Priorities in new hire orientation

A program to assimilate a new employee into the job is a primary ingredient for reducing future employee performance problems and turnover. However, management attention is often diverted to all the necessary new hire paperwork needed to ensure compliance with today's maze of employment laws. Manager can't neglect the fundamentals of the orientation process.

Priorities in new hire orientation

By Robin Thomas, JD

Most employers spend a lot of time and money on the recruiting and hiring process:  finding qualified applicants, interviewing, checking references, and creating an acceptable offer.  But, the process does not end once the new employee has been hired. 

A program to assimilate the employee into the new job is a primary ingredient for reducing future employee performance problems and turnover.  However, management attention is often diverted to all the necessary new hire paperwork needed to ensure compliance with today's maze of employment laws. 

Unfortunately, too many organizations become overwhelmed by the paperwork demands and neglect the fundamentals of the orientation process.  A better approach is to put the focus on welcoming and integrating new hires and on laying the groundwork for improved performance and retention.  Below are seven tips on how to coordinate orientation and new hire legal compliance into a balanced process.

Engaging a new team member

An effective orientation program makes the new hire feel comfortable and introduces the organization’s culture, supervisors, coworkers, and work expectations.  New employees who get a positive first impression and "buy into" your culture are more likely to be loyal, cooperative, and interested in your organization’s success.  While you must adjust your approach based on your company’s size and management philosophy, the following action steps provide guidelines to help you cover the right bases.

  1. Make new employees feel welcome and part of the group.  For example, make sure the new employee’s workspace is ready and that keys, badges, and any necessary entry codes are provided.  Assign an e-mail address and computer password, if applicable, and add the employee to the internal telephone extension lists.  Appoint a co-worker advocate to introduce the new employee around and answer questions.  In addition, have your top officials at the highest possible level take the time to meet every new hire, or at least send a personal welcome note. 
  2. Provide an overview of all operations.  Include a review of the corporate history and organizational chart, a discussion of products and services, and a tour of the facilities.
  3. Communicate information about the organization’s goals and culture.  Retention rates improve when employees feel informed about, and buy into, corporate plans and goals.
  4. Provide detailed information about the new hire’s position.  New employees should be given a clear outline of their job description, title, and duties, as well as performance goals with appropriate benchmarks. 
  5. Assign new employees meaningful work.  Many employers make the mistake of giving new employees "busy work" when they first arrive to "ease" the entry into the job.  This approach often backfires by leaving the new hire unchallenged or even bored.
  6. Carefully review important policies and benefits.  Every new hire should receive information about the organization's policies, procedures, and benefits as soon as possible.  For most organizations, the employee handbook is the source of much of the information needed.
  7. Some policies such as sexual harassment, drug and alcohol use and testing, and safety are so important that many employers conduct special training on them.  In addition, if the employee will be participating in the organization’s health insurance plan (and the employer is covered by COBRA), an initial COBRA notice should be provided to the employee, and any covered spouse, explaining coverage rights under the law.
  8. Complete necessary paperwork, but don’t let it dominate the orientation.  The first day is often the most convenient time to have a new employee fill out required forms.  Some forms, such as the employment eligibility verification (Form I-9) and withholding allowance (Form W-4), are required by law.
  9. Other forms may be needed to administer your policies, such as those for benefits enrollment and beneficiary designations, direct pay deposit authorization, and employee emergency contact information.  Federal law also requires you to provide information on your new employees to your state new hire directory.

Nurture your newbies

The bottom line is that it is expensive to find, train, and replace employees.  HR experts estimate that turnover costs from 30% to 50% of an employee’s first year pay.  Some suggest that the true cost is closer to 100%.  Clearly then, most of the actions you take to facilitate the transition for new employees are worth the effort.  An effective welcome and new hire integration process can help ensure a better retention rate and thus be highly cost efficient. 

Remember, these actions do not have to be elaborate, or difficult, to be effective.  None of the seven tips suggested above are expensive, although they do require careful advance planning for proper coordination and implementation.  The end result you want is a professional setting that makes the new hire feel as comfortable as possible.

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Robin Thomas, J.D., is Managing Editor for Personnel Policy Service, Inc., 159 St. Matthews Avenue, Suite 5, Louisville, KY 40207, and can be reached at, or 1-800-437-3735.  Personnel Policy Service markets group legal benefit services and publishes HR information products, including the Personnel Policy Manual and HR Matters newsletter. This article is not intended as legal advice.  Readers are encouraged to seek appropriate legal or other professional advice.

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