Making it Stick: The New Employee Orientation Experience

I’ve worked at all sizes of organizations; some with just a handful of new hires per year and some where we HR folks conducted New Employee Orientation (NEO) for 25 – 40 people each and every week. So what have I seen, experienced, lived, and inflicted upon others at these NEO sessions?

  • I’ve verified IDs and completed I-9’s, by myself, for a room of 50 people (**not fun)
  • I’ve played games – quite often as an unwilling participant
  • I’ve had to complete paperwork for new employees who couldn’t read or write
  • I’ve had to terminate employees 2 hours into their 1st day of employment
  • I’ve had people not return to the training room after the first break of the day
  • I’ve made paper chains with 50 strangers – each of us writing and verbally sharing our dreams/aspirations and how they tied to the org’s mission (and no, I didn’t
    really like this one)
  • I’ve sat through countless power point presentations with artfully crafted bullet points – *BENEFITS! *SAFETY! *YOU are #1!
  • I’ve created those same power point presentations and subjected unwilling new employees to them


NEO is that part of the onboarding process where, for the 1st time, the organization likes to think it’s giving the new employee a true sense of ‘how stuff really works around here.’    Personally, I’ve always found it easier from a “task” standpoint to develop and run a large-group orientation as opposed to planning for the one-on-one (large-scale economy and all that).   However, I think that the one-on-one orientations are much more effective as they provide the opportunity for conversation – not lecture.

But I think whether you are crafting a program for 1 new employee or a gaggle of them, there are a few key points to think about:

Your goal should be that at the end of DAY ONE each new employee has a sense of direction and a sense of purpose.  You should aim to capture and nurture that feeling of excitement that your new employee had at the moment when you called and offered them the job.  You should make certain that your newly hired employee is  THRILLED that they’ve chosen your company.

While HR may be the architect of the plan, partnering with line managers is critical to success.  Following are some things I believe must be at the forefront of any NEO program.  Now these are not all the responsibility of HR as many should be the role of the manager, but HR should work to ensure these things are done:

  • Make new employees feel as welcome as they did when you were courting them during the recruitment phase
  • Orient them to the company and culture – pictures? stories? Be REAL!
  • Find some way to minimize the stupefying (and yet necessary) boredom of new hire paperwork.  Can you work towards harnessing technology to move your process online w/ electronic signatures? Can you mail paperwork ahead of time to the employee’s home to complete and bring with them?
  • Find ways to keep your program “fresh.” There’s nothing worse than a burned-out HR Lady droning through a slide show week-after-week-after-week.  What
    can you do to change up your presentation style?  Can you (gasp!) do away with power point?
  • Please, for the sake of all that is holy, do NOT make a roomful of adults read policies out loud.  Please.
  • Have a plan to make introductions to co-workers, team members and others.
  • Set up and prepare the employee’s workstation prior to their arrival.  At one company, I found an employee sitting in her cubicle with a former employees’ name on the nameplate… 3 months after she had been working there.  No one “thought” to replace it and she was too afraid to ask!
  • Take the new employee to lunch on day 1 (if a group meal is not part of the HR-run NEO) – or arrange for a group of co-workers to do the same.  Very often, a new employee who may be a “brown-bagger” hasn’t brought a lunch because they’re not sure if they’ll even have access to a refrigerator.
  • Take the employee on a tour of the department, building or entire “campus.”  I’ve conducted NEO where we took an hour long walk after lunch (EEs could opt out if they had mobility concerns).  It’s fun to pay particular attention to those “secret” areas that the public never gets to see – the vault (in a bank), the morgue (in a hospital), the special room where the “secret recipe” is concocted.
  • Consider holding a re-orientation.  At one organization I implemented a 90-day re-orientation program – all employees hired in the past quarter came back to ask the questions they hadn’t thought of when they started.  It was safe environment to ask the “silly questions” and they also got to connect with the colleagues from other departments with whom they had spent vast amounts of time on day 1, but didn’t really interact with anymore.


Sometimes NEOs are a utopian HR-view of the day-to-day reality.  We have some ‘training’ technique that we think works and we want to try it out. But then we memorialize it without stopping to consider if it ties back to our culture, our goals and what our organization is about.

Making paper-chains to hang around the room MAY fit your culture if you’re a school or a day care,  But think twice if you’re doing this activity with a bunch of auditors and accountants.  I’ve got to tell you, it was truly an awkward moment to watch a newly hired big-wig-muckety-muck-VP from Accounting have an internal debate as to whether he should write his “dream” on a robin’s-egg blue or bunny-nose pink strip of paper…

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  1. Great post! We radically changed our NEO 18 months ago. We’ve tried to instill energy and, holy cow, FUN, into the day. Not with hokey games, but with humor as part of the presentations. I love your list of ideas…hope you don’t mind if I steal a few!

  2. Robin,

    Yep– it’s absolutely critical the the hiring manager play an immediate and supportive role in the on-boarding process. (Am I the only one who chokes on that jargon? But that’s another blog post, right?)

    As one who has designed and implemented many NEO programs, I’ve found that the best differentiator between a new employee who has a successful first 90 days of employment and one who doesn’t is that of “involved” manager versus “distracted/absent” manager.

  3. “Please, for the sake of all that is holy, do NOT make a roomful of adults read policies out loud. Please.”

    Robin, you made me laugh out loud. I’ve seen it done and just cringed. (It got fixed immediately, btw.)

    A short survey with opportunity for free form comments to the new employees after day one to get their perceptions is helpful to combat the facilitator blocks that may come after doing NEO for a while.

    I love the 90 day idea. We do a survey but face to face conversations are so much better!

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