Every time we talk to a client or potential client about employee orientation, one issue that comes up over and over again is the amount of time spent conducting employee orientation programs. We’ve heard about employee orientation programs lasting anywhere from three hours to three weeks. If you’re like us, you’re probably wondering how some companies make a half-day employee orientation session work while others require new hires to participate in an employee orientation marathon before starting work.
The simple answer is that, as is the case with almost everything else, every company has its own approach to employee orientation. Some present a brief welcome to new employees, collect the necessary paperwork, and send the new hires off to work. Other organizations choose to do all those things, then dive into company policies, procedures, and culture, then move on to benefit options, safety procedures and customer service training, and possibly more. And here’s the thing: While many executives and HR directors agree that three weeks of employee orientation is overkill, there doesn’t seem to be any sort of consensus about how long employee orientation should last. That said, we think employee orientation should cover all the important topics but still be as concise as possible (and not last so long that new employees lose interest in the materials—and in the new job before they even start working).
It’s widely believed that the orientation process should start as soon as possible following a new employee’s start date, even before the start date when the employee orientation is available online. Many experts believe a good (translation: informative, yet concise and effective) employee orientation program should last approximately three hours, but definitely no longer than one full work day.
The main argument for keeping your employee orientation relatively short is that your new employees probably aren’t thrilled about the idea of sitting through it. Keeping it short will to help them stay awake and will make them less likely to wonder why they decided to work for you in the first place. A brief employee orientation is also less likely to overwhelm new employees before they even start working.
If you choose to go with the three-hour model, here is a suggested agenda:
- One hour: Cover important policies and have new employees sign off that they understand them.
- 30 minutes: Fill out paperwork (W-4s, I-9s, direct deposit information, contact information, etc.).
- One hour: Benefits package options.
- 30 minutes to one hour: Safety procedures.
If you feel strongly about covering more topics than the ones listed above, you can consider lengthening the orientation to one full day. Just don’t lose sight of the fact that some things really don’t need to be included in employee orientation—they can be taught on the job instead.
Although we suggest that employee orientation be limited to somewhere between three hours to one full work day, that doesn’t mean the process should stop after that amount of time. Orientation doesn’t have to be a one-time thing—it can (and should) be an ongoing process. You can (and should) follow up your with new employees to make sure they’re up to speed on the most important pieces of information provided to them during the initial employee orientation program.
While there’s no one right answer to the question “How long should our company employee orientation last?” the goal is usually to get new hires up to speed as quickly as possible while not boring or overwhelming them. As a bonus, a well-planned and executed employee orientation program will help your organization retain quality employees while a less-than-sufficient employee orientation program may suggest that you don’t care about them. However long you decide your employee orientation should last, keep at least this one thing in mind: You don’t want the process to be so long that it bores or overwhelms your new employees.