How Long Should Orientation Take? Optimizing Onboarding for New Hires

First impressions are the most important. This goes for an employee’s first day as well as the new employee orientation experience. How long the orientation process takes can vary by industry and role, but most experts agree it can be a game changer in an employee’s satisfaction and success. So, what should your new employee orientation and onboarding look like?

Designing an effective onboarding program is a complex undertaking. Orientation is a key part of the larger process, which starts when your new employee is hired and continues until they are fully contributing to the organization in their new role.

That said, orientation itself is typically short — a time to focus on your new employee’s basic needs for their first day. But what should you include in an orientation? How much is too much for the first day? That all depends on your company goals and onboarding strategy.

Let’s look at different ways of conducting new employee orientation as well as the key elements you’ll want to include, no matter how long the process. We’ll also share some helpful tips on effectively managing your orientation and onboarding processes.

What Is Orientation and Why Does It Matter?

Orientation is the process of helping a new employee become acquainted with your company, how it operates, and what their job entails. It usually involves several introductory admin tasks, including:

  • Presenting the company mission, vision, and values
  • Describing the role’s responsibilities in detail
  • Completing employment paperwork (W-2, benefits administration, direct deposit permissions, etc.)
  • Introducing the employee to their manager and team members
  • Connecting the employee to key resources necessary for job success (manager contact info, network login information, etc.)

Effective employee orientation improves performance, increases retention, and leads to more engaged, productive employees. It helps your new hire get started on the right foot with the confidence they need to be successful. Beginning a new job can be incredibly intimidating, but the more you help your employees prepare for success, the more likely they’ll contribute to your company in a tangible way for years to come.

From an organizational standpoint, employee orientation lets you convey key information and get all required paperwork completed in a timely manner. It’s also your big chance to ensure that both you and the new employee view their role and responsibilities in exactly the same way.

How Long Does Orientation Take?

For most organizations, employee orientation lasts around three hours but may last up to a full workday. Most of the time, orientation won’t last more than a full day. However, depending on your industry and the needs of your company, you might need multiple days to introduce new hires to everything they need for the job. In some cases, covering all the safety procedures may take up to a week.

Sometimes, orientation may blend into a longer training and onboarding sequence. For instance, some companies train new hires in entry-level positions for an entire month (four weeks) before operating at full capacity in their role. That said, even when linked, orientation is often distinct from training and onboarding in that it only involves the basic information required to do the job (paperwork, scheduling, login credentials, etc.).

Orientation Length Examples

One company may begin with an organization overview (15 minutes), followed by 30 minutes of paperwork, then 45 minutes on benefit package options, and a final half hour on company policy and safety procedures. That’s a neat two-hour package.

Another company might begin with paperwork, then spend a couple of hours going over what the organization is all about and providing ID cards and access codes. This could transition into a facilities tour and a meet and greet lunch in the cafeteria. That can be followed by a discussion of benefits, a presentation on safety procedures, and a discussion of the role itself. The entire program would take most of a workday, but it gives the employee more knowledge and maybe a little extra confidence.

Key Elements of Employee Orientation

The many different ways to conduct employee orientation vary by industry and the specific needs of the company. The right method for your organization depends on what your new hires need to learn before they truly start training.

If your organization doesn't have a standard orientation procedure, you may need to develop one through trial and error. Create an agenda that makes sense, and do your best to execute it efficiently with a group of new hires. You can tweak it based on their feedback for the next round.

Regardless of how you do it, here are a few elements that should be included in just about every orientation process.

Organization Overview

Orientation is a great time to provide your new employees with a big-picture view of everything going on in your organization. Without getting lost in the details, just share your organization's goals,  culture, and values. Let the new hire know how their job fits into this big picture and the importance of their work for the organization as a whole.

In some cases, creating a video package for the history and vision of your company may be an ideal option. A video can be easily re-administered for both in-person and remote teams (more so than a live presentation). Plus, video typically gets higher engagement.

Company Policies and Procedures

Orientation is also the time to go over your company policies and procedures. Are there required safety procedures? A dress code? What rules and regulations govern what your employee can and cannot do?

There may be a lot to cover here, and you can’t expect new employees to retain it all from a single presentation. That said, you don't just want to send them home with a packet of rules and expect them to study it. Often, it‘s best to present the basic policies and procedures through a presentation, then follow up with a digital copy they can reference as needed.

Paperwork and Payment Details

No one likes paperwork — but getting it all done on the first day makes the rest of onboarding much easier. You may have contact information already on file, but this is the time to ensure it is accurate, and get direct deposit info as well as W-4s and I-9s on file. If your company requires nondisclosure agreements, go over them here.

While this should usually take no more than thirty minutes, your company may want to cover certain documents in detail. You may decide to answer legal questions through a Q&A session or a longer presentation. In any case, it’s best to get all the key paperwork out of the way as soon as possible.

Benefit Options

It takes significantly more time to discuss benefits and all the options available to your employee, so you’ll probably want to allot thirty minutes to an hour for the task. But your new hires will appreciate this part of orientation much more than the paperwork.

Chances are, your company has a predefined set of benefits packages, so you can develop a presentation to cover them all. Be thorough and make yourself available to answer questions — misunderstandings can generate significant disappointments and loss of morale in the future. Some organizations schedule a full hour to go over benefits.

