Thoughts from the HR Front Lines

It used to be known as employee orientation. Not a biggie, right? Some paperwork to fill out, noting where the essential areas are, finding out the scope of responsibilities and learning the names of your new co-workers. Boom! Done.

While that’s an obvious oversimplification, the truth is that employee orientation used to be a swift process that was born in the days of the organizational culture that was established in the postwar years. Yes, that’s post-WWII. The entire thrust was to get a person “up to speed” so they could be a productive member of the organization as quickly as possible.

While the goal hasn’t changed, the onboarding method at Miller’s Textile Services has undergone a significant shift in emphasis in response to the currents of change in the culture at large. This change reflects but is not limited to the changes in generations, notably the Baby Boomers, the Gen Xers and the Millennials. It is not our intent in this article to expand on the differences between these generations, since the subject has been explored at length elsewhere. Suffice it to say that the future of any organization in today’s economy depends on its ability to appeal to people of all ages.

Importantly, the evolution of the Miller’s Textile Services onboarding process was not approached randomly, nor was it conducted in a vacuum. It was undertaken in response to an extensive employee survey and was informed by our agreed-upon vision to become “the best independent single-plant textile rental company in the United States.” Why? Quite simply, because one cannot aspire to hit a goal of that magnitude without a commitment to attracting and retaining the best employees.

The first and probably the most essential difference in the new onboarding method has been the assignment of mentors. We believe that having a true mentor is a necessary step, not merely to becoming acclimated, but to feeling that one is a part of a team committed to a joint mission larger than oneself.

Of course, mentors guide the employee in meeting and greeting and getting to know one’s co-workers as well as making the introductions to staff members. But the process is more thorough and includes daily activities such as tips on the appropriate time and place for breaks, sitting with the new employee at lunch and coaching them on a brief history of the company they are about to be part of.

Mentors actually share a company history sheet which tells the Miller’s story in brief: when the company began as well as what kind of people the owners were and are. The point here is always to help the employee make a personal connection with the community citizen that is Miller’s Textile Services. We also want each employee to be aware of the company’s mission, so they feel the same challenge we do in creating something truly special and significant.

In addition, we encourage new employees and their co-workers to share something meaningful about themselves and their personal lives. We ask mentors to share details of their own lives as well as their experience at Miller’s including jobs they have had, as well as aspirations. We even ask new employees for their date of birth, so the whole company can share in the celebration. We want people to feel as though it’s not just a family company, but a true work team.

The next major step in onboarding involves creating employee awareness of the entire spectrum of benefits, even those that are not available to the new person right away. It is impossible to overstate the importance of this step. Today’s employees are more “mission-driven” and want to feel that their efforts are valued. At Miller’s, we are convinced that awareness of the full spectrum of benefits not only heightens morale, but creates a barrier against possible recruitment by competitors or even by other industries.

A key here is a full explanation of the “no-cost benefit” plan. This sheet is a complete listing of benefits available at no additional cost and includes such items as:

  • Cell phone discount. A Miller’s exclusive is our discount plan for personal cell phones.
  •  Christmas celebration and gift. Miller’s extends holiday gifts to employees.
  •  Tuition reimbursement. Employees can receive up to $2,500 per year in tuition reimbursement for taking courses to improve their personal/professional lives.
  •  Service Awards. Employees receive awards for years of service.
  • Employee appreciation cookout. Miller’s management cooks lunch for employees to show appreciation for their hard work.
  • Financial peace. We have found that employees are more well-rounded, happier and productive when they achieve competence in their personal finances. We offer a 10-week Dave Ramsey course, which includes topics such as budgeting, and credit matters, is taught by our own accounting personnel.
  • Employee assistance. Miller’s has a plan available to assist employees dealing with stress, relationship issues, parenting, emotional and marital problems.
  • Company shirts. These are available at no cost.
  • Flex time. Today’s employees are interested in careers that are adaptable to personal and family circumstances, and Miller’s offers several flex time options.
  • Good Deed Awards. This program celebrates the character exhibited by individual Miller’s employees

    (Not content to merely list these programs, we actively encourage new employees to use them, since our ultimate objective is excellence in their personal lives.)

Of course, true onboarding is a process, not an event. We make sure our mentors have frequent contact with their charges. In addition, we hold review sessions with new employees at the two-week and four-week milestones. The goal here is to solicit meaningful feedback and to simply see how they are doing with their new company.

While onboarding varies by employee and depends on the department at which they are working, we have a critical 90-day follow up session. By this point in time, we believe that each employee should feel as though they are fitting into the life of the company.

Keeping good people, we have found, is a process that begins, not toward the end of an employee’s tenure, but on day-one. This has proved especially true of Millennials, who require more feedback and have increased our emphasis on values such as personal time. Their need for recognition has even resulted in the small things, such as getting one’s name on the company’s electronic board and recognizing them at weekly meetings. We have found that, when it comes to employee retention, there are no small things.

Making our new people aware of benefits even extends to awareness of the Employee Experience Committee, whose mission is to improve the quality of life for our employees. This committee is responsible for many accomplishments, including improving company policies, adding new programs, securing discounts to area amusement parks.

We believe the key to our joint success lies in getting the best effort from everyone involved in achieving our mission and vision. And that, in turn, depends on effective onboarding and making each individual aware of every single benefit and advantage our company offers them.