Welcome to the company

How do you introduce new staff into your work environment? Do you have a well thought out, documented procedure, or do you let your supervisors and managers work it out for themselves? If you fall into the latter category I urge you to have a serious re-think about what you are doing because it could end up costing you a great deal of time, money and angst.

It doesn’t matter what size your business is, if you’re in the habit of just throwing your new staff into their work environment without a proper induction you are missing one of the most important steps in the road to increased productivity. The professional hospitality companies understand this and happily spend the time and money to develop comprehensive induction programs that set new staff on the right path and avoid a plethora of potential difficulties down the track.

Consider the staff I encounter in hospitality businesses who are not aware of the aims of the business or the owners’ philosophy. In the absence of this information how can they work towards a common goal? How can they make decisions for the good of the business? What about the staff who can’t tell me exactly what their job is or how they are judged? The underlying issue is simple — how can you kick a goal if the goalposts are not stationary and visible?

In the past, the main purpose of employee induction and orientation was to facilitate the smooth assimilation of a new hire into their job and the work team. Recent developments in various areas of law have created the need for you to revise what you are doing and perhaps make some fundamental changes and extend the process further than just assimilation.

The first issue I would advise you to incorporate into your induction process are all relevant matters of health and safety that relate to your work environment. Your induction manual should contain a section that clearly spells out the general rules for lifting, electrical safety, chemical use, fire safety and any other safety issues that apply to your particular work environment. It should also explain the rules for basic food handling and personal hygiene (hand washing, use of head covering, wearing of uniforms, infectious illnesses, etc).

Moving on, your manual should have a section detailing all the general rules of employment and rostering that you want to apply to all your employees. Think about the ongoing things that give you grief — things like staff punctuality, pulling ‘sickies’ at little or no notice, swapping shifts with inexperienced staff, getting casuals to work Friday and Saturday nights, failing to fill out time sheets, availability at exam times, etc. See if you can spell out a set of general rules that are fair and that bring reliability to your business.

Next, you should detail your policies regarding things that have the potential to bring you into conflict with the law or make you liable to a damages claim: things like consumption or being under the influence of alcohol and drugs; physical, verbal and sexual harassment; unauthorised use of company property; theft; and use of company vehicles. I would also recommend you detail the grounds on which you can instantly dismiss an employee. You will find these enshrined in each State’s employment legislation or your local employer representative organisation can give them to you.

Once you have dealt with the legal issues you may have a group of general or miscellaneous policies that you need to bring to the attention of all your staff — things like unauthorised consumption of food and beverage, staff meals, breaks, commercial confidentiality, etc. The best way to come up with a comprehensive list is to brainstorm with your key staff.

The whole idea of committing all these things to writing is to help remove the excuse: ‘I wasn’t told’, if it comes to an argument or, in extreme cases, a court case. Of course the presence of such an induction manual is not proof that the person has been given it, or indeed read it. To make it more watertight you need to go another step further.

Your induction manual should have a tear-off page at the back so the new staff member can sign acknowledgement that they have read the contents of the manual, and are prepared to abide by the rules and regulations contained in it. Don’t forget to include the date. This page should be filed in the employee’s records so you can prove you covered these issues with them.

Any amendments to your induction manuals should be dated so you have a record of when changes were made. This way you can prove the particular content of the manual you gave the employee. The golden rule is cover yourself.

For those of you who think this is some kind of administrative nightmare or overkill, I can only hope that your introduction to modern employment responsibility doesn’t come when you front court for unfair dismissal or have someone go out on extended Workcare for disobeying a policy you know you told them about but can’t prove. Some things have the capacity to ruin your whole year . . .