Think back to your first day on any job. Were you simply introduced to your co-workers, shown your desk and given a 10-pound, three-ring binder filled with lists of do's and don'ts, routes to the nearest emergency exits and yards of paperwork to sign in triplicate? Welcome aboard.
If this scenario rings true, experts say your company could be missing a golden opportunity to start new hires on the right foot. More than simply a welcome mat, new employee orientation programs can help new hires quickly make a connection to the corporate mission and "hit the ground running" in their positions—measures that can greatly reduce turnover and increase productivity.
"The orientation program is the place where you can capture new hires' attention up front," says Doris Sims, talent development director at telecommunications firm Alcatel USA, Plano, Texas, and author of Creative New Employee Orientation Programs (McGraw Hill, 2002). "If you don't, then basically the culture and direction of the company just shapes itself. In other words, if you want to be clear in your company about what differentiates you from the competitor, what your culture is, what you value, and what your products and services are, then you must have an excellent orientation program."
Yet, getting new hires to make that critical connection during the first months of employment is where most companies often fail, says Sims, particularly at large corporations. In 1997, for example, data compiled from a Strategic People Audit conducted at Arthur Andersen found that new employees at the company said they "felt invisible." The firm's one-year retention rate of the employees in consulting roles was only 40 percent.
In many cases, sheer corporate size is the top reason why new employees feel lost in the shuffle, writes John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid in their book, The Social Life of Information (Harvard Business Press, 2000). "Large organizations stand little chance of forging much of a common identity," say the authors. "Its members are too diverse, too deeply engaged in different practices, and located in too many places."
Properly conducted employee orientations have proven to shape corporate cultures and improve poor turnover statistics for new hires. Sims cites a study at Corning Glass which concluded that "employees were 69 percent more likely to remain with the company after three years if they completed a full orientation program."
Investments in orientation programs need not be large to produce results. A 2000 study conducted by The Ohio State University found that new employees who completed a simple three-hour orientation program showed a higher level of commitment to their employer than those who skipped the program.
This increase "resulted from the fact that those who attended had a better understanding of the organization's goals and values, and knew more about its history than those who didn't go," writes Howard Klein, co-author of the study and professor of management and human resources at OSU's Fisher College of Business. The study examined employees in a wide range of jobs in a variety of departments, including accountants, dental assistants and maintenance workers. In addition to receiving a greater understanding of corporate mission, those who attended the orientation programs, the study showed, reported more informal contact and social relationships with their co-workers than those who didn't attend. Having more in common to talk about, such as the mission and history, helped facilitate such relationships.
But as orientation programs have proven their business value, many companies, even those with large coffers, continue to invest little in programs that can have great impact on corporate culture and retention. In fact, only 7 percent of training budgets are spent on orientation programs, according to an astd study conducted in 2000.
Doing it Right