Employee Orientation and Onboarding

Key takeaways from the Day of Collection Action session titled, "Employee Orientation and Onboarding."

Have you ever walked into a room and immediately felt unwelcome? Perhaps it was due to the way the people in the room looked, how they were dressed, how they were speaking, or some other intangible feeling that signified right away you were the outlier? If so, how likely were you to want to stay in that place?

Creating an environment at work that is welcoming is an ongoing challenge, not something that can be done once and left alone. Goals change, roles change and creating and maintaining a workplace environment that helps people feel they belong is work that is never complete.

A session discussing onboarding and orientation was just one of the topics discussed for the U’s first Collective Day of Action. Held on March 22, 2022, it brought together students, staff, faculty and other community members to identify ways to address racism, bias, and discrimination—specifically experienced by members of the Black community.

Below are key takeaways from the Day of Collection Action session titled, “Employee Orientation and Onboarding,” facilitated by Mary Anne Berzins, special assistant to the dean of the College of Mines and Earth Sciences.

Orientation v. onboarding

A common analogy used when considering onboarding and orientation is the entire experience is a pie—but orientation is a slice of that pie. Orientation is focused on things employees need to know immediately, such as policy, procedure, safety, benefits, and other operational items like where to park and where to find a quick bite to eat on a lunch break.

Onboarding, on the other hand, is more about a connection to the culture of an organization and creating relationships with others on the team and throughout the organization. It starts from the moment you make initial contact with a potential hire and is a pivotal aspect of employee engagement.

One of the hardest things about joining a new organization is understanding the culture and your place within it. And people of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community and others often face an uphill battle to find their place in a business or institution.

An opportunity for improvement

A mere 12% of U.S. employees say their organization does a good job of onboarding, according to a recent survey by Gallup. And that number is even lower for members of often-marginalized groups.

A positive onboarding experience results in higher retention rates and better employee engagement. Employees who feel welcomed and have a positive onboarding and orientation process are better able to connect to purpose right away, according to the Gallup survey.

Take action

Onboarding and orientation happen at both the university and unit levels. For the university level, think of messages from leadership and documentation about how to sign up for benefits that is universal for all new U employees. (Some resources around that can be found here.)

And drilling down to the unit level there are other items like making time for new hires to meet department directors, setting an appointment for regular check-ins to address any questions or concerns and other team-building activities that can be as simple as getting lunch or chatting over a cup of coffee.

At both levels, equity, diversity and inclusion efforts should be a prominent part of onboarding and orientation. Some ideas for ways to include EDI that were discussed during the session include the following:

  • Schedule a time for the new employee and the entire team to attend a Friday Forum—an ongoing series at the U to help elevate national conversations and showcase models of disrupting complicit racism.
  • Schedule a team meeting to discuss the topics covered in the Friday Forum.
  • Ask the team to read an EDI-focused book or series of articles related to the work done within your individual unit and schedule a time to discuss what they learned.
  • Set individual EDI-related goals that can include attending other trainings specific to your area.
  • Set department-wide EDI goals and communicate the importance of reaching them to new hires.

Other efforts to help improve orientation and onboarding include:

  • Assign a mentor for each new hire who is not the direct supervisor of that person. This mentor can be a resource for all types of questions—especially those the new hire might feel wary of asking a supervisor.
  • Schedule time for new employees to meet with department leadership who they may interact with.
  • Ask new employees what type of information they’d like shared with the team about themselves and their background.
  • When possible, help new employees make connections beyond the immediate unit. It could be with people who do similar work in a different part of the U, or even just similar interests and hobbies.
  • Communicate regularly, especially early on. Don’t leave new hires wondering if they should reach out to you—initiate conversation. This is especially important for remote and hybrid workers.
  • Set aside time for regular check-ins and be sure to ask engaging questions and listen to their responses. Things like: Where are you struggling? How can we help you? What barriers do you have to completing your work and how can I help remove them?
  • Take advantage of the U’s annual review system and use it to guide conversations with employees about expectations, satisfaction, and other pertinent issues.