Easing the Transition into Your Lab Environment

Laboratory environments are some of the most challenging work settings. Typical laboratories are complicated places with inordinate amounts of detail, sophisticated technology, safety and regulatory policies, data systems, and potentially hazardous materials. Navigating through this can be challenging even for a seasoned employee, but what about the new person?

Even if they have years of experience, a new employee still has to adapt to the company’s culture, become familiar with their surroundings, form relationships, etc. So, it’s understandable that a certain amount of stress can be expected with a new job.

As managers, it is our responsibility to ease a candidate’s transition into a new work environment and make it a positive experience. The effort a company invests right from the start to ensure that this process is seamless is vitally important. Therefore, having comprehensive on-boarding tactics in place is something every company should consider.

On-boarding: the first key impression 

First impressions can make or break the overall meeting experience between a new hire and the employer. When on-boarding new employees, the key to a successful first impression is to minimize the unknown and provide a welcoming atmosphere for every candidate that walks through the door.

When designing an on-boarding program, the overall process should be thorough, but not overwhelming. Don’t throw too much at the new hire at one time. Space out the process to avoid burnout. Employees should feel valued and supported through every step of the process.

To make a lasting impact on your new hires, consider the following components for your company’s on-boarding program.

New hire checklist

An effective on-boarding program should be initiated even before an employee’s first day. Because so many things need to be accomplished before, during, and after an employee starts, develop a new hire checklist if one does not already exist.

The list should include typical protocols and procedures such as administrative tasks, issuance of computer passwords and personal protective gear, review of policies, safety training, and other items that are relevant to the laboratory.

Logistics such as ordering name plates, arranging work space, granting computer access, and gathering protective gear should be taken care of well in advance of an employee’s start date.

Consider prioritizing items on the list to ensure the most important things are accomplished first. Due dates and/or timelines to accomplish each task works well, and will help everyone manage their time efficiently.

Employee orientation manual

An employee orientation manual is intended to welcome new employees and share information on your company’s services, benefits, policies, procedures, etc. Typical manuals include an overview of the company, business conduct and ethics, dress code, hours of operation, descriptions of various departments like HR, etc.

While hard copies are typically provided to all new hires either prior to or the first day of employment, consider posting this manual to your company’s Intranet. This ensures that all materials included in the manual are up-to-date and easily accessible.

Facility tour

If a facility tour did not occur during the initial hiring process, then make this a priority when the employee begins employment. If the laboratory is adjunct to a larger facility, such as a manufacturing or research facility, then a tour of the lab, as well as the other departments is in order.

There are a number of things that can be accomplished by the tour. It is a great opportunity for the new hire to meet fellow employees and to become familiar with their new surroundings. The new employee will also gain a better understanding of what the company does, the products they produce and the customers they may serve.

Welcoming committee

Form a welcoming committee for any new hire. The key here is to break the ice and to make sure the new employee is comfortable with those they will be working with. As mentioned previously, the tour is really a facet of the welcoming committee.

Lab management should be an integral part of this committee. Managers need to make it a priority to schedule one-on-one time with the employee to ensure that the new person hears from the top of the organization.

Lastly, consider pairing the new hire with a seasoned employee to serve as a mentor. A mentor can be an invaluable resource, especially in a lab setting. If a new employee has a question about company policies or needs any type of assistance, they can get instant feedback from this point of contact.

Vision, mission, and values

One thing that can get overlooked during the on-boarding process is a thorough review of the company’s or laboratory’s vision, mission, and/or value statements. Discuss these early rather than later to demonstrate a commitment to the values that guide the company and the ethics by which the laboratory conducts business.

While the orientation manual should reference these statements, it’s important to review this information in-person with the new hire. In addition to having them read and sign these documents, discuss the contents with the new hire to ensure that they understand their meaning. After all, these statements are the very principles by which companies are founded.

Safety training

Safety training is a critical component of the on-boarding process. Even if a candidate is familiar with similar equipment from previous employment, they need to become accustomed with the layout and operations of their new environment. Base your training on the philosophical approach that every accident is preventable.

Reinforce policies, procedures, and work requirements with regard to wearing personal protective equipment, operating laboratory instrumentation and equipment, handling of hazardous materials, and locating safety equipment such as showers, eye washes, and first aid stations. Additionally, have new employees review the MSDS information for all chemicals they will be handling.

Employee reviews

Whatever review process you choose to incorporate, having one in place is key to overall employee development. It’s important for the manager to check in with the new employee on a regular basis to ensure that they are making progress. There is merit to having as many as three meetings per month in the beginning to discuss matters such as overall impressions, job responsibilities, current workload, performance objectives and expectations, goal setting, etc.

Final thoughts

Successfully transitioning a new employee begins with a defined process. Having strategic on-boarding procedures in place will help to ease employees into their new work environment and prepare them for a future career with your company. Investing in such a program is an investment in your employees. The payoffs could lead to increased productivity, higher retention rates, improved safety, and better employee moral.