Written by Lisa Porro, PHR & SHRM-CP
Most People Have at Least One First Day at Work Horror Story:
- “Security had no idea I was coming, no one at my new company was answering their calls, and I had to wait for an hour for someone from the office to let me into the elevator.”
- “My cubicle neighbor on my first day let me know that that he hoped I wouldn’t eat at my desk because he was very sensitive to all smells.”
- “The company-issued laptop I was given was dirty, and the S key was loose.”
- “Everyone, including my supervisor, disappeared at noon and I was left on my own for lunch. I finally had to ask the receptionist where the break room was so I could eat my sandwich.”
Companies spend a great deal of time and money in hiring a new employee. They enlist recruiting firms, hold marathon interview sessions, draft and edit offer letters until they are perfect and then breathe a sigh of relief when an offer is finally accepted. New hire paperwork is gathered, background checks are started and someone notifies IT to assign an email to the new team member. Business cards are ordered, training is scheduled and voila, the technical part may be almost done. But there is another side to onboarding.
A first day at work is much like a first day at a new school. The incoming employee (let’s call this one “James”) doesn’t know anyone, has no idea who he will sit with at lunchtime and is a little nervous about the whole situation; the “newness” of it all. He wants to make a good first impression while simultaneously learning names and just about everything else he will need to know to do his job. It’s a bit overwhelming to say the least. If the onboarding process isn’t organized, it won’t make things any easier for James.
Onboarding, which should start well before the first day, is a long process. It involves more than getting paperwork signed, getting a company ID, sitting through a lecture on job expectations and taking the “Harassment in the Workplace” webinar. Onboarding sets the stage for the entire length of employment. Employees will always remember how their first days at work went for them. Were people welcoming? Was the process organized? Was the company prepared for me?
There are a few proactive things a company can do that can give a great first impression to a new employee. Let’s not abandon James – we want him to feel comfortable on his first day.
After the Offer of Employment Has Been Accepted:
o Send new employee a Welcome Email.
o A brief email should be sent from the hiring manager and not delegated out if at all possible. This is one of the initial windows the hiring manager has to establish leadership credibility and a good working rapport. This email should include:
- What to expect on the first day, including an indication of start time and logistics.
- Details such as where to park, dress code, who they should ask for upon arrival and any documents they need to bring with them.
- The List of Acceptable Documents from the I-9 form, for example.
- Some office buildings are complicated – do they stop at security or head straight to the elevator? Do they need to pull a ticket in the parking lot like they did during the interview process?
- Let them know who they should call if they have questions prior to their first day and make sure that person knows they are listed as a contact so he/she won’t miss an email or call.
o Get people on the calendar!
o This is the time to pull out your onboarding checklist and onboarding schedule. Who will handle introductions? The office tour? Who will take the new team member to lunch? New employees can be left on their own for an hour or so to regroup and review documents but too much downtime might make the company look unorganized.
o Send a team or company wide notice of new employee – welcome email.
o Check and double-check to see if you have the correct spelling of your new employee’s name when sending out announcements.
o Make the announcement warm, welcoming and positive; selling those on the email of why this person was chosen to be hired.
o Order equipment and necessary printed materials.
o Confirm spelling on all orders that will have the new employee’s name associated with it before ordering.
o This type of lack of attention to detail sends a poor message to a new employee who wants to feel valued, not insignificant.
The Week Before the First Day:
o Follow up with IT to ensure proper workstation set up.
o Will the desktop and/or laptop be ready and installed on the first day?
o Does the company-issued smartphone have a working charger?
- avoid giving the new employee old or dirty/heavily fingerprinted equipment if at all possible.
o Ensure that a workspace or office is designated for the new employee and is clean and in reasonably good condition.
o Do the file cabinets have keys? Do the blinds work? Is the chair the one reject in the office that no one wants because it tips over?
o Is the desk empty except for basic office supplies?
- If not, designate someone who handles company records to remove any old files and papers so they are handled appropriately.
o Fill a company logo mug with pens and a pack of “fun” colored post-its to place on the desk. Not mandatory of course, but guaranteed extra credit. Who doesn’t love a company mug?
o Confirm the onboarding team’s availability and adjust the schedule as needed.
o Could the hiring manager get pulled into a travel situation that would fall on the employee’s first day? Consider changing the start date to when he or she will be available.
The Day Before the First Day:
o Hiring manager to new employee phone call.
o Confirm that the company is still excited and looking forward to the first day. This is also a great time to:
- Let them know if the start time has changed due to a scheduling conflict
- Answer any last minute questions the new employee has.
- Remind them about those I-9 documents
o Walk through the new workspace. Make sure no one has switched out the nicer chair.
o Confirm with reception and/or security that they are aware of the new employee starting.
o Confirm (yes, again) that whoever is meeting with the new employee first will be there when the new employee arrives. There should also be a backup, just in case that person is delayed for any reason. “If you could just hang tight for an hour or so, someone should be here soon” is not professional and can detract from the good first impression both the company and the hiring manager wants to make.
The main objective for pre-first day is prepare; avoid turning off someone you are hoping will be a long-term contributor to your company. Remember, you only have one chance to make a first impression.
Stay tuned for part two, that will include tips and tricks on how to avoid a bad first impressions on the first day and beyond.
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