Maybe you can relate to this: you’ve just landed a job that you’re really excited about. You show up the first day and immediately get that dismal feeling that you’ve made a horrible mistake. You report to the receptionist, who is ten minutes late and doesn’t want to deal with you before she’s had her coffee. You tell her your name and that today’s your first day and who you are supposed to see. She looks ticked-off but begrudgingly picks up the phone and in an accusatory voice that seems to say, “why didn’t you tell me you had someone starting today,” tells your contact that you’re there and slams down the phone. She looks at you through cold, dead eyes and says she’ll be right up; you can have a seat, if you want. You wait 15 minutes until the department administrative assistant comes to fetch you, she leads you to the department, all the while grousing about how crazy it is today, subtly letting you know that you are a major inconvenience to her. She ushers you into a glorified closet with a stack of forms and has you fill them out with the promise that she will be back to check on you. It takes 15 minutes to complete the forms and watch the dated “welcome to the company video.”
And it doesn't get better.
About 45 minutes later she returns and moves you into a room where five or so other new hires look at one another with “what have I done” looks on their bewildered faces. In walks a sour-faced HR rep, a worn-out guy who's dead inside from many years of seeing people at their worst, hands you the employee handbook and spends the next four hours detailing all the reasons they will fire you. By this point you really feel like you’ve made a mistake and start missing the job that a month ago you hated so much you couldn’t wait to get out of there. You even wax nostalgic for your boss who was clinically insane and the coworker who perpetually stank like body odor and wore the same yellow shirt with the coffee stain above the pocket every Thursday. Better the devil you know.
Sad as it is to say, most companies greet new employees like cattle they just purchased. Herding them around and starting them down the long painful journey that ends with them praying to die, to be entombed in a cube or an office that feels like a mausoleum. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Getting new employee orientation right (or onboarding, using the buzzword de jour) is not only exceedingly important, it’s ridiculously easy. Shy of not caring about how the new employees view the company, there is no good excuse for not getting it right.
Do administrative work up-front.
There is no reason that pre-employment forms cannot be done either on line or mailed to the new hire as soon as the candidate accepts the offer. This eliminates dead time the employee loses at the beginning of the first day. The employee hand book can also be sent ahead of time with the gentle suggestion that the new hire become familiar with the policies before reporting.
Be prepared for them to begin working immediately.
If they are eligible for business cards have them waiting for them in an attractive business card holder on their desk. Have their PC and email accounts all set up and ready to roll before they get to their work station. If name tags are used on offices or cubes have them installed so that when the new hires arrive at the new workstations it already feels like their space. It also isn’t that much trouble to have their badges ready for their first day as well.
Assign a departmental buddy.
It’s one thing for the new employee to understand the formal rules and regulations of the company but quite another to understand the office politics and expectations of the workplace. Assigning a department buddy (who, by the way, the company should allow to buy the new worker lunch the first day) makes it easier for new employees to ask the delicate questions they may be afraid to ask their boss or HR.
Rewrite your employee handbook.
Instead of creating the “big book of all the things we’ll fire you for,” make you handbook more of a means for getting acquainted with the recently hired’s new environment, an owner's manual for their work life. Consider listing local restaurants that give a discount for employees of your company, other benefits like discount tickets to local attractions or reduced rates for movies. I like including a lexicon of the jargon the company uses because it’s a quick way for the new hire to feel like one of the gang. Of course you will have to have the policies and procedures, but put them toward the back of the book -- start with all the positive, day-to-day things about the new job before moving to the policies and procedures.
Attracting the right people to your organization is time consuming and expensive, but as you can see, it need not be expensive or time consuming to make a good first impression that will help you retain them.