Show organised face to new employees

In today's tough hiring environment companies really shouldn't be showing a disorganised face to new employees, but how organised are we when it comes to new staff orientation?

Heard the one about the new staff member who turned up at work to discover he had no desk, phone or PC because his manager forgot he was starting that day?

It might sound like the beginning of a joke, but it does happen.

In today's tough hiring environment companies really shouldn't be showing a disorganised face to new employees. So how organised are we when it comes to new staff orientation?

The three IT managers I spoke to this week have a variety of approaches ranging from formal induction policies through to more informal methods.

At HIH Casualty and General Insurance the new employee orientation is quite informal, but IT manager Stan Low says the HR department is preparing an induction package for new employees that will cover the basics they need to know.

While the company can advise staff on formal guidelines on things like how salaries are paid and where the fire exit is, he prefers not to muck around in the IT department.

New people are introduced to other staff and then, "we pretty much throw them in the deep end and expect them to start swimming straight away.

"The nature of our business is so quick that we don't really have time to sit down and do a lot of talking."

He says the approach works because he specifically hires people who have the right skills and abilities to work without supervision.

The more informal way of orienting staff obviously suits HIH partly because it has a small IT team. "Everybody knows their own job."

New people are told who they need to work with and that person can guide them through whatever they need in order to do the job.

While that might not be a formal buddy system, such systems are formalised in other work places like the North Shore City Council.

Information services manager Tony Rogers says on the first day, the person's manager is expected to welcome the new staff member onboard and spend some time with him or her.

After that the new person moves into the buddy system. "They are peered up with someone from that work group - or closely associated with it - and they're their mentor for the first week, while they get their feet under the desk and find out where everything is."

At the end of the first week, the manager is expected to touch base with the new person to ensure everything is working out.

At that point a decision is made on whether the buddy system needs to continue for another week. Rogers believes the system works well.

"It breaks the ice. Generally those people stick pretty closely together for the first week and will do quite a bit of touring around the organisation to meet a few people."

At Ports of Auckland, there is an informal buddy system. "It's important to get them associated with somebody who they can easily go to if they've got a problem, usually a peer person as well as a supervisor," says information systems manager Roger Fogo.

Formal inductions some time after new people have started are another common way to educate people about the company.

Two months after new people start at the North Shore City Council, there is a formal two-day induction process run by the council's human resources department, while at Ports of Auckland new staff will spend a day being introduced to key people and are also given a tour of the organisation.

Fogo says this usually takes place within two months of them starting.

But it doesn't all have to be formal. At HIH, Low likes to help people new to the IT department feel comfortable by - and this is my personal favourite - taking them to the pub to have a drink.

"That way everyone is relaxed and you get to talk openly . It's a much better way to get orientated than what I feel can be a stuffy environment of going through things formally."

All IT managers agree it is important for staff to gain a good impression of the company when they first start.

Low says he's heard of new people at other companies going home at the end of the first day and never coming back.

"It's very important that your first impression is that the manager cares for you and looks after your welfare, and that you are made to feel welcome and fit into the team. There's nothing worse than feeling alone."

Rogers says during the interview process both parties sell themselves and there are expectations set.

"We say we are a good organisation to work for - so it's absolutely vital that we get off to a good start and that those expectations are either lived up to or exceeded.

"Otherwise, you run the risk that the employment contract won't be a long one and you go through the process again."

Send email to Kirstin Mills.

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