SURVEY SAYS: What Do You Give New Employees to Read First?

Anyone who has been in this business for any length of time knows how hard it can be to learn what you need to know (much less how to keep up to speed once you learn what you need to know).

And, inevitably, those first days on the job are filled with – – – reading.    This week, I’d like to know – “What do you give new employees in your group to read first on the first week on the job?”

Truth be told, when I asked the question, I was thinking (hoping?) to glean some insights about some perhaps hitherto unacknowledged comprehensive, yet comprehensible resource that can help newer folks hit the ground running – and indeed there were some suggestions among this week’s responses that clearly fill that bill.  

EBRI’s Fundamentals of Employee Benefit Programs was mentioned, as was the Pension Answer Book, as well as IRS publications 590 and 560.   ASPPA’s Retirement Plan Fundamentals Parts 1 & 2 was also a popular choice.   “They are a great introduction to retirement plans and build a strong foundation for plan administrators,” observed one respondent.  “After all, we train all of our employees in plan administration as no one goes to college and majors in 401(k) consulting.”   Another reader explained that choice as follows; “If that doesn’t scare them off in the first week, I don’t know what will.”

Indeed, roughly a third of this week’s respondents mentioned one (or more) of the above.  

Roughly one-in-five handed out a copy of their plan’s summary plan description (SPD) (one reader said, “A wrap SPD and the time to read and bounce through our Intranet site” – then went on to add – “We warn them in advance it’s not exactly the Plan Sponsor summer reading list.” , while 17% handed out what might generously be referred to as….”benefits stuff.”   About 15% handed out information on the company itself (as one reader noted, “We have some materials on the company, its products and culture. That’s first for everyone. Then, it depends on the position and what their responsibilities are.” ), and about 7% each either handed out some kind of policy documentation, or information on how to access the computer/network/intranet (wherein lay more essential information to be read).

NewsDash Noted

Needless to say, I was happy to see how many respondents included – as part of their “regular” response – comments like the following:

“Front page of the Wall Street Journal, and the NewsDash of course.”

“…and make sure they sign-up for NewsDash.”

“Hard to say.   You mean, of course, besides signing them up for NewsDash?!”

“NewsDash from PlanSponsor, of course!”

There were, of course, some different approaches:

"Nothing to read, we jump right in with training."

"It is pretty much sink or swim here.   We don't really give them anything.   We have some books in the back that we all use for resources, but generally it is up to them."  

"The two most important documents are the org chart and a map of the office."

"As a plan sponsor and the HR person administratively responsible for the plan, I shelter my co-workers (and therefore anybody new to the department) from any in-depth knowledge that I have and share only what they need to know to back me up when I'm gone."

Turnover rates do have an impact:

"All of the existing items in their office - from their predecessor."

"What is a "new employee"?   My company only has hiring freezes and layoffs."

"Fortunately, we have not had any new employees in our group in nearly 8 years.   Can't even imagine where to start should a new employee be needed!"

But this week's Editor's Choice goes to the reader who said that "Each new employee goes through an orientation training session called "alphabet soup".   We cover all those terms that mean nothing outside of our industry . . . EGTRRA, PPA, HEART, USERRA, DOL, EBSA, 401(k), 401(m), 403(b) . . ."

Thanks to everyone who participated in our survey!  

Company information, benefits information, and the on-line orientation program.
As a plan sponsor and the HR person administratively responsible for the plan, I shelter my co-workers (and therefore anybody new to the department) from any in-depth knowledge that I have and share only what they need to know to back me up when I'm gone.
The Department Standards Handbook, although it does not contain the meat and potatoes of our job.
I guess it depends on the job. For my position we only hire from within the company as one needs an indepth understanding of our systems and products, in addition to excellent writing skills, in order to do the job effectively. The new employees are provided a manual for our standard operating procedures and are also required to sit with a mentor that first week to learn the ropes.
Emergency Response/Evacuation Guide, procedures for their department, business expense reimbursement guidelines.
We share three different groups of material. In no particular order: The first group is on development programs, one for professional staff, the other for support staff and the third a comprehensive wellness program for staff and their families; The second group of material is a binder of SOPs relating to their position; the final group of material relates to organizational and department culture
Each new employee goes through an orientation training session called "alphabet soup". We cover all those terms that mean nothing outside of our industry . . . EGTRRA, PPA, HEART, USERRA, DOL, EBSA, 401(k), 401(m), 403(b) . . . After that, they get introduced to the policy and procedures section of our software.
A wrap SPD and the time to read and bounce through our Intranet site. We warn them in advance it's not exactly the Plan Sponsor summer reading list.
Product manuals, instructions on how to operate the computer system and the telephone system
It is pretty much sink or swim here. We don't really give them anything. We have some books in the back that we all use for resources, but generally it is up to them. We give them the first day tour of where things are and are all there to answer questions as they come up.
The two most important documents are the org chart and a map of the office.
Front page of the Wall Street Journal, and the NewsDash of course.
Safety materials and a benefits handbook
"Getting Real: The Smarter, Faster, Better Way to Build a Successful Web Application" by 37 Signals. It's an excellent take on working smarter, not harder, and it applies to non-programmers, too. (free read at https://gettingreal.37signals.com/)
Fortunately, we have not had any new employees in our group in nearly 8 years. Can't even imagine where to start should a new employee be needed!
We have some materials on the company, its products and culture. That's first for everyone. Then, it depends on the position and what their responsibilities are. Training manuals and plan specification guides for administrators; and for higher level professional jobs, detailed technical information on the plans.
Since we are an Employee Benefits group, new employees are given our Summary Plan Descriptions & plan documents to read. But, there is little luxury of reading time....new hires work side-by-side with the seasoned troops almost immediately!
PlanSponsor NewsDash
I have a whole collection of links and info that I keep in a draft e-mail. I send it out to anyone I am asked to mentor. Among the items...a list of employee discounts, a humorous but also serious and spot on "IBM dictionary", links to our office supply system, tips for setting up a home office and more.
a link to our intranet site
Statute and administrative code (we're a public plan); procedures for the first few processes they're expected to master
Hard to say. You mean, of couse, besides signing them up for NewsDash?! We always renew our subscription to Janice Wegesin's The 5500 Handbook - the definitive guide to all things 5500. When any 5500 question is asked - my response is "What did the 'the book' say?!"
A bunch of procedure manuals.
NewsDash from PlanSponsor, of course!
"At Your Service" a guide for Associates to help them understand and implement a culture focused on customer service.
When I am training or educating a new associate, I give them the plan document and plan procedures for the 401(k) they will be responsible for. I also provide them a list of reports and due dates and an electronic version of the reports so they can provide the client exactly what they expect when they expect it. As the associate asks me questions about the plan, I guide them to the appropriate section of the plan document and procedures so that when they are on their own, that is the first place they will look for information. (Or at least I hope) And Yes, I do take my plan document and amendments home to read them, and when I am going on a vacation that involves a drive, The documents make excellent reading material.
Basic plan documents, sample summary plan descriptions and prospectuses. A true test if the new employee really wants to work here.
A manual on how to work the testing system.
I was given websites to read regulations such as Reg 9 and SEC rulings. When I had an intern (never again!) I gave him the same things to read along with industry magazines.
The pension plan document
Plan documents; project plans for current projects; intranet sites; internet sites such as Benefitslink and Plan Sponsor!
What is a "new employee"? My company only has hiring freezes and layoffs.
Our client brochures and collateral material
A few chapters from what looks to be a college text book on our product (annuities). We also send a few links to websites their way: for employees new to this business investorwords.com among others.
We like the ASPPA materials depending on the employees level of experience. Our goal is to get professionally credentialed employees. We believe that by investing in our employees' education, we enhance the value of our team as a whole.
Our book Fundamentals of Employee Benefit Programs and make sure they sign-up for NewsDash.
Noithing to read, we jump right in with training
A list of acronyms and their definitions. In this business we speak a whole other language which can leave our newbies feeling like they are on another planet.
Mission/vision/values statements,full benefits package, training materials required by regulatory agencies, and much more.
Adoption Agreements and the Trust Agreement, IRA Agreements & Disclosures, Simple IRA documents. I tell them to memorize and be able to spout these documents without hesitation. I hope that some of it rubs off and even if they can't memorize everything, if you know WHERE to get the info you've got the job conquered.
We actually schedule the whole first week with different staff people to teach the new employees all the different systems and procedures we use.
The SPD(s) and/or plan document(s). Misunderstanding these can cause a world of problems.
subject matter literature
ASPPA Retirement Plan Fundamentals (RPF-1 and RPF-2) courses. They are a great introduction to retirement plans and build a strong foundation for plan administrators. After all, we train all of our employees in plan administration as no one goes to college and majors in 401(k) consultant.
Our intranet is filled with company information, policies, classes, continuing education, etc. so we point them in that direction.
On my first day I received many materials on the interworkings of 401k.....on a very beginner level. It was a nice gesture but I happen to know more about the day to day administration side of 401k's than my boss.
Description of Unauthorized Practice of Law
N/A
Summary Plan Descriptions
Lots of material on the company, its structure, benefits, etc.
All of the existing items in their office - from their predecessor.
ASPPA's Retirement Plan Fundamentals Parts 1 & 2. If that doesn't scare them off in the first week, I don't know what will
Company's most recent SEC filings (10-K, 10-Q), internal control narratives describing various department processes
Publications 590 and 560. They usually know nothing about retirement plans, so those two publications are a great intro.

This week's bonus question:  

With the Olympics and the two major political party conventions now behind us (granted, the GOP is just getting underway, but looks like the networks decided not to wait for that one, huh?), the networks can finally return to "normal" programming, including the introduction of the fall season's new shows.  

This week I asked readers "What, if any, television program are you most looking forward to?

The most eagerly anticipated show of the new season - " House ", mentioned by just over 13% of this week's respondents, just ahead of " Survivor ", which drew 10% (yes, that show apparently still has "legs.").   " Grey's Anatomy " was next, cited by 8.2% (though several were hoping it would be back better than last year), while " Heroes ", " Lost ", " The Office ", and " 24 " each came in with about 6% .

In fairness, 9.84% said they weren't looking forward to any of the returning shows.  

As for the rest of the anticipated shows:

  • 30 Rock
  • 90210
  • Boston Legal
  • Battlestar Gallactica
  • Bones
  • CSI
  • Desperate Housewives
  • Dancing with the Stars
  • Dirty, Sexy Money
  • Dexter
  • ER
  • Ghost Hunters
  • Pushing Daisies
  • Prison Break
  • The Sarah Conner