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Orientation—the foundation for success

October 15, 2009
by Susan D. Gilster and Jennifer L. Dalessandro
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Many liken staff turnover to a revolving door—new staff leave as quickly as they arrived. We have previously described methods to transform the hiring process to decrease staff turnover, particularly within the first few weeks of employment. But consider how much value you place on new employees, and how long is your new employee orientation program?

An appropriate orientation is more than the necessary employment paperwork and required information on infection control and universal precautions. But if that is where your orientation starts and stops, your staffing troubles will never end.

As mentioned in previous columns, new employees need to be prepared and educated for their position. Communicating organizational expectations for new employee performance is critical if you want the employee to succeed. Share with them the high standards you have established and the importance of their contribution. Not only do you need to determine their knowledge and level of skills, but they need to know the way in which you want those skills performed.

An orientation program for new employees should be just that—a systems-oriented program, deliberately designed to ensure staff preparation, education, and retention. It should be a combination of didactic and experiential learning, allowing the new employee to experience the new environment with seasoned staff. Facility and departmental orientations teach each new employee about the standards and expectations of them as an employee of the facility, as well as the specifics for working in their respective department.

The basic orientation of new employee paperwork should include an introduction to the facility. General information will not only include the required information, but useful details such as facility layout, meals and breaks, procedures and consequences for absenteeism, and other important policies and procedures. Keep in mind that new staff can’t possibly remember all information given in one day. It will be important to review again during the orientation and periodically throughout employment.

At least two weeks of department-specific orientation should be included in the orientation program. It is beneficial to provide an orientation schedule, complete with daily checklist, to ensure all aspects of the position are taught and reviewed throughout the two week period. This also provides the opportunity to add other important specifics and spread out new learning over time to allow for comprehension and retention of the information.

Daily interaction with managers and working side-by-side with peers in their department provides the new employee an opportunity to become comfortable before launching into a position all alone. Many facilities complete the department orientation with a skills checklist. While most often seen in nursing, skills check can be beneficial and utilized in any department. This evaluation may assist to confirm the employee is knowledgeable and comfortable and prepared to work independently. Yet the skills test may also identify areas that need further education, providing yet another opportunity to prepare a new employee for success rather than failure. Be willing to extend the orientation period if necessary. Most new employees needing additional time and attention will be successful. Keep in mind, the goal is to improve staff success and retention through preparation and education.

Some facilities also provide a full-day facility orientation program. This program typically takes place prior to or following the two week departmental orientation. These programs are excellent opportunities to again review the facility vision and philosophy and to revisit important policies and procedures on topics like fire safety and infection control. One facility has all department managers participate by providing brief overviews of their departments and valuable information that all employees need to know.

A thorough orientation is a collective effort. More than one person should be responsible for the teaching, exposing the new employee to additional perspectives, styles, and even departments. With careful, thoughtful planning, a written, specific orientation plan should be developed and followed, allowing for feedback on the system from both the new employee and those responsible for the orientation. This allows for ongoing evaluation of the orientation system, with results used to make changes and improvements to orientations when appropriate.

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