Sunday, February 28, 2010


Orientation is the planned introduction of new employees to their jobs, coworkers, and the organization. However, orientation should not be a mechanical, one-way process. Because all employees are different, orientation must incorporate a sensitive awareness of the anxieties, uncertainties, and needs of the individual. Orientation in one form or another is offered by most employers.

Orientation Responsibilities
Orientation requires cooperation between individuals in the HR unit and other managers and supervisors. In a small organization without an HR department, such as a machine shop, the new employee’s supervisor or manager has the total responsibility for orientation. In large organizations, managers and supervisors, as well as the HR department, should work as a team in employee orientation.
Together they must develop an orientation process that will communicate what the employee needs to learn. Supervisors may not know all the details about health insurance or benefit options, for example, but they usually can best present information on safety rules; the HR department then can explain benefits.

Purposes of Orientation for Employers
The overall goal of orientation is to help new employees learn about the organization as soon as possible, so that they can begin contributing. From the perspective of employers, the orientation process has several specific purposes, which are described next.

Both employers and new employees want individuals starting jobs to become as productive as possible relatively quickly. Texas Instruments found that orientation helps new employees reach full productivity levels at least two months sooner than those without effective orientation experiences. Some employers, including a large accounting firm, give new employees computer and intranet access upon acceptance of a job offer. That way new employees can become more familiar with the organization and its operations even before they go through a formal orientation program. This example illustrates that orientation to the organization really begins during the recruiting and selection processes, because the way individuals are treated and what they learn about the organization during the first contacts may shape how they approach new jobs.
Another facet of orientation that affects productivity is training new employees on the proper ways to perform their jobs. One construction company has found that emphasizing safety and instructing new employees in safe work practices has significantly reduced the number of lost-time injuries experienced by new employees.
Some employers have experienced significant turnover of newly hired employees, and it is common for over half of all new hires in hourly jobs to leave within their first year of employment. But employers with effective orientation programs have found that new employees stay longer. Corning Glass identified that 70% of the employees rating orientation highly were likely to stay at least three years. Another firm was able to reduce annual turnover rates by 40%, and much of the decline was attributed to more effective orientation of new employees.

Another purpose of orientation is to inform new employees about the nature of the organization. A general organizational overview might include a brief review of the organization; the history, structure, key executives, purpose, products, and services of the organization; how the employee’s job fits into the big picture; and other general information. If the employer prepares an annual report, a copy may be given to a new employee. Also, some organizations give new employees a list of terms that are used in the industry to help them learn regularly used vocabulary. The HR Perspective shows the passport used at ACI Worldwide. It describes an orientation approach that involves executives from throughout the firm, not just HR staff members.

Purpose of Orientation for New Employees
New employees generally are excited about the “new beginning” and also have anxieties about what they face. Therefore, orientation should help create a favorable impression and enhance interpersonal acceptance of new employees.

Although the first two purposes of orientation are employer-centered, another goal of orientation is to benefit the new employees. Certainly a good orientation program creates a favorable impression of the organization and its work. This impression begins even before the new employees report to work. Providing sufficient information about when and where to report the first day, handling all relevant paperwork efficiently, and having personable, efficient people assist the new employee all contribute to creating a favorable impression of the organization.

Another purpose of orientation is to ease the employee’s entry into the work group. New employees often are concerned about meeting the people in their work units. Further, the expectations of the work group do not always parallel those presented at management’s formal orientation. Also, if a well-planned formal orientation is lacking, the new employee may be oriented solely by the group, possibly in ways not beneficial to the organization. For example, at a software company the work group in the section where new employees were assigned delighted in telling the new employees “the way it really works here.” Some of their views were not entirely accurate. Therefore, orientation was essential for management to make certain that new employees knew what their supervisors wanted.

Establishing an Effective Orientation System
A systematic approach to orientation requires attention to attitudes, behaviors, and information that new employees need. Unfortunately, too often orientation is conducted rather haphazardly. The general ideas that follow highlight the major components of an effective orientation system: preparing for new employees, providing them with needed information, presenting orientation information effectively, and conducting evaluation and follow-up on the initial orientation.

New employees must feel that they belong and are important to the organization. Both the supervisor and the HR unit should be prepared to give each new employee this perception. Further, coworkers as well as the supervisor should be prepared for a new employee’s arrival. This preparation
is especially important if the new employee will be assuming duties that might be interpreted as threatening a current employee’s job status or security. The manager or supervisor should discuss the purpose of hiring the new worker with all current employees before the arrival of the new worker. Some organizations use coworkers or peers to conduct part of the new employees’ orientation. It is particularly useful to involve more experienced and higher-performing individuals who can serve as role models for new employees.

The guiding question in the establishment of an orientation system is, “What does the new employee need to know now?” Often new employees receive a large amount of information they do not immediately need, and they fail to get the information they really need the first day of a new job.
Some organizations systematize this process by developing an orientation checklist.  A checklist can ensure that all necessary items have been covered at some point, perhaps during the first week. Many employers have employees sign the checklist to verify that they have been told of pertinent rules and procedures.
Often, employees are asked to sign a form indicating that they have received
the handbook and have read it. This requirement gives legal protection to employers who may have to enforce policies and rules later. Employees who have signed forms cannot deny later that they were informed about policies and rules.
To help them understand the organization fully, new employees also should be oriented to the culture of the organization. Giving informal information on such factors as typical dress habits, lunch practices, and what executives are called will help new employees to adjust.
Another important type of initial information to give employees is information on the policies, work rules, and benefits of the company. Policies about sick leave, tardiness, absenteeism, vacations, benefits, hospitalization, parking, and safety rules must be made known to every new employee immediately. Also, the employee’s supervisor or manager should describe the routine of a normal workday for the employee the first morning.

Managers and HR representatives should determine the most appropriate ways to present orientation information. One common failing of many orientation programs is information overload. New workers presented with too many facts may ignore important details or inaccurately recall much of the information. For example, rather than telling an employee about company sick leave and vacation policies, an employee handbook that includes this information might be presented on the first day. The manager or HR representative then can review this information a few days later to answer any of the employee’s questions, and the employee can review it as needed. Some employers have invested considerable time and effort to make their orientation efforts interesting and useful.
Self-paced orientation, whereby employees review orientation information available electronically or on videotape, is growing in usage also. There are several advantages to this approach. Most of the general company information is online for employees to access from home or in offices throughout the world. It also saves several hours of HR staff time, and new employees can return to the information at any time. If they have specific questions, new employees can contact the HR staff either by phone or e-mail.
Indeed, employees will retain more of the orientation information if it is presented in a manner that encourages them to learn. In addition to the videotapes and computers already mentioned, some organizations have successfully used movies, slides, and charts. However, the emphasis should be on presenting information, not on entertaining the new employee. Materials such as handbooks and information leaflets should be reviewed periodically for updates and corrections.

A systematic orientation program should have an evaluation and/or reorientation phase at some point after the initial orientation. An HR representative or manager can evaluate the effectiveness of the orientation by conducting follow-up interviews with new employees a few weeks or months after the orientation. Employee questionnaires also can be used. Some organizations even give new employees a written test on the company handbook two weeks after orientation. Unfortunately, it appears that most employers do limited or no evaluation of the effectiveness of orientation, according to one survey of employers.
Too often, typical orientation efforts assume that once oriented, employees are familiar with everything they need to know about the organization forever. Instead, orientation should be viewed as a never-ending process of introducing both old and new employees to the current state of the organization. To be assets to their organizations, employees must know current organizational policies and procedures, and these may be altered from time to time.

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