The first day of starting anything new can be daunting and stressful, especially a new job - which is why new employee orientation is such a critical touchpoint. It kicks off every new employee’s journey and plays a crucial role in ensuring they start off on the right foot.
A thoughtfully planned and well-executed orientation program can put new hires at ease, enabling them to settle in quickly and smoothly into the company. Although an employee onboarding software can definitely help with this, any well-planned transition process enhances their engagement and productivity in the first days.
In this article, we will explore the significance of employee orientation, differentiate it from onboarding, provide a simple checklist for organizing an effective orientation, and offer best practices to create a compelling employee orientation strategy.
Employee Orientation vs. Employee Onboarding
Because these terms are often used interchangeably, it is important to distinguish the differences between them.
Employee orientation sets the foundation by providing general knowledge about the company, while onboarding builds upon this by immersing new employees in their roles and setting them up for success and growth within the organization.
What is Employee Onboarding?
Onboarding is the long-term process of integrating new hires. It is a process of ensuring they deeply understand the company’s culture, values, and strategies as well as the role they play in contributing to these elements. Onboarding begins when the candidate first interacts with the company during the hiring process and continues until they have settled into their new roles.
It can take between six months to a year for a new hire to be fully productive in their role. Correspondingly, an effective onboarding process to support new hires in adapting to their roles can take between three months to a year.
The investment is worthwhile: Companies with a positive structured onboarding program result in employees being 18 times more committed to the company and 38% more effective at their job. These companies see much higher employee retention rates as a result.
What is Employee Orientation?
Employee orientation is when new employees are introduced to their jobs, teams, colleagues, and the company. It also includes important administrative details such as the completion of mandatory paperwork, and introduction to company policies and procedures as well as the employee handbook. It takes place during the employee’s first few days at their new workplace, and can last up to a week.
Orientation is an important part of employee onboarding. The first day of work is the company’s chance to make a good first impression on new employees after they’ve been through the rigor of the hiring process.
Employee orientation is an extremely formative period that leaves a lasting impression on them. When done right, new employees feel welcomed, informed, and connected to their colleagues, manager, and the organization. This creates a feeling of empowered participation in their roles from Day One. When it goes awry, the consequences are dire— of the employees who quit their jobs within the first 6 months, 17% leave after the first week.
Best Practices for Your Employee Orientation Strategy
While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to designing an employee orientation program, there are some best practices to keep in mind.
Set Expectations Before Day One
The human resources team should inform current staff about new hires and their joining dates to get them excited about their new colleagues. Encourage the existing team to engage with and welcome the new joiners. This will help them acclimatize to their new work environment.
If appropriate, invite the current staff to any events planned for your new employee orientation program. This will allow the established employees and the new hire to meet and mingle with the rest of the company.
Likewise, reach out to new hires before they start their first day. This can help ease their nerves and enable them to feel prepared for their orientation experience. This pre-orientation communication can include elements like the new hire orientation agenda for the week and introductory videos to the company culture. Include welcome messages from colleagues and positive news about the company to get new hires pumped for their first day.
It could also be an opportunity for you to get a headstart on mandatory paperwork that may be on your employee orientation checklist. Pre-boarding is a great way to get administrative work out of the way so that your orientation week is really just about getting to know the company and colleagues. You can use pre-boarding to address any paperwork new joiners need to complete, like I-9 employment eligibility forms and state tax forms.
Automate Where You Can
There are several HR technology software solutions available to streamline and automate various parts of the orientation process, such as the completion of mandatory paperwork and training.
Your HRIS or HRMS can be leveraged as a powerful resource for educating and engaging new and current employees through elements like learning and development— especially if you have an integrated learning management system.
You can set up a low-lift, orientation workflow that starts on the new hire’s first day with introductory meetings and a few set-up tasks. As their orientation week progresses, you can monitor their progress and engagement with automated check-ins.
Communication is Key
Communicate in a clear, concise, and timely manner - and pause in between
Be careful to communicate only what is necessary to new hires so as to mitigate any overwhelm they might experience in their first few days on the job. Make sure they feel taken care of and set up for success, not intimidated or burned out on new information.
It is also important to give new hires opportunities to pause and breathe in between sessions during orientation. This gives them time to digest new information and recharge.
Have an On-Site Welcoming Event
Give the new hire a warm welcome in the office and over lunch. If your company operates hybrid or in-person, you can make new joiners feel welcome by setting up their workspace in advance and arranging for an office tour as part of orientation.
If your company is fully remote, planning for new joiners to start their orientation at company-wide meetings is a good way for them to be introduced to and meet their colleagues.
Lunch is a time when new joiners might feel lost, like a new kid in school trying to figure out which table to sit at in the cafeteria. To avoid that, leverage lunch hour during orientation as a way for new joiners to make connections. For example, ensure teams take their new hires out for lunch in the first week so they can get to know each other outside of a formal work setting.
