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New Employee? – What to do to start on the right foot

May/June 2010

Debby Cannon, Ph.D., CHE
Director, Cecil B. Day School of Hospitality , Robinson College of Business
Georgia State University

The most important time for a new employee is the very first days on the job. Research has consistently supported that most turnover in the first six months of an employee’s tenure can be traced to the first week of employment. These first days are crucial, but there are ways to orient new employees and acclimate them during those first weeks of employment to not only make employees stick around longer, but also reduce the potential for inferior performance and employee frustration.

Everyone has anxiety about starting a new job – whether it is a person’s first job or his or her 20th.  The first few days can confirm the new employee’s speculations: “I made the right decision to come to work here. This is going to be a great place to work” or “I think I’ve made a terrible mistake by taking this job.”

These first impressions are extremely important to the socialization process of becoming a committed and engaged employee. Individuals who are engaged in their work and committed to their employers have greater job satisfaction, perform at higher levels and are not as prone to leave their jobs compared to non-committed employees.

While employers may think the main function of a new employee orientation program is completing required forms and paperwork, this should only be a minor part of orienting a new employee. The beginning is an excellent time to provide information on the restaurant’s history, the founders, what is special about it and how the new employee is an important part of the company’s mission as well as vision for the future.

If looking for a company to benchmark, Disney World is one of the best in orienting new employees. The Disney culture is brought to life for new cast members, from the refreshment cart worker to one of the restaurant’s chefs. Through a variety of methods including tours, videos, demonstrations, presentations and games, new employees get memorable information that forms the foundation for their Disney careers.

Smaller employers can be just as effective in orienting new employees. Top management support and involvement are crucial, involving spending time with new employees to discuss what is important to the company and what is expected of employees.

Of course there is additional information important to the success of the new employee such as understanding employee standards of conduct, policies and procedures. The company’s service culture can be reinforced through the orientation process with incoming employees learning the basics of working with customers and guests as well as fellow workers. These service basics should be continually refined and expanded throughout the employee’s time with the company.

One of the challenges in orienting new employees is providing too much information to the point of being overwhelming. Rather than trying to present everything in the first few days of employment, it is important to prioritize and provide the necessary fundamentals.

What is vitally important for the new employee to know from “day one” of employment? Employees can be faced with safety and emergency issues for which they should be prepared. For example, any employee regardless of seniority can face a fire emergency and should be prepared for such. Failure to prepare employees for potential safety and security hazards could result in liability for the company under the legal doctrine of negligent training. Another facet of negligent training involves not providing information and materials that can be comprehended by non-English speaking employees.

Documentation of training, including the material covered in orienting new employees, is important. This can be accomplished in a number of ways, including having employees sign that they have been informed of policies and procedures, which is typically done by reviewing the employee handbook. Likewise, they can sign statements that they have been taught the basic emergency procedures or safety/security practices. Other employers have selected a more targeted approach in testing employees on material covered in orientation to not only document but also validate that the information was understood.

The first impressions of a company are not formed solely on information presented. New employees must feel genuinely well-received and welcomed by managers and fellow employees. Quality service starts with a commitment to internal service. What are ways that you can make employees feel good in their new work place?

•    Existing employees are sometimes in cliques that are intimidating and less than welcoming to newly hired individuals. Be aware of these cliques and their potentially negative influences. If existing employees are involved in some aspect of selecting, orienting and training new employees, they tend to be more interested in contributing to the success of their new associates.

•    Communicate to existing employees the names and backgrounds of new employees who have recently been hired with your company. Encourage existing employees to introduce themselves and to help make the new employee feel at home. This can be done through employee newsletters, bulletin boards or in pre-shift meetings. Always keep your restaurant’s goals clearly in focus for new and existing employees as well as progress being made towards the goals. Working together to achieve goals is one of the best ways to bring employees together as one team.

The “sink or swim” approach that involves starting employees immediately in their respective jobs results in inferior performance and employee frustration, which often leads to turnover. Providing an orientation for new employees is vital to the success of the restaurant operation and to the success of the individual employee. Starting the new employee on the right path, starting with that first day at work, will provide valuable momentum to the training, coaching and development that will follow.
The Cecil B Day School of Hospitality is located in the highly ranked Robinson College of Business at Georgia State University.

The school offers three different programs: A B.B.A. degree with a major in hospitality; a certificate program (a post-baccalaureate program) in hospitality operations, event planning and meeting planning; and an M.B.A. degree with a concentration in hotel real estate. Visit the School of Hospitality’s website at www.robinson.gsu.edu/hospitality or call (404) 413-7615.

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