Psychologically safe orientation strategies

Tips to enhance the orientation process for new employees or current employees taking on new roles. Ideas and strategies that foster connection, provide clear expectations and support each employee’s growth within the organization are included.

Share on.articles

Preparation for orientation is essential so you can share with the employee what they can expect from the experience and give them an opportunity to ask questions or make requests. It’s not unusual for the planned orientation process to be interrupted by work demands. Embed in your plan an opportunity to revisit orientation in 2 to 3 weeks’ time to make up for any part of the process that was missed or overlooked.

You may want to provide a link to Starting a new job for any new hire. This provides them with strategies to deal with stress and to support their own success. You could also copy and modify the content with any job specific information you want to include. 

On this page, we share strategies and actions you can implement to ensure your orientation process:

  • Fosters connection between the employee and their co-workers, leader and the organization. 
  • Provides clear expectations of what the employee’s role is and how their performance success will be measured. 
  • Gathers information about how they like to receive constructive feedback and ways they like to be recognized for their work. 
  • Supports the employee’s continued growth within the company by asking questions to help the organization understand the employee’s goals, and shares resources and opportunities that can help them continue to evolve. 
  • Includes support and orientation for those whose position, role or job within the organization has changed substantially.

Foster connection

Many employees starting at a new organization, with a new department or team may experience a sense of nerves or fears around meeting new people and creating new work relationships. Here are some strategies and actions you can take to help make these new connections easier.

With co-workers

  • Have the team put together a welcome card, send an email or video welcoming the employee to the team prior to their arrival, or have it waiting for them when they arrive at their workspace, even if that is at their home. 
  • Within the first few weeks, have different team members join the employee for coffee chats in-person or virtually. You should prepare this before the employee’s first day by adding the chats to their calendar so when they open their calendar for the first time, the events are already set up for them. The first week in a new organization can feel like a whirlwind of events. By spacing out these chats, it doesn’t feel like the opportunity to meet team members and connect with them ends after that first week and it can help prevent employees who might be introverts from becoming overwhelmed from social interaction. 

With their supervisor

  • The employee’s supervisor should reach out to them prior to their first day to introduce themselves and welcome the employee to their team. 
  • Treat the employee to a one-on-one coffee chat their first day if possible. If they’re local to one another, they can meet at a café. If the employee is working virtually or remotely in a different city, consider sending them a gift card to their local café and enjoying a virtual coffee together. 

With the organization

  • Create a portal or put together a digital document where the employee can: 
    • Access key links and relevant documentation, such as policies and resources.
    • Understand common jargon and acronyms used in the organization.
    • Know what they can expect from their first day to excite them about their new role. 
    • Learn about the current organizational culture and expectations in terms of how people interact. If yours is a psychologically safe organization, you may want to orient new employees to the culture using a free resource like Being a mindful employee.
  • Prior to their arrival, have the employee fill out an “About Me” document that asks questions like: 
    • What are your favourite snacks? 
      • You can have some waiting at their workspace when they arrive, in the staff break area, or send them in a welcome basket to their home. 
    • What shows have you binge-watched lately? 
      • This can help generate conversation and provide a topic you can follow up on later. 
    • What are your go-to coping strategies when stressed?
      • You can tap into these activities to support the employee if they feel overwhelmed at work. 
    • What are your go-to hot beverages? 
      • Now co-workers can swap café recommendations or know what to order if they’re planning on treating the employee. 
    • What are your passions, hobbies or favourite activities outside of work? 
      • This can help you understand who the person is behind the employee, and provides follow-up talking points. 
  • New employees will interact and collaborate with various individuals outside of their team. These could be members of other departments, divisions, or locations, as well as regular vendors and clients. Find opportunities to personally introduce the employee to these individuals and take time to share the experience and skills that you value from each individual. 
  • Share an enthusiastic and energetic welcome video or presentation with the employee. Make sure it includes the direction, core values, and key objectives to excite the employee about the impact they’ll be making by working in this organization. 
  • Also, take time to be specific about the impact that their job role will have on their team, their department, the organization and society. 

Ensure clarity about expectations

  • Clearly state the work objectives, tasks, skills, or quotas that need to be reached to be considered successful. 
  • Let the employee know the maximum amount of time before they can expect to receive their first job review, and what they can expect from the process, including who will do it, where it might be held and what will happen. 
  • Ask questions to get an idea of how you can support their success in this new role. Some examples might be:
    • Describe your idea of a great leader. What about a difficult leader?
      • This can help leaders gain an understanding of how they can best support and motivate their new employee, as well as actions or leadership styles to avoid. 
    • What do you find most stressful in a work environment, and how do you cope with that stress?
      • Leaders can’t avoid every employee’s stress triggers at work, but by making ourselves aware, we can prepare for them and know how to best support them if or when it happens. 
    • What do you need from your leader or the organization to be successful?
      • Give them space to share their ideas and solutions, and make note of the role you can take. 
    • How do you like to receive feedback at work? 
      • Feedback is part of employee development and when it is delivered in a supportive way, it helps cultivate trust between the employee and their leader. You could use the Feedback preferences form to help.
    • How do you like to be recognized or rewarded at work? 
      • It’s important to ensure we’re recognizing the employee’s work outcomes as well as their efforts. Knowing how they like to receive recognition makes it feel more genuine when we share it with them. You could use the Recognition preferences form to help.

