New employee orientation (also called onboarding) introduces newly hired employees to the workplace and familiarizes them with some of the company's basic practices. In addition to helping new employees understand your company's operating procedures, a thoughtful and well-designed orientation program also serves to set expectations and can help new employees be more productive team members at a faster pace.
Key Orientation Agenda Items
There are a number of items to consider when designing and preparing your new employee orientation program, from the written materials you will be providing your new employee, to the structure and duration of the program. Some of the topics you may wish to cover include:
- Welcome. Give your new employee a brief tour of the workplace and introduce managers and co-workers. Be sure the employee's work station is neat and organized to make him or her feel welcome.
- New Hire Paperwork. Orientation is a good time to collect and complete any necessary paperwork, such as Form I-9 (which the employee must complete no later than the first day of work for pay), Form W-4 and any required state income tax withholding forms.
- Compensation and Benefits. Provide details on pay periods, direct deposit, payroll deductions, health insurance and any other benefits to which your new employee may be entitled. Prepare a benefits packet ahead of time to give to the employee and let him or her know who can answer questions.
- Attendance and Leave. Review the employee's expected hours of work, as well as the company's policies regarding absenteeism, meal and break periods, and time off (including notice required).
- Employee Conduct. Make sure the employee understands the rules regarding dress code, telephone and computer use, and other expectations. If your policies are explained in an employee handbook, be sure the employee receives a copy.
- Safety and Security. Explain necessary safety and security procedures and distribute building keys, employee identification, and parking passes as appropriate.
- Required Training. Schedule training sessions as soon as possible so the employee can learn about the technology, safety, and any other special skills necessary to perform his or her job. Don’t assume that your new employees are familiar with safety procedures, even if they have worked in similar jobs.
Regardless of whether you distribute a full employee handbook, it's a good idea (and in some instances may be legally required) to inform employees in writing of your company's policies.
How Long Should Orientation Take?
Onboarding should be conducted as soon after an employee's start date as possible. The duration of the orientation program can range from 2 or 3 hours to several days, depending on the amount of information to cover and the complexity of the position. The best measure of the success of your program is whether the new employee has enough information to feel confident and productive in the new position.
Be careful to avoid overloading your new employee with too much information on the first day. If you need to cover a considerable number of topics, consider extending the orientation over a second day. Another way you might organize your orientation agenda is to identify information your new employee needs to know on the first day, first week, second week, etc.
Remember to Follow-Up
After orientation ends and during the first several weeks of employment, be sure to set aside time for informal meetings with the new employee to address any concerns and answer any questions that may come up.
You can find more tips for helping the orientation process run smoothly in our section on Onboarding. And for a review of other key HR tasks related to hiring, performance reviews, and discipline, be sure to check out our "Must-Do" HR Checklist, available free for download.