First impressions count. However in the workplace, organizations often fail to realize that this truism is a two way street. As much as we form first impressions about the people we interview, hire and welcome into our organizations, the employee is on a parallel journey. How did we interview them? How did we invite them to join our organization and how did we welcome them when they arrived?
Traditionally, “orientation” is seen as a static event, one in which we provide an employee with a list of expectations and requirements, a package of information on their benefits, and perhaps some formal welcome session or introduction to the organization’s policies and procedures.
There is much research to suggest the importance of the workplace culture in attracting and retaining highly qualified staff. In a changing workforce, there is even more emphasis on how to attract and retain a new generation of employees, and with that, a focus on ensuring there are up to date tools and technology. However, much of the research shows that it is an organization’s culture that has the most impact on staff satisfaction and engagement. Employees, regardless of their age or demographic, consistently stay in workplaces where they feel welcomed and valued, where they are engaged with their teams, where they have a strong working relationship with their supervisor and perhaps most importantly, when they are able to see how their role fits in to the of the bigger picture of the organization; it’s Vision.
Guelph General Hospital is a 150 bed, community-based, acute care hospital that employs approximately 1300 people and hires approximately 250 new people every year. After reviewing our orientation program and staff evaluations and thinking critically about the research around employee engagement and organizational development, we recently decided to shift our orientation's focus. We moved away from a one-day information (over)sharing session to a highly interactive half day opportunity for new staff members to connect with our hospital’s values and with each other.
We designed our new monthly orientation with a clear end in mind. We did this by carefully selecting our topics, speakers and exercises in a way that would focus new employees on our hospital's vision, mission and values. We imagined what kind of story we would want our new employees to tell when they got home from their orientation and were asked by their partner or family what their first impression of us was. What key messages and impressions did we want them to have about Guelph General Hospital? The answer? It was clear that it was critical to engage new staff in understanding our values and the importance of their role in achieving our vision and mission. Not only did this focus just 'feel' right; it was also aligned with our research regarding what is most likely to engage new staff members during the on-boarding process. Given this focus, we re-designed our orientation program in the following ways:
Welcome from the CEO
We begin the day with an engaging presentation and welcome from our hospital's CEO. In a short presentation, our CEO is able to eloquently message her desire for new employees to think critically about their own accountability and ability to powerfully impact the lives of those we are here to serve. She points out specifically how valuable “new eyes” are in an organization and how open she is to hearing feedback from people regarding what they are seeing as they come to learn about “how we do things around here.” She takes time to ask each participant about who they are, what led them to choose to work with us and how they hope to impact those we serve here at Guelph General. She reinforces our values by asking staff members to thank our volunteers, understand some of the systemic issues that highly influence and guide our work (LHINs, boards, etc.) and welcomes any and all questions.
Examining our values
We engage staff in an exercise to reflect what the organization’s values (compassion, accountability, respect and teamwork) might look like within each of their respective roles and departments. It was important to us that from day one, employees are able to understand how to operationalize these values within their own work context, and explore how the hospital’s values lay the foundation for how we do our work. This exercise brings our values to life, ensures they become more than just “words on a wall” and highlights that our vision and mission can only be achieved when EACH of us live them out.
Focusing on the value of teamwork
We create an opportunity for staff to understand the interconnectedness of their roles, and how the value of teamwork assists us in achieving our vision. Participants are paired up and asked to share their current understanding of what their role will be and to brainstorm about how their roles may be connected. It is not unusual for participants to come to orientation without an understanding of other roles/services/departments within the organization. After participants are given the time to share their respective roles with one another, they are given a challenge and asked to explore the question “What are the potential barriers to reaching our vision if we get too comfortable in our silos and fail to understand each others' roles?” We have found that participants can easily identify the importance of understanding and removing barriers when the relationship between the two roles is clear, such as between Intensive Care and Emergency Room nurses. However this exercise is more challenging when the need for inter-departmental understanding is not as obvious, such as for someone working in our Sterile Processing Department and someone working in Food Services. Invariably however, the challenge to think broadly and systemically about their role almost always leads participants to find some common ground between their roles and how this impacts the overall care of our patients and the smooth functioning of the hospital. It's during this activity where we introduce our internal job shadowing program called “Walk this Way.” By highlighting a program whose purpose it is to allow for better interdepartmental understanding, we also reinforce the hospital's expectation as it relates to one of our core values, teamwork.
