Cast Adrift—the First Day on the Job

Weak or nonexistent onboarding leaves workers with poor first impressions 

By Dana Wilkie June 12, 2014

No desk. No computer. No e-mail.

No welcome messages. No instructions. No guide.

This isn’t a “Survivor” episode. It’s what the first day on the job looks like for a significant percentage of new employees, according to a June 2014 survey by Chicago-based Jellyvision, which markets cloud-based software that helps employees make benefits choices.

The survey — ALEX Asks: What Employees Think About Your Onboarding — unearthed this about respondents’ first day at a new job: Almost 1 in 5 had no desk, 1 in 4 had to wait for a computer, and more than 1 in 3 had no work e-mail address.

Other onboarding horror stories included: new hires not knowing how to enter their employers’ secure buildings, arriving to work embarrassingly overdressed because no one notified them about dress code policies, and having to sit through stressful benefits orientations at the end of an overwhelming first day.

What’s up with a company that can’t get it together enough to give a new worker a desk?

“There are tons of possible excuses,” said Jellyvision founder Harry Gottlieb. “But if an organization makes it a priority, having a desk ready is easy. Setting up a computer, phone and e-mail is easy. Recovering from a bad first impression? That’s hard.”

Only Half Have Official Onboarding

Conducted in partnership with The Olinger Group, the survey reflects responses from 400 new hires at companies with more than 2,000 employees.

Slightly more than half of respondents (52.3 percent) said their new company had an official onboarding program to help them meet co-workers, understand job requirements and learn about the company’s culture. Respondents also indicated that the best onboarding programs actually kicked in before their first day, with welcome messages from managers, details about their onboarding plans and information about employee benefits.

In fact, new hires who’ve gone through an official onboarding program are nearly three times more likely to be “somewhat” or “very satisfied” the first three months on the job, compared to those who had no access to an official program.

“What a company says about its culture and what that culture is may be two different things,” Gottlieb said. “The reality is communicated loud and clear by the behavior of its people. When the folks who interview you, manage you and work with you have it together and help you ramp up to your new job quickly, it speaks volumes. And it also speaks volumes when they don’t.”

What most surprised Gottlieb about the survey findings, he said, was that almost half of new hires (49.5 percent) never received a welcome message from their managers.

“Sending a ‘we’re so happy to have you’ note should be the easiest, most sincere thing a manager could do for a new hire,” he said. “Think about it—of all the candidates who applied for the position, this person rose to the top. The message practically writes itself—‘I’m excited you accepted the position, and look forward to working together soon. See you in a few weeks!’ ”

Workers Speak Out

Asked how employers could have made onboarding easier, survey respondents wrote comments such as:

“It would have been nice to know what to wear since I showed up way overdressed.”

“They could have at least told me how to enter the secure building!”

“Communication from the direct manager with a welcome and note about what time to show up on the first day. I arrived at 8 a.m. and the manager came in at 9:30. No one knew what to do with me—awkward!”

“Having a desk and laptop ready makes you feel like you are a welcome part of the team and they are looking forward to having you start working.”

“They could have gone over benefits with me rather than having me look at a website.”

“Receiving benefits information before I started at Jellyvision would have been very helpful,” Gottlieb said “It took a long time before I was able to offer myself benefits, and even longer before I could hire an HR person to explain it to me.”

Dana Wilkie is an online editor/manager for SHRM.


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