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Proper Introductions

Tuesday, February 1, 2011 - 08:31

A good induction program can make all the difference. Louis White talks to the experts about how to make your new hires feel welcome.

We have all waited with a mixture of anticipation and anxiety for the first day of a new job, and with it, the employee induction.

The induction can range from the simple - "There's a desk, you'll pick it up as you go" - to a full-on program of briefings involving videos, HR manuals, fire safety drills and meetings with key staff, including the CEO.

For most of us, it falls somewhere in between. But what makes a good employee induction program? What do most companies get wrong? Importantly, what are the ramifications of new employees not feeling welcome at their new place of work?

Up to speed

"Companies need to take into consideration all the factors needed to make someone feel valued, combined with the tools to do their job to the best of their ability," says Lea Symonds, Managing Director of people-effectiveness consultancy Personal Strengths Australia (PSA).

"Each individual has their own needs. Most companies allocate a buddy or a mentor for the first week when there should be an ongoing process for up to a year.

"The aim is to get the individual up to speed as quickly as possible by finding a way to connect with that person both through other employees and the systems in place," she adds.

PSA use a form of psychometric evaluation, the Strength Deployment Inventory (SDI). This is an assessment tool that focuses on understanding the motives behind behaviours. Symonds says the tool is non-judgemental and provides a key to emotional intelligence in the workplace.

"It's a way to start a focused conversation that helps the new employee to build self-knowledge and mutual understanding of the motivations and behaviours of the people they will be working with,"she says. "Someone not inducted well can become a source of internal conflict."

Staff churn

It may come as no surprise, but, according to anHRPulse study released in 2008 by the Australian Human Resources Institute (AHRI) and retention consultants TalentDrain, the general rate of staff turnover in Australian companies is high.

The survey revealed that there is an average staff turnover of 18.5 per cent across all organisations each year. Equally worrying is that 75 per cent of companies surveyed expect the average employee to stay in the job less than four years.

AHRI's National President, Peter Wilson, says high staff turnover can be attributed to poor employee induction. "The reality is 20 per cent of external hires are gone within two years. One of the common complaints made by departing workers at exit interviews is that there was no induction and they were thrown in at the deep end.

"Induction comes up pretty high in the reasons people were unsatisfied in their roles."

Better inductions

Wilson says that companies are now paying more attention to induction. As a result, the process is becoming more thorough.

What is concerning with high employee turnover, as revealed by the HRPulse study, is that only 22 per cent of respondents believed the primary responsibility rested with the HR department. The overwhelming view was, instead, that it is a business-management issue.

"Our research indicates that it takes 18 months for someone to reach the same achievement level of the person that they replaced," says Wilson.

"Companies commonly ignore high-risk areas and don't teach adequate health and safety. This, combined with not setting out appropriate office behaviour and appointing a buddy or mentor to meet up with the new employee at least once a month for two hours at a time, causes individuals to seek employment elsewhere.

"Individuals need a support system for at least a year. They also need ongoing training," he adds.

A range of aspects

Industries such as hospitality, media, real estate and motor-car dealerships have high employee turnover. This is due to a combination of a reliance on learning on the job and the nature of the industry.

Industries such as engineering, banking, insurance and the financial services sector in general tend to be a lot more stable.

The Australian National University (ANU) has approximately 4000 staff and 14,000 students. It is a busy university with a mixture of full-time and part-time staff with interests outside the university and varying timetables that never seem to align.

"A good staff induction program will usually have a range of aspects to it. For example, at ANU we provide guidance to new staff and their supervisors through online resources," says Carole Brown, National President, Career Development Association of Australia, and a senior careers consultant at ANU.

ANU's online resource is supported through regular induction events to which all new staff are invited, as well as a special welcome event that the vice-chancellor attends.

"Also there are models of induction that target particular groups - such as senior or technical staff - who may benefit from specific information and assistance," says Brown.

"All new staff should be captured through an organisation-wide process very soon after they commence. In fact, some organisations send new recruits information and resources in advance of their start date so that they can feel part of an organisation earlier.

"Supervisors need to be equipped and see it as their responsibility to provide thorough induction at the local level, and to establish and maintain positive productive relationships with their staff."

It makes sense for businesses to better focus resources and energy on keeping new staff happy. The rewards in greater commitment, output and longevity are worth it.

Common mistakes

  1. Giving people a manual and thinking your work is done
  2. Giving too much information
  3. Not allocating a person to talk to (buddy/mentor)
  4. Allocating the wrong mentor (bad habits)
  5. Not engaging the person with the organisation
  6. Assuming the new employee just gets it
  7. Assuming the new employee will just ask questions
  8. Having nothing in place from day one.

What every company should have in place from day one

  1. Orientation (physical); describing where all the facilities are
  2. Orientation (organisational); showing how the employee fits into the team, and how their role fits into the organisation's strategy and goals
  3. Health and safety information (legal requirement)
  4. Explanation of terms and conditions
  5. Details of the organisation's history, its products and services, its culture and values
  6. A clear outline of the job/role requirements.