You might also plan for new hires to have lunch with members of the HR team or senior leadership so they can familiarize themselves with key personnel within the organization.
Plan One-on-One Time
Your new employee will need to cultivate strong relationships with key members of the organization. It helps to get started right away with some one-on-one meeting time in the first week.
Intersperse big group sessions with one-on-one sessions for new hires so they can begin to build strong relationships within the company. Make sure that they meet with their manager and/or mentor during orientation. During these initial meetings, it’s a great idea for managers to co-create 30, 60, and 90-day plans with new hires to align on expectations as well as to set them up for success.
Collect Feedback to Improve
Asking for feedback enables you to continually improve upon the employee orientation program. You can easily automate this aspect and integrate it via employee onboarding software, and analyze the results to help drive your decision-making process.
Besides that, you could also draw some inspiration from what leading companies do as part of their orientation. This list of employee onboarding program examples is a great place to start.
Do also utilize a checklist to keep you and your team on track in executing orientation and onboarding. You don’t have to start from scratch either— this employee onboarding checklist can easily be a template you can adapt to suit your specific needs.
Employee Orientation FAQs
How many days should be allocated for new employee orientation?
This depends on both the company and the role. In general, it is recommended for orientation to take a couple of days to a week. Consider the complexity of the specific job of each new hire. Those in more complex roles may require more specific technical programming to get them up to speed with their work, and this should be accounted for in their orientation or onboarding.
Spreading out information sessions across multiple days makes it easier for new hires to process and retain what they receive, while mitigating the risk of them being overwhelmed by information density.
Longer orientations also give you the opportunity to have more personable sessions in which new hires are introduced to company culture. By doing this, you could involve more employees in the process and facilitate relationship-building between them and the new hires.
Bear in mind that employee orientation is only a part of the onboarding process. The full length of onboarding should be three to twelve months.
What are key topics to include as part of the orientation curriculum?
While some items like company policies, dress code, and benefits are already typically covered in orientation, there are a few critical areas that you should include to set new hires up for long-term success.
One key topic is demonstrating to new hires how the company’s mission and culture translate into action. Each company has its own unique culture, which results in differences with regard to how things are done at each firm. This is easy to overlook and assume that new hires, especially those who are already experienced with the work, will intuitively sense and understand how to go about their work.
Another key item is training on how to handle VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) situations. Increasingly, companies and employees need to be able to adapt and pivot quickly in the face of constant change. As such, it is definitely worth developing resilience and flexibility in employees early on. Arm them with certainty about who they can turn to for clarity, what decisions they can make with autonomy, and when they should seek collaboration in uncertainty.
Lastly, give new hires an opportunity to tie everything together by facilitating a session towards the end of orientation for them to reflect on what matters most to them. This can be utilized as a way to improve orientation and onboarding. It can also be used as valuable information to enhance your company’s employee value proposition.
How do I strike a balance between providing essential information and overwhelming new employees with too much detail?
Keep sessions short and sweet— an hour or less is a good benchmark, especially if any of the sessions are virtual. It’s also helpful to record sessions and share them with new hires after orientation, so that they can access them as and when they need to.
Use feedback from the orientation participants to see what they think, and adapt sessions based on what they share and on what’s within your capacity to adjust. This can be while orientation is ongoing, or for future orientation sessions.
How do I tailor orientation programs for different roles or departments within the organization?
Working closely with different teams and departments in co-creating orientation for their new hires is a win-win situation for everyone. It keeps HR and other departments aligned on expectations during orientation and beyond. It also mitigates any confusion that might arise in the process of orientation for the new hires.
As such, when designing orientation, be sure to collaborate with department managers and team leaders to establish a collective understanding of what requirements are unique to a role or department, as well as which areas are common across teams. This will enable you to decide what content HR should cover with all new hires, while giving autonomy and flexibility to departments to create custom orientation sessions for those who are joining their teams.
What are some best practices for a hybrid or virtual orientation?
The goal of orientation should remain the same, regardless of whether it is in-person, hybrid, or virtual. As it is easier to feel disengaged in hybrid or virtual orientation, it is important to make sure that sessions are designed to be as engaging and interactive as possible. Besides that, do consider offering multiple sessions or providing pre-recorded content if you are running orientation for new hires spread across different time zones.
It’s also critical to facilitate networking and relationship building. This ensures new hires who are not attending orientation in person still have the opportunity to connect with other employees, especially managers, mentors, and other team members. For further information, check out this guide to onboarding remote employees.
The benefits of an effective employee orientation program extend well beyond onboarding. It’s an opportunity for companies to create a lasting impression on new hires that can impact their entire journey with the company. Because of that, it’s worth reviewing and updating your company’s orientation program on a regular basis as the company evolves and grows.