An Empty Office, a Desk, a Chair and a 5 Inch Thick P&P Binder

Let me tell you a little story about my first day at a new job and see if this sounds familiar….


Once upon a time, I got a new job

Day one and I meet a manager. I’m shown around the office, meet people, get a basic lay of the land. Everyone is very nice and welcoming, I’m excited to be there, happy to have changed jobs to this one.

“We’re divided up into teams,” they say. “We’re not entirely sure which team you’re on, so we haven’t figured out which office is yours, but we’ll figure it out this week.”

No worries, it’s the human services industry, people are busy, stuff happens.

“Later on, you’ll shadow someone while they do part of their job and learn how to do it too. Actually you’ll shadow a few people to learn different things.“


“Oh, and someone will set up your email and show you how to use it, once we figure out which computer will be yours.”

Double Gulp.

“For now, just sit in this empty office and read this P&P manual, I need to go do something. I’ll be back later.”


Just me and a dinosaur, alone together…

I spent a good portion of my day reading a very long and boring P&P manual with various polices and procedures dated from years earlier to really recent. You know the type: pages not quite attached anymore, the three ring binder that doesn’t entirely close all the way, the papers stuffed in the pockets of the covers, front and back.  It’s an impressive thing – like a dinosaur.  Big, intimidating, on its way to extinction…


Whiney and entitled? No, not me!

I’m not telling this story to complain about that job, it was one of the best I ever had, with amazing people and wonderful work, and I am still grateful for the experience!  If you’re thinking to yourself “listen lady, quit complaining, you got your own computer, access to email/internet and an office with a door and walls, alone without sharing with others!” You’re right! I did get some fantastic benefits at that job and still feel lucky to have been there.

This is a story about a very typical new hire orientation process. Especially when coming to work at a human services organization without the funding that perhaps Apple or Google has for their new hire orientation.  I strongly believe that on the job training and shadowing others are both very important, especially when learning the nuances of how an organization works with the people they serve.  It’s also important for new hires to learn policies and procedures, not just for quality of work but for risk management reasons. In a human services type job, there are specific training and topics that need to be covered before a staff member can even interact with a person your organization serves.

That said, even without the funding of some of those fancy corporations, we can do orientation, onboarding and cultural development with new hires better than we used to.  It’s the ultimate CQI project; always reviewing and improving your orientation/onboarding programs and improve how you do things.


Orientation and onboarding are not synonyms

A colleague of mine recently conducted a webinar talking about onboarding and she emphasized something we all probably know but don’t always think about: orientation and onboarding are two different things.  We think about onboarding as the whole process of new hire orientation and doing what’s needed to get someone “on the floor” or being able to work with the people we serve (human services fields is where I’m focused). That’s really orientation and it’s conducted at the beginning of the employee’s tenure with the organization.

Onboarding is so much more than just basic compliance training, regulations and company overview (here is your manager, here is the bathroom, here is your workspace).  Onboarding is about introducing organizational culture, motivating an employee to do their best, instilling loyalty and trust in the employee towards your organization and developing your employees into fantastic performers who happily serve your clients and your organization where they will have a bright future.


Onboarding is the process or system that organizations use to introduce, train, integrate and/or coach new hires to the culture and methods of the company during their first year.”

Lynn Schleeter, Director of the Center for Sales Innovation
The College of St. Catherine in Minneapolis, Minnesota


Most organizations focus on the orientation program – the immediate training needs of new hires to get them ready to work, knowing key policies and procedures and able to contribute positively.  Many human services organizations have productivity goals and need staff to be up and running as quickly as possible – we don’t’ have the luxury of a lengthy paid training process. Onboarding and imbibing organizational culture are “nice to have” but not formalized. Most of the time it just happens naturally, with mixed results. Looking back at even our best jobs, I’m sure we can all look at ways the orientation and onboarding programs were lacking and could have been so much better.


It’s the people

When I look back at the job I mentioned at the start of this post, what I remember most are the people that I worked with, how meaningful the work was and how much I learned about the entire organization.  The culture was very strong and communicated to me formally and informally by just about everyone I interacted with.  My direct manager was kind, welcoming, helped me learn the job and was always encouraging and positive.  Even when the work was overwhelming and difficult, when I’d have days that many people would just up and quit, I felt good about the people around me and the work I was doing.

When you think about your current and previous jobs, did you feel that way about the culture and your process of becoming acclimated and learning the job? As a manager, how well do you think your organization goes with both orientation and onboarding? It’s something we can improve on, regardless of how well we do it.  It’s easy to push it aside for the more pressing, immediate needs at work.  However, employee satisfaction and engagement is directly related to quality of work and turnover. We know this, you can google articles that provide evidence, yet it’s something we often push aside to focus on something else “more important”.


Good old recipe analogy

Even with a less than perfect (or non-existent) onboarding program, there are so many factors that contribute to happy, fulfilled and productive employees who want to stay. Just like cooking or baking, many ingredients come together to make a complete, fantastic meal.  Some ingredients are essential, while some can be skipped and the meal turns out okay and some can be substituted with others that are close, but not perfect.  For healthy, engaged and productive employees, many ingredients are at work.

The first essential ingredient, of course is the employee. Ideally, one with a can-do attitude, who focuses on the positives vs. negatives, ask questions and seek out help to get their needs met and actively participate in their own orientation and training.

There are all the wonderful perks like health insurance, pay, bonuses, office, computer and other equipment, tuition reimbursement, continuing education training opportunities, free coffee and snacks, etc.

I believe, (and I’m not alone), that your direct manager and colleagues are probably the key ingredients for employee engagement and reduced turnover. That can be the factor that sustains an employee through all the workplace ups and downs, like being alone in a room with the P&P dinosaur. Having a manager who believes in you, has your back, is willing to listen, encourages and teaches you, corrects you when you’ve made a mistake and makes you feel good about coming to work vs. fearful.  That is something completely under your sphere of influence as a manager and it’s like yeast for bread.

Yes, your organization’s onboarding process probably could use some review and improvement, like any good CQI project, you will always be evaluating and improving.  But if that seems overwhelming or it’s not in your sphere of influence, that doesn’t mean it’s a lost cause.  You as a manager and/or colleague are the yeast that helps others rise and grow.  You influence those around you every day in terms of job satisfaction and connectedness.


We’d love to hear how your organization, or how you individually, help take care of your employees (new ones and long-timers).  Time to see that glass as half full and comment below!

Kristi McClure

Strategic Marketing Manager BH/CYF and CH

Kristi has more than 20 years of experience in the health and human service industry, the majority of that time working as a direct practitioner with children, adolescents and adults in both outpatient and residential/inpatient settings. She has worked with Relias for over 10 years, initially working with customers on getting the most out of Relias products, then managing the content products for HHS, and now as the Strategic Marketing Manager for Health and Human Services.

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