You may also want to allow a few days for employees to choose the benefits that work best for them. This allows them to thoroughly study the options available and discuss them with their families before locking in a choice.

Role and Responsibilities

What exactly is the new employee hired to do? What are their key responsibilities? In this session, cover the job description with specific information that will help your employees fully understand their expected responsibilities. Make it a conversation, rather than a presentation, and discuss how your organization can best make use of your employees’ unique talents and help them to advance in their careers. This is another area where questions may come up, so leave enough time to answer those as well.

Facilities Tour

It takes half a minute to point to a desk and office — but your new employee needs to know more. What equipment is available, and how do they access it? Where do you keep the coffee maker and snacks, and where is the restroom? If a thorough facilities tour isn’t included in orientation, ensure that it is part of onboarding and assign a team member to show the new employee around. Also, ensure that any equipment is ready before day one so there is no awkward waiting around for computer access or take-home tools.

Team Intros

Again, whether or not to include team introductions in your orientation package is up to you — but it certainly needs to be part of onboarding. “Team” here refers to anyone your new employee will work with on a day-to-day basis. That includes their primary manager and other subordinates under the same manager. But you can make introductions to key people in other departments as well.

Lunch in the cafeteria can be a fun, low-stress way to make introductions — especially if you ensure there will be something particularly delicious on the menu for orientation day.

Team Building Activities

Icebreakers or team-building activities are especially meaningful if you’re running an orientation for more than one employee- but even with one lone newcomer, some short team-building will not be amiss. Give everyone a heads-up well in advance, and choose a time slot when people are available — there’s nothing as demoralizing as going through the motions of a team-building activity with people who weren’t ready to participate and really didn’t want to be there.

Employee Orientation for Remote Employees

Orientation for in-office and remote employees is equally important, but it may take a little creativity to ensure remote workers have a full experience and end up with all the information they need. A minimal approach might be a fifteen-minute Zoom call and a sheaf of papers they’re asked to read, but if you’re serious about employee engagement, you can do something more.

Many people are visual learners, and a set of videos may be better received than half a dozen PDFs. Feedback and communication are your friends, so consider working in short feedback periods between each video, document, or information session. These can be in the form of quizzes or free-form feedback.

How to keep it all organized? If you’ve got human capital management software like Criterion, you can create orientation routines for individual employees or groups of employees. You can also keep all information about each employee in one place, along with a record of all communications.

Top Tips for a Successful Employee Orientation

Orientation is not something to extemporize — be well-prepared, set an agenda, and share the agenda with your new employee several days in advance. Some organizations might have the budget for a glossy welcome packet; for others, an email is the limit, but either one will be appreciated by employees uncertain of what to expect.

  • Try Preboarding - If you have a minimal amount of time to spend on orientation, you can ask your employees to go over certain segments from home, before they come in. This is called preboarding, and it often involves more than simply filling out paperwork. It may also involve sending the new hire a care package, setting them up with credentials before day one, or providing them with study materials. The same techniques you’d use for a totally remote employee can be helpful here.
  • Pay Them for Orientation - Remember that an employee is typically paid for orientation, so if you’re asking them to put in a significant amount of time from home before they come in, you should offer monetary compensation for that time. Expecting them to work for free could lead to resentment, right when you’re beginning their relationship with your organization.
  • Use the Right Tools - Whether you’re running the entire orientation on-site or using a hybrid model, use digital tools like Criterion HCM to plan your sessions, provide information to your employees, and keep track of what has been approved, seen, and signed. If you’d like to get paperwork out of the way before your on-site session, for instance, the software enables you to generate digital forms with e-signatures. You can also generate user-friendly task assignments, and a custom checklist so that everyone knows the remaining tasks.
  • Stay Goal-Focused - Keep your goals in mind — why are you running an orientation, anyway? In part, orientation is about ensuring you have all the right paperwork on file, so by all means, focus on that. But if your goal includes employee engagement and retention, organize the time to achieve those goals as well. Focus on what your new employee cares about, give them a chance to share their views and ask questions, and discuss how they can contribute their skills and strengths to your company’s mission.
  • Ask for Feedback - Orientation can be a tough process. Even if you’ve been running them for several years, there are always new employees with new perspectives. In a sense, it can always be a learning experience. To make your orientation process more effective over time, ask for feedback from employees post-orientation. Take this into account as you revise your process to the best effect.

Your Orientation, Your Way

There’s no one perfect length for orientation, and the one you choose will depend on your company's culture, values, and a host of practical considerations. Keep the orientation engaging and interactive, focusing more on equipping the new hire with valuable information versus filling in boxes. Cover the key elements relevant to your company and the departments involved, and be prepared for it to take longer than you intended.

There are a thousand ways to run an effective orientation program, but they’ve all got one common thread: they’re well organized. Good organization is easy with a human capital management platform like Criterion, designed to help you nurture employees from day one with streamlined custom workflows.

With Criterion, you can create orientation checklists, communicate with your employee, and view their profile and submitted forms — all in one application. Criterion is a fully configurable solution that you can integrate with any third-party software. That way, you can put all your new employees at the center of your organization with ease.

See how Criterion can help you nurture and engage your employees from day one while streamlining all your necessary orientation and onboarding processes. Schedule a Criterion demo today to learn more.

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