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Orient new employees

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Help new employees integrate and become part of the team

Effectively orientating new employees to their new workplace and colleagues is an important process. By making a new hire feel welcomed and supported in the first few days and weeks, you can increase the chances they’ll fit in and become long-term, productive members of the team.

Design an Orientation Program

In most organizations, staff members are busy with their daily activities. If there’s no formal orientation process in place, it’s easy for existing staff to overlook the needs of new employees.

But when new hires are left to find their own way around with no clear understanding of their role or where to find help when they need it, it’s easy for them to feel unsupported and unappreciated. As a result, they become frustrated and disengaged, and may even leave the organization as a result.

An effective orientation program helps new employees feel like competent, vital members of the team sooner and enhances their sense of commitment and connection to the organization.

Design a process, not an event

The orientation process is just that – a process – that will unfold over time, not just in one day. While it is important to share enough information so that a new employee feels equipped and prepared to do their work, employers should avoid overwhelming a new employee with too much information on the first day.

An orientation period supports the intense learning curve that a new employee will experience. It does not set up the expectation that they learn everything at once, but allows them to get good answers to urgent questions immediately, and to continue asking questions in the first few months as their needs change. It lets new employees know there is ongoing support for their successful integration into the organization.

Plan for long-term support

The key to a good orientation program is to look beyond the new employee’s first day.

Instead of simply giving new employees a tour of the facility and a copy of the employee handbook, many leading non-profits are moving toward conducting orientation as a longer-term process that offers ongoing support that begins before the new employee arrives and continues for weeks or even months after his or her first day.

When planning the program, consider how and when you will schedule the activities and information sharing with the new employee and pace it according to what information is vital and what will be more useful and relevant at a later date. Remember, the learning curve for a new employee is intense: give them the time they need to absorb the new information.

It can also be helpful to assign a mentor who can provide ongoing on-the-job guidance or a “buddy” to provide social support for the first few weeks or months. While an employee handbook is an invaluable information source, mentors and buddies offer new employees a friendly face and more personalized support.

Before the first day

As soon as a new employee is hired, and before they arrive for their first day:

  • Inform board members and staff that a new person will be joining the team
  • Set up an orientation team and assign specific responsibilities to each member
  • Set up the employee’s work station and assign an email address, phone extension, etc.
  • Update and print out a copy of the staff handbook (or make it available online)
  • If you plan to assign a mentor or a buddy, inform them in advance of their responsibilities

On the first day

On the employee’s first day at work, make sure they receive a tour of the office or facility and introductions to their new co-workers. New-employee paperwork will need to be completed, and a supervisor, co-worker or assigned mentor can provide an overview of the organization, job responsibilities and work expectations.

Don’t feel rushed to get everything done in the first day— take as many days as you need to cover each of these areas. It’s easy for new employees to feel overwhelmed when they’re given too much information at once.

In the first two weeks

As the new employee transitions into the workplace, the manager can provide more detailed information and reinforce key points delivered on the first day. The manager, the HR staff and—if assigned—a “buddy” should check in to see how the new employee is adjusting. It is also a good time to encourage the new employee to voice any questions or concerns.

In the first six months

After the first two weeks, the new employee will start to become familiar with the workplace culture and his or her daily routine. But it’s still important to check in and make sure they have the ongoing support they need to feel connected and productive.

Schedule regular meetings with the new employee to ensure they stay on track in the first few months. If you’ve assigned a mentor or buddy, this person can make themselves available to answer questions or direct the new employee to a person with the answers.

Choose roles and responsibilities

Successfully onboarding a new employee isn’t the responsibility of a single person: it’s a team effort.

Typically, an orientation program has two components. First, the new employee needs an introduction to the organization—its workplace culture, its mission, vision and goals, its reporting structures and any other information that will enable employees to understand how it operates as a whole. Second, the employee needs to understand their job. 

In larger organizations, the HR team is responsible for the introduction to the organization, while the manager oversees the introduction to the job. In smaller organizations, the hiring manager may be in charge of the entire process.

Even in small organizations, not all the orientation activities have to be conducted by the hiring manager. Some responsibilities can be shared among staff members, and even with volunteers.