Follow up

  • Supervisors and/or managers should reconnect with the employee on the anniversary of their first week, first month, and first year. 
    • These informal conversations can help a leader understand how the orientation process is supporting the employee and where the process can continue to be improved. 
    • It’s also an opportunity for the employee and their leaders to set goals for that first year and create a plan to work towards achieving them. 
  • Have the leader and employee meet for a formal 3-month review. This process could become the structure of an annual review going forward.
    • In this review, the leader can share if the employee is meeting the work objectives, tasks, skills, or quotas shared when they were hired. Describe any that will be put in place going forward.
    • This is also a great opportunity to ask the employee:
      • For feedback on what their overall experience was like with the orientation process, and ways the organization can continue to improve it. 
      • Their overall experience with working relationships with coworkers, other employees, clients or others. 
      • Their current level of stress or concern about meeting their job expectations.
      • What they need from their leader to be successful in their job role. 
      • What their long-term career goals are and what continuing education or development opportunities they might need to meet them. 

Provide opportunities for growth 

  • Create a list of training resources or topics that have supported the success of employees when they were in a similar role.  Let the new employee know if and how any of these are available to them. It can include free or paid courses, books or websites. The training programs should be spread out throughout the year so new employees have a chance to apply what they’ve learned from one course before taking a new one. 
  • Meet key individuals. Host a social event where people from key departments come together and give a short description of what their department does, how they collaborate with other departments, and how their department impacts the organization’s objectives. They can share their employee journey within the company and give new employees opportunities to ask the speaker questions about their role, how they got there, challenges they’ve overcome, and advice they have. 
  • Assign a mentor for each new employee. The mentor can be anyone who is familiar with the organization and would be able to help the employee adjust to the stressors of their job. It would be ideal if the mentor could also support the employees’ growth and development.
  • Support access to learning opportunities. If your organization has its own learning management program, or one is available to all employees from an outside source, be sure to host a learning session where new employees are shown how to access the platform, register for courses, and get the most out of the training available to them. 
  • Create a cohort. If you have several employees starting new positions at the same time, consider dividing them into cohorts that aren’t specific to department or role. It can be an opportunity for them to foster workplace relationships, community, and support. Consider bringing these cohorts together for a session where you assign a leader to each group and have them hold regular sessions where cohort members can share how they’ve grown and something that happened that week that felt like a victory. Finally, have each cohort member and the leader take turns sharing a challenge or error and give the other members 5 minutes to help them overcome the challenge or resolve the error. This exercise can prevent employees from feeling isolated, help them build strong connections, and reduce any fear that comes with voicing challenges and errors. 

Role changes within the organization

Orientation should also occur when the employee is staying within the same company but there are substantial changes to their role. Job changes can happen because the individual has been promoted or is making a lateral move, or because the organization is going through structural adjustments like a merger that may lead to the employee moving to a new team, new department, or new role.

Recognize that these changes and adjustments don’t always occur because the new employee wanted them to. They could be entering this new role feeling uncertain, unprepared, frustrated, or sad to be leaving their old team. 

These ideas could help the employee feels supported and set up for success:

  • Have the relevant supervisor, manager or leader put together a list of the objectives, tasks, skills, or quotas the employee needs to reach in their new role to be considered successful. 
  • Meet with the employee to review the questions below before the end of their first week, and then schedule a follow-up meeting within the first 3 months in the new role. They may have answered these questions in their old role, but their answers are likely to have changed. 
    • What do you need from your leader to be successful in this new role?
    • What are you going to do differently to support your success in this new role? 
    • How do you like to receive feedback at work?
    • How do you like to be recognized at work?
  • Create opportunities for the employee to foster connection with: 
    • Their new co-workers, colleagues, or direct reports by setting up coffee chats so they can get to know one another and build strong work relationships. 
    • Colleagues they may be collaborating with from different departments so they can better understand the flow of their work. 
    • Key clients or customers the employee might be responsible for in their new role. 
  • Recognize that the first few weeks in this new role will be a transition period for the employee. In addition to learning new things or adjusting to new expectations, they may also be supporting their old team with the task they were once responsible for. Encourage them to protect time to meet with their previous team if necessary. 

Additional resources

Develop a comprehensive onboarding plan. Ideas and actions from McLean & Company which organizations can take to create a comprehensive onboarding plan for new hires.

Coping with change. Explore how you can navigate change in ways that help you accept and adapt to changes that are outside your control.

Plan for resilience. A tool to help you bounce back after a health, personal or work crisis. This resource helps you develop healthy coping strategies to deal with life's challenges.

Building trust for leaders. Learn how to show your employees you’re trustworthy by exploring these core competencies and behaviours.

Employees' role in psychological health and safety. Free online learning program for employees to learn how to contribute to a mentally healthy workplace. This orientation to psychological health and safety in the workplace is for all employees.


Contributors include.articlesAlex Kollo Coaching and ToolsMary Ann BayntonSarah JennerWorkplace Strategies team 2022 to present

Related articles.articles

Article tags.articles

Choose an option to filter.articles


To add a comment.comments