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Balancing act: How much orientation is enough?

Published: Monday, April 23 2012 1:00 p.m. MDT

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When my wife and I moved to Utah in 1995, we both started jobs as reporters for one of the state's daily newspapers.

We were excited about moving from my home state of South Dakota to her home state of Utah, and we were eager to put our small-town reporting skills to the test in a much larger market.

I don't remember much about our first few days on the job. I'm sure we had to sign some papers and that we received a quick overview of health insurance, time-off policies and other company benefits. We were introduced to our co-workers and our beats, then turned loose to produce some stories.

That's probably a fairly common experience for most people as they start new jobs, and in many ways, it works just fine. It allows you to jump right in to your new position and, if you can, to hit the ground running.

On the other hand, it doesn't allow you much time to get a sense of the company's culture, and it may leave you with unanswered questions about processes and procedures at your new workplace.

When I started my current job almost eight months ago, I had a very different experience.

Every new employee at this particular company starts his or her work experience with two full days of orientation. My sessions included about a dozen people who had been hired for a wide variety of positions — everything from an administrative assistant to an editor (that was me!) to several technical workers.

A member of the human resources team guided us through the orientation, which provided extensive information about the company's history and culture, its rules and policies, the pay structure and benefits and basically everything else we would need to know before starting our actual duties. We also received an official welcome from a member of the executive team and took a tour of the company facilities.

On the first day of the orientation, each one of us had lunch with one of our soon-to-be co-workers, and at the end of the second day, a co-worker picked us up and took us to our work area so we could start meeting people.

The overall experience was intense and, at times, mentally exhausting. But for me, it was an excellent way to start a new career. I was nervous about leaving the field of journalism — the only occupation I had known in my adult life — and starting something entirely new. The two-day orientation eased my transition. It made me feel like my new company was glad I was part of the team and really wanted me to succeed.

Because it was such a positive experience for me, I was interested to read about a recent survey in which 34 percent of HR managers said their companies did not offer formal orientation programs to help new employees.

The survey for Accountemps, a specialized staffing service for temporary accounting, finance and bookkeeping professionals, was conducted by an independent research firm and included responses from more than 500 HR managers at companies with 20 or more employees.

The press release about the survey pointed out that overlooking orientation could be a "missed opportunity" for employers, for a variety of reasons.

For example, when HR executives who did have orientation programs were asked what the greatest benefit was, 35 percent said orientation helped new employees better understand their company's values, guidelines and expectations. Another 20 percent said orientation helped new workers make positive contributions more quickly, and 19 percent said it sped up the process of making new employees feel connected with the company.

That was definitely the case for me, and I think it would be the same for many people. With all of the pressure and anxiety that goes along with starting a new job, you don't want to face the additional complication of not understanding what's culturally important to your coworkers. And if you are distracted by wondering whether you signed up for the right benefits, or whether you'll be able to earn enough paid time off to take that vacation you've scheduled for seven months from now, you probably won't be as productive as you could be right off the bat.

The orientation at my new job also had a positive impact on my work/life equation. Because I was able to learn those details about my new company over a two-day period, I had time to talk to my wife and receive her input on the decisions we needed to make regarding benefits and insurance. The information about the company also helped me feel less anxious and stressed, which is always a good thing when it comes to family happiness.

I'd be interested to hear about readers' experiences with orientation to a new company. What were your best and worst orientation experiences, and why? If you've had a good experience, what did you learn about your new company or your job, and how did that help you both at work and at home?

Please let me know, and I'll share some of your responses in a future column.

Email your comments to kratzbalancingact@gmail.com or post them online at deseretnews.com. Follow me on Twitter at gkratzbalancing or on Facebook on my journalist page.

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