Refocusing essential “information” sessions on patient and staff safety
In order to ensure a more consistent flow between essential staff and patient presentations such as Infection Prevention and Control, Staff and Patient Safety, and Privacy, we spent time with each presenter and asked them to primarily focus on the role each staff member plays in keeping both staff and patients safe. We reminded presenters that our new employees are not likely to remember all of the details of each presentation and that their focus should be on a few key highlights of their program, with an emphasis on where to get the details when it was needed. Most importantly, we wanted participants to feel welcomed by the “experts” so they would know who they could connect with should they need more support or information once they were settled in their new roles.
Creating space for participants to connect on a personal level
Part of our orientation focuses on the unique and vulnerable experience of being a hospital patient or visitor. During this review the floor is opened for new employees to share their own positive or challenging experiences of interacting with the hospital environment. Allowing this free flow narrative provides new employees the opportunity to learn from one another and connect personally with an awareness of the potential vulnerabilities, joys and frustrations that our patients and visitors experience when they come into our organization. We use storytelling as a powerful bridge to encourage respect and compassion for the patient and family experience, and our power to either support or frustrate the people that we are here to serve.
Reviewing key supports for staff
Key messaging about the programs that reinforce our culture are shared and explained. Supports such as our Employee Family Assistance Program, Education Assistance Fund, Respectful Workplace and Violence Prevention Framework, conflict management coaching, Crucial Conversations/Crisis Intervention Training and other educational offerings are reviewed to reinforce our culture’s commitment to creating a healthy workplace for our staff so that they in turn can live out our mission: “To provide the highest quality of care for patients and their families.”
Touring the Facility
We end our orientation with a tour of the hospital to familiarize staff with key departments and support services, such our Occupational Health Services, Learning Centre and multi-faith chapel.
It is important to note that the orientation process does not stop after the first day. New staff go on to be welcomed into their departments and receive department specific orientation. Additionally, the hospital follows an on-boarding approach with each employee that ensures they meet with their Director twice over the course of their first 90 days for what we call a 30-90 day check in. The emphasis of this check-in is to further engage new employees and see how we, as an organization, are measuring up to their expectations of what it would be like to work here.
The following participant feedback statements help to reinforce that we are on the right track:
“I felt like the CEO was connected and meant it when she welcomed all of us. She was knowledgeable and welcoming.”
“I liked the story sharing at the end about how people have felt welcomed or not welcomed at a hospital.”
“Really awesome to hear about all the resources available to staff to help us bring our best at work.”
“Great to hear CEO’s personal path to get a better feel for the cultural direction of GGH.”
The culture presentation “…was a great opportunity to learn more about the roles of other health care workers and my interactions with them in my job. A good reminder of how our behaviours can be perceived.”
The confidentiality presentation “…provided excellent scenarios and discussion as to how to handle each…more aware of how to handle various situations.”
Revamping our orientation program to a half day highly engaging session has resulted in a much more meaningful introduction to our hospital. Getting clear on what key messages an organization’s new employees need to walk away with after attending an orientation session is an important first step in ensuring an engaging orientation program that sets the stage for empowering staff to see their role in creating and sustaining a healthy and safe workplace culture.
About the Authors
Karen Suk-Patrick, MSW, is the Director of Organizational Development and Employee Health Services at Guelph General Hospital where she has worked for a total of ten years. Karen’s background as a clinical social worker informs her systemic approach to organizational development and her passion creating a healthy workplace and taking care of the most valuable resource the hospital has – its people, so that they can take care of patients.
Chantal Thorn has been a staff member at Guelph General Hospital for the last 10 years, most recently in the role of Organizational Development Specialist. Chantal completed her Phd in Applied Social Psychology (Organizational Development) in 2007 where her research looked at work life balance supports and systems and their impact on employee commitment and reduction in work life conflict. Her role both within Guelph General Hospital and with her own coaching/consulting company is to facilitate individual and organizational excellence.