Involve the team

Ultimately, you can make your own arrangements to fit your unique situation and available resources. The most important thing to remember is that a successful orientation program will require the co-ordinated efforts of several members of the team.

Here are some of the roles and responsibilities your orientation program may require:

  • HR staff or administrator. Prepares and completes paperwork, gives an organization overview (history, organizational chart, workplace culture, goals and objectives) and conducts a tour of the facility.
  • Manager. Outlines job responsibilities, describes work behaviours, standards and expectations, introduces team members and key staff members, and gives a tour of the department.
  • Co-workers. Share information on the work culture and team dynamics,  and show the new employee where to find equipment and supplies.
  • Board member or executive director. Communicate the mission, vision, values and strategic goals of the organization.
  • Mentor/buddy. Introduce co-workers and other colleagues, share informal rules and policies, and answer day-to-day questions.

Assign allies, buddies and mentors

Sometimes, new employees will naturally connect with a senior employee or proactively seek out a mentor in the workplace.

But this can be difficult when people are busy, or when the new employee feels shy or out of their depth. That’s why it can be very helpful to formally assign a mentor to each new hire. With an assigned mentor, the new hire has someone they know they can go to for information or guidance during those first weeks on the job.

Similarly, it can be helpful to assign a “buddy” to each new employee. A buddy fulfills a less formal and more social role, filling the new employee in on company norms and values and the unwritten expectations that are part of the workplace culture. The buddy can also take the lead in facilitating introductions around the workplace and ensuring the new hire is included in any social activities.

Orientation tips and ideas

Whether you already have an orientation program in place or are creating one for the first time, these tips and ideas will help you follow best practices and ensure new employees feel welcomed and supported.

Make a good first impression. While an orientation program can take weeks or months to unfold, the employee’s first day is an important one, and can leave a lasting impression. Consider the experience from the employee’s perspective, and make an effort to make the first day interesting, fun and social.

Go easy on the paperwork. The best way to learn about a new workplace is to meet and talk with the people who work there. Rather than making a new employee hide away with a stack of policies, procedures, handbooks and reports, give them opportunities to meet and talk to people. Often, talking to colleagues, volunteers, board members and even clients can tell a new employee a lot about the organization—including important cultural elements that often aren’t written down in the documentation and paperwork.

Make it personal and meaningful. Tailor the orientation process to the individual’s needs. For example:

  • Someone with 10 years of professional experience may not need the same orientation process as a new graduate with little or no work experience
  • An employee new to the non-profit sector may require an orientation to the sector as well as to the organization and their own role.
  • An immigrant employee may be new to the Canadian workforce and require extra guidance on workplace practices and norms other employees take for granted.

Make it practical. It’s often difficult for a new employee to find their place in the flow of work at first, which can leave them feeling unsure of themselves and their value to the organization. Assigning specific, meaningful tasks for them to complete as soon as possible can help anchor and orientate new employees more quickly and give them a much-needed sense of accomplishment. If possible, plan some appropriate tasks ahead of time so they’re ready to go during the first few days.

Go beyond the basics. An orientation process that just covers policies and procedures is only telling a small part of the organization’s story. There is a wealth of unwritten information that forms a big part of your organizational culture and workplace expectations.

Think of all the informal rules and traditions that long-term employees take for granted, but which will be unknown to someone new: dress codes, casual Fridays, birthday celebrations, meeting procedures and locations, and so on. Consider asking current employees what they wish they had known when they started and what surprised them about the organization. Find ways to add that information to the orientation process.  

Make information accessible. In addition to an employee handbook, you can email an information package to new employees ahead of time: new employee orientation schedules, materials, benefits forms, and FAQs can help them feel more comfortable and knowledgeable before their first day.

An online resource that is regularly updated, and always accessible, is the best practice when it comes to information sharing, but it’s also a good idea to post policies and procedures in writing on a bulletin board or other workplace location.

Help them connect and network. New employees need to figure out who people are, what their roles are and how they interact within the organization. Build time for formal and informal interaction into the orientation process. Provide opportunities for face-to-face meetings with colleagues as well as printed organizational charts that include names, titles and reporting relationships. Even staff pictures, names, and positions tacked to a bulletin board can be a very helpful orientation tool.

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