showing boring or sorely out-of-date orientation videos • providing lengthy front-of-the-room lectures • failing to prepare for the new hire - providing no phone, no e-mail, no computer, and no meaningful work. Companies that have effective orientation programs get new people up to speed faster, have better synergy between what employees consider productivity and what the company needs to produce, and they have higher retention rates. Just as importantly, the new employee will enjoy an accelerated learning curve in the new position, increased productivity and a smooth transition into the corporate culture.

“Forty percent of employers report that they currently have job openings for which they can’t find qualified candidates.” -Matt Ferguson, CEO of Careerbuilder.com

The Rising Cost of Finding and Hiring the Right Employee for the Job

While the figure may seem high, The Employment Policy Foundation estimated in 2004 that it costs as much as $13,000 to recruit and hire a single employee. Other sources estimate the cost from as little as 25% of the employee’s annual salary to an astronomical 14 times yearly pay for upper-level employees.

But it seems that very few companies have the ability or even the desire to track what it costs to hire an employee. Such a figure would have to include the cost of: • advertising • marketing materials • job fairs • background checks • HR’s time screening resumes and candidates • manager’s time interviewing •...
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