My oldest son will be heading to college in a year. This has caused me to think about all of the things he doesn’t know how to do that I simply take for granted. He’s never had to sew on a button or remove a stain in his clothing. He’s never had to get along with a stranger who shares his same living space. He’s never had to get a loan or manage his money. My job will be to teach him how to navigate these waters. Well, there are many things that your newly graduated (whether high school, college, or grad school) employees don’t know that you may take for granted. Your job is to make your onboarding process both informative and realistic by addressing both the specifics of your organization and the basics of the workplace in general.

Let’s start with the basics. What attire is appropriate in your workplace? If you use a company uniform, this may be a simple issue. If you work in a business like a law office, for instance, different attire may be appropriate for different occasions. Going to court and certain client meetings demand business suits. Everyday office work may be acceptable in khakis and dress/golf shirts. Casual Friday may allow for jeans. Quite likely, those first few days of work, when orientation is being conducted, permit a more relaxed dress code. Spell this out for your new employees. That’s one less thing for them to be nervous about when they come to work that first day, and they will be nervous.

Another thing you can do to allay those first day jitters, and to make your onboarding process go smoothly, is to tell your new employee what to bring to work that first day/week. Do they need to bring supplies? Own a briefcase? Pack a lunch? Make a list of the documentation you will need from them when they fill out those monstrous forms required by the law – things like birth certificates, drivers’ licenses, or social security cards. You have to assume they’ve never done this before.

With regard to work itself, make sure your new employees understand the hours they will be expected to work. Shamefully, I laughed out loud when a young relative, new to the workforce and the concept of being salaried, commented on how he was going to be working a 40 hour week. He was stunned to learn that he might have plenty of 50 and 60 hour weeks in his future – at that same salary. Let your new employees know the realities of their job. If there’s one thing we learn in college – well, it isn’t how to do our jobs.

Tell your recent graduate/new employee what must be done to request a day off or to take a vacation. And, believe it or not, you have to tell them how holidays are handled. I had my first real job over the summer of my sophomore year of high school. When the 4th of July holiday weekend came around, I was dutifully sitting on the front stoop of my employer’s business on Friday, July 3rd waiting for the shop to open. I had no idea that people were given the day before a holiday off when the holiday was on the weekend.

One skill you need to consider immediately addressing with your recently-graduated, new employees is proper business communication. Mentoring is one of the most effective ways to do this. The ways in which we communicate with our peers while in school differ greatly from how we should communicate with our colleagues, management, and customers in the business world. The newest generation entering the workforce is somewhat accustomed to over-sharing and informality in their communications, which is not a good business habit. Pair your new employee with someone who knows the ropes so that s/he can learn proper email etiquette and the art of conversation and listening. Make opportunities for your new employees to interact with their new co-workers. Not only is this a great way to work on those communication skills, it indoctrinates those employees into the company culture.

Do not forget to teach your new employees how to deal with your customers. This skill is not taught in college. Ask your teenager or young twenty-something if they know what you mean by the phrase “The Customer is Always Right.” Our kids have been raised with hand-held computers that enable them to prove who is right and who is wrong in any conflict. A frustrated young friend recently told me about his day at work which was spent arguing over the phone with his client about the value that had already been added to his work product and the inefficiency of expending many more hours on the product for what would be a marginal gain at best. His manager had to take over the conversation; and of course, the client got what it wanted. My friend could not understand why the manager had just “caved in.” He did not know that engaging the customer in an argument over the work product for which it was paying was not the appropriate way to handle the situation. But, he had never been taught any different.

One final area I offer for your consideration is adding a cyber-security segment to your orientation program. This new generation of employees knows how to use their computers, tablets, and phones, but they’ve likely not been trained in safeguarding company information on these devices. They probably already have apps they like to use to find information. Your IT department should make sure those apps are compatible with your security program or provide incoming employees with a list of approved applications. And, I know most of us have gotten weird looking emails claiming to be from our manager or our CEO. New employees need to be shown how to identify legitimate company communications from bogus ones.

I’m sure there are many “givens” in business that we who have been in the job market for a while do not realize are “unknowns” to the incoming workforce. You’ve probably thought of a few of your experiences while reading this. One final suggestion to help you help your new employees: ask your current employees who have been through the onboarding process in the past three years what they wish they had been told about the job on that first day. Their views may provide you with some keen insight that you can apply to your onboarding process.

Vanessa Towarnicky's primary focus is in the area of labor and employment law. She has been involved in representing clients in various employment cases, including sexual harassment; deliberate intent; age, race, and disability discrimination; wrongful discharge; and various other employment-related torts. She is admitted to various state and federal courts as well as the Third Circuit Court of Appeals and Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.
» See more articles by Vanessa L. Towarnicky
» Read the full biography of Vanessa L. Towarnicky at Steptoe & Johnson