Boise State on Business by Gundars Kaupins: Orientation helps new employees get off to a good start

GUNDARS KAUPINS, professor of management, College of Business and Economics at Boise State UniversityMay 21, 2013 

Gundars Kaupins

Jim had quite a first day of work. He parked his car in the paved parking lot by the building, and a grumpy employee yelled at him to move his car to the dirt lot two blocks away. Only managers park on the paved lot.

Jim's boss, Karen, greeted him and sent him to his office. The big account needed to be completed that week. Karen gave Jim the appropriate passwords and sent him off to work on the account.

Later that morning, Jim asked Karen where the nearest restroom was. She said, "Turn left, go three doors down, turn right, then left."

Well, he sort of did that and accidently opened the paint room door as alarms went off. A startled paint room employee showed Jim the correct route.

In spite of the big account deadline, Karen introduced Jim to eight members of the department and 30 folks from the division that afternoon.

The 50-page employee handbook also was provided. It was to be read and signed by the next day.

Two days later, Melissa stopped by Jim's office. Jim said hello, smiled, and had a blank look. Melissa said, "Don't you remember me?" I'm from accounting, and we talked two days ago."

Jim's orientation, if you can call it that, was about the opposite of what was needed.

Orientation programs should focus on the basics first. Where can I park? Where is my office? Where are the restrooms? Where can I eat lunch? How can I make copies? What are the passwords? Jim had to suffer through parking and restroom embarrassments. After a week, he could not figure out why nobody ate at the company cafeteria. The diner nearby was cheaper.

If possible, a new employees should be given an easy assignment at the start rather than tackling the big account. Sometimes new computer programmers are asked to answer the following question on their computers: "What is three plus five?" To answer this "simple" question, programmers must know the passwords, computing protocols, and relationships with other programmers. It is a more complicated question than it appears on the surface.

Jim also needs to be gradually introduced to people in the company. Meeting 38 people on the first day makes it hard to memorize. Melissa was like a dust grain in an hourglass. Start introducing newcomers to others in their department and then graduate to other parts of the company.

Jim needs a mentor who can help on many inside issues. What is the best way to get a travel authorization? What is the secret to being promoted quickly? What's up with the battle between accounting and payroll? Who pulls the strings on budget requests for software? Why do some employees drink at the diner when there is a policy against it?

Speaking of policies, 50 pages of unreadable jargon may be a bit much. A meeting highlighting the most important aspects of the employee handbook along with a short written summary would help. The encyclopedic handbook may still need to be signed in a reasonable time, but it is important to get to the point on key issues.

In summary, orientation programs should allow new employees to satisfy basic needs fast, receive advice from a mentor, work on doable problems, be gradually introduced to fellow employees, and understand employee handbook issues at a reasonable pace.

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gkaupins@boisestate.edu

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