Revised Employee Orientation Provides 'One-stop shop'

September 25, 2007
Sept. 25, 2007 -- New U.Va. employees are getting an entirely new welcome to work.

During the revamped, longer orientation session, now held in a room at the Aquatic Fitness Center with a great view of Scott Stadium, new faculty and staff receive an introduction and welcome to the University and an overview of University employee policies and benefits. The orientation features a 10-minute video introducing U.Va., including words of welcome from many senior administrators and frontline employees around Grounds.

By the end of the session (which runs from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., including a light breakfast and box lunch), new employees have had the opportunity (and guidance, as needed) to sign up for all U.Va. benefits and receive passes for parking and athletic facilities access. They also have their photo taken and receive their new employee identification card, making them fully ready to begin work the next day.

Susan Carkeek, vice president of human resources at the University, is pleased with how well the new orientation, which started in August,, has been received. “U.Va. is a great place to work, and this is a chance for us to make a positive first impression. Folks who have come to the new orientation have given great feedback, saying that they couldn't imagine coming here without this introduction.”

One such fan was Jon Tolbert, an apprentice electrician with Facilities Management, who said, “It was very informative — a nice ceremony that really impressed me.”

“The new orientation was designed with the relationship between the employee and the University in mind,” said Alan Cohn, director of faculty and staff relations. “We wanted to offer an opportunity for employees to forge a connection with their new workplace and get to know the values and traditions of the University of Virginia.”

Just after lunch, participants are offered a 30-minute tour of the Rotunda with a student guide that “reinforces and caps all the presentations from the morning and gives more of a connection to students,” said Rajiva Seneviratne, the senior faculty and staff employee relations counselor who led the team that created the new orientation.

Wilson Proffitt, a new employee in the University Bookstore, appreciated his tour. “As much of a Virginia fan that I am, I'd never gotten to visit the Rotunda. I'd just been to lots of football and basketball games.”

In the past, new employees left orientation with a gaggle of folders and brochures — each covering a single major topic, such as the health care plan or the Virginia Retirement System. “In the past, orientation was a two-hour review of benefits that required new employees to visit several places later on to finish up things,” said Seneviratne. Now all that information, and quite a bit more, is organized in a three-ring binder with 15 tabs demarking each major section, including employee relations, leave, payroll and training. Now it's a "one-stop shop where you can sign up and get everything you need,” he explained.
The binder includes an intro section with U.Va.'s Statement of Purpose and Code of Ethics, a brief history of U.Va., and important statistics like total enrollment and staff numbers. Also, there's U.Va. trivia, like ‘What's a Wahoo?,’ an organization chart, definitions and a pronunciation guide to U.Va. lingo that previously left many new employees bewildered. It also includes U.Va.'s policies on discriminatory harassment, Internet and computer usage, and workplace violence or hostility, as well as the commonwealth's drug and alcohol policy.

Each benefit section features simple one- or two-page charts explaining the most important details of each benefit, such as the co-pays for the three tiers of prescription drug coverage, as well as differences between the high-premium and low-premium health plans and between the Faculty Retirement Plan and the Virginia Retirement System. “When they went through the benefits and forms during orientation, they really covered almost everything in the handbook, were good about answering questions, and didn't really leave any questions,” said Tolbert. “That was the most informative part of the whole thing.”

On most topics the binder sections include cross references to further print and online info. “We want to get people headed in the right direction, and let them know where to go for more,” said Seneviratne.

Elke Zschaebitz, a new instructor in the School of Nursing, approves of that approach. “The best part was that you could go home with the notebook and flip through to review anything that you were a little unsure about or want to return to later on,” she said.

Other highly useful information in the binder includes a 2007 pay period chart, instructions for using the online Payslip system, details on different types of leave and how to fill out a time form, how to get computer training and the current parking permit prices.

During the 15-minute presentation from Parking and Transportation, a rep discusses expectations related to the inherent shortage of parking in a community of more than 33,000 students and staff, requiring many employees to walk or ride a UTS bus from the nearest available parking. P&T notes how they try to encourage alternative transportation through commuter programs like carpools, vanpools and the Free Ride Home, as well as biking maps, the Grounds Walk and more.

All these changes are part of an ongoing effort by UHR to better serve employees. At least one new employee has appreciated the support. “All the management staff have been more supportive here than anywhere else I've ever worked,” said Tolbert. “When you have a question or concern there's always someone who can answer your question, or if they can't, they can point you where to go, and you'll get an answer. I've really enjoyed everything that's happened so far. Everyone has been just as helpful and pleasant as can be.”