March 31 2015

Orientation training: beyond boring manuals

Thomas Lange Middlesex UniversityProfessor of Economics and International Management at Middlesex University Thomas Lange discusses the positive impact that orientation training can have on employee satisfaction.

Think back to your first few weeks on the job. What were your challenges? More than likely, part of your time was taken up by your new employer’s orientation programme. Was it a helpful, productive, insightful and uplifting experience? Are you now clearer about the organisation’s corporate culture and what is expected of you in your new role?

Boring and irrelevant?

According to sources in the popular press, reality doesn’t always measure up to expectations. Allegedly, the most frequent complaints about new employee orientation are that it is overwhelmingly boring, or that the new employee is left to sink or swim. Organisations that have a structured orientation programme are frequently accused of focusing heavily on filling out forms, attending (yet again!) mandatory health and safety and diversity training courses, issuing ID cards, showing sorely out-of-date videos and PowerPoint presentations, and ensuring that new staff familiarise themselves with technical (read: boring) employee manuals.

Does this sound or feel familiar? How representative are these accusations? Does orientation training really make little difference to your working life?

Why orientation training matters

If you buy into the above story and are just about to give up on orientation training, then my advice would be: not so fast! Recently published research I co-authored with colleagues at the universities of Surrey and Kent has uncovered that orientation training has far-reaching implications: it affects employees’ job satisfaction. Our research was motivated by the importance of socialisation in developing task competence, developing work-role clarity, establishing realistic job expectations, and developing interpersonal relationships with work colleagues, all of which have an impact on work-related attitudes, such as job satisfaction.

“Ok, but why does this matter?” I hear you say. The answer comes in two equally important parts. First, a growing body of research has already explored the causal relationship between job satisfaction and important workplace attitudes and behaviours, including job performance, commitment, motivation, absenteeism and quitting intentions. These issues matter to both organisation and employee. Second, and this is where our research adds significant value, orientation training is indeed a strong predictor of job satisfaction and facilitates the workplace socialisation of new employees, specifically by reducing the uncertainty about aspects of the job that are not always contractible.

Bored - Fod Tzellos

Bored – Photo by Fod Tzellos (Creative Commons 2.0)

Key Findings

Our findings, published in leading HR journal, Human Resource Management, have important implications for human resource managers and practitioners, calling for a redirection of resources towards orientation training. This is especially important in a highly dynamic labour market environment where employee mobility and career changes have become the norm rather than the exception.

Orientation training evidently matters, and it arguably matters even more, given its predominance as a stronger predicator of job satisfaction than other type of training activity – another finding of our investigation. Redirection of resources towards orientation training could increase the effectiveness of human resource strategies for creating an engaged and motivated workforce.

What’s more, by delving a little deeper into our rich dataset, derived from the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS), we uncovered that orientation training exerts a significant positive effect on newcomer male employees’ overall job satisfaction in both the private and public sectors, but it increases overall job satisfaction of newcomer female employees only in the public sector. Building on findings in the work-life conflict research arena, we speculate that this finding may be reflective of women finding socialisation tactics in the so-called ‘model employer public sector’ more helpful where HR practices, such as orientation, encourage work-life integration.

Beyond overall job satisfaction, when we look at a number of job satisfaction domains, such as satisfaction with pay, satisfaction with job security or working hours, we find a positive relationship between orientation training and these satisfaction domains predominantly in the public sector. And we find that this is true for both, men and women. This reflects the view that, compared with the private sector, public-sector firms are indeed model employers who are more likely to exert effort and use tactics that ensure newcomers are competent with and socially accepted in various aspects of their work.

Impact and rigour of our research

Our insights are not simply based on anecdotal hear-say or derived from a handful of focus groups (however important focus group research may be). And, clearly, our findings are not mirror images of popular press chatter. Using briefly some technical jargon, our findings are ‘statistically robust’ and based on survey responses from nearly 7,000 male and female British employees in both public and private-sector organisations, using data from the BHPS.

Using this survey has allowed us to distinguish between different types of job training and domain satisfaction measures. Our work thus provides one of most disaggregated analyses of the relationship between job training and job satisfaction to date.

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