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Want to Attract (and Keep) New Employees? You’ve Only Got One Chance for a Great First Impression – Wendy Ferguson – BHRLR, CPHR

A Commentary by Wendy Ferguson – BHRLR, CPHR – Ferguson HR Consulting

Creating a positive first impression through the use of an effective and engaging new orientation program is critical to your organization.  For many new hires, what they experience the first day on the job will remain with them throughout the duration of their employment.  Helping an employee to feel comfortable and a part of the team from day one is necessary to make the employee a successful and productive member of your business.

A constant challenge business owners face is attracting valuable employees, and even a bigger challenge is retaining them.  Many times there is also the added challenge of incorporating an orientation program which spans a national or global organization.  In this competitive market we need to pay close attention to what message we are sending to our new employees and what message they are sending to outsiders.

Research shows that a well thought out orientation program can improve employee retention by 25 percent!  Developing and facilitating an effective program can be time consuming. Often companies wish to save time and resources by foregoing a proper orientation, however the fact remains it is wiser to dedicate the time to develop an orientation program that works.  By taking the time to properly welcome and educate new employees your organization can increase employee retention, which means spending less time and dollars on recruiting and more time building the business and focusing on clients.

Risk of a Poorly Structured Orientation

An ineffective program will leave the new employee second guessing the choice they made to sign that employment agreement.  Many new hires question their decision to change companies by the end of their first day.  Studies have determined that up to 20 percent of turnover typically occurs in the first 45 days of employment.

Common mistakes companies make are: overwhelming the new hire with information packed into one rushed 8 hour day; boring videos; long lectures; failing to prepare them with real job goals; providing no phone/e-mail/computer/work area, or providing no real work.  Many employees start a new job only to find co-workers and management ignore them during the first week.

In my corporate experience, often legacy orientation programs remain.  Although they may have appeared well-organized, when I asked for feedback in week 2 or 4, time and time again I would get the same response…the person was overwhelmed their first day.

The Goals of your Orientation Program Should Be:

  • make a positive first impression
  • enhance a new employee’s enthusiasm about the organization
  • make new employee feel welcome and that they made the right choice
  • reduce turnover
  • educate new employees on the organization (core values, working environment, culture, logistics, benefits, policies and procedures, health & safety)
  • obtain personal data from the employee to set up within systems
  • remain competitive in the marketplace and create an edge over competitors

Create the Best Onboarding Process by

  • Incorporating a WOW factor that make employee orientation sessions interesting and engaging and set your organization apart from the rest!
  • Being consistent, build and effective program and use a standard orientation checklist
  • Constantly encouraging feedback

Start the process PRIOR to employee’s first day

Your organization can begin making an outstanding impression long before the employee’s first day in the office or on the job.  You can convey much of the information to your employee a week or two before his/her start date.  Communications to staff and office set up can be done in advance of their start date, so they don’t need to worry about all the paperwork on the first day.  This will kick-start engagement and open lines of communication!    That way there is much less risk to overwhelm them on their first day or week on the job and you have begun to integrate them, which will leave them feeling a sense of belonging and certainty before they walk through the door.

Make the BEST impression on day 1

With all the above out of the way, the employee will feel more at ease and less overwhelmed.  You need to decide what items you wish to cover on the first day, keeping in mind the following suggestions:

  • Make the first day a celebration! Provide a letter of welcome from the President/CEO along with a small gift, perhaps an item with the corporate logo on it.
  • Encourage communication & sense of importance – by inviting new employee for lunch or coffee with a senior manager or direct supervisor (or the team).
  • Incorporate a buddy system/mentor system – reduce the stress of starting a new job by pairing new employees with a buddy (a seasoned team member) that can help coach them through the first few weeks on the job.
  • Offer a facility tour.
  • Provide a contact sheet on who to call for different inquiries.

The direct supervisor should meet with employee to:

  • Introduce them to their work team.
  • Ask the employee upfront: ‘what is the best way to manage you?’ Explain how he/she will individually contribute to the company.
  • Get them being productive immediately – give them a project early on so they really feel like they’re contributing. It doesn’t have to be the most in-depth work, but it will be good to get their feet wet and they won’t feel like they’re simply getting oriented.
  • Begin setting both short and long-term goals
  • Hold a debrief to make sure that the employee had a good first day and answer any questions they may have
  • Provide a take-home package, anything that they can take home to share with their family

The orientation should never halt after the first day.  Span the process over several weeks or months.

It is important to solicit feedback from new hires. This can be managed by HR or a direct supervisor.  Regular check-ins will identify any struggles an employee may be experiencing and will help you to gain a clearer picture of the overall employment experience with your organization.  You may also consider incorporating a confidential employee survey at the end of the first week or first month.

Most companies include a Group Benefits and Performance Management System overview during the first day or week of employment.  Please keep in mind that some of this may be delayed until month 2 or 3 to avoid overwhelming the employee.

Lastly, fear of the unknown and change can be a killer for businesses because it will trigger uncertainty and turnover.  Senior Management has an obligation to remain visible, accessible, and the provider of communication regarding corporate direction with its staff.  Taking the time to show their interest, even if it is simply knowing someone’s name or saying hello.  I have worked with organizations that have experienced tremendous growth over a very short period of time.  It was difficult to keep track of everyone, but most often it is the simple gestures that achieve the most amazing results.

Your organization’s goal is to create the ideal employee experience.  These ideas are just a starting point in developing a successful orientation program for your organization.

Please don’t hesitate to contact Ferguson HR Consulting should you require support in implementing these or other human resources related initiatives.

About Wendy Ferguson

Wendy Ferguson is an Alberta based Human Resources Generalist and Consultant with over 15 years of combined experience in the areas of HR, Business Administrative Management and Marketing.

She has worked within a broad range of industries, including: oil & gas, architecture, law, information technology, engineering, accounting and business consulting firms.  She works with companies on both a full time and part time consulting basis to help them address their HR management, recruitment and policy needs.

She is also a Chartered Professional in Human Resources (CPHR).  CPHRs are uniquely qualified to help you achieve your business goals. With proven expertise across nine key business metrics, a CPHR has the knowledge and the experience to address the factors that underpin the degree of your immediate and long term success.

For your HR requirements contact Wendy at 

Wendy’s Specialties:
HR Management
Employee Relations
Administrative Management
Senior Management HR Advisory
Alberta Employment Standards
Conflict Resolution
Team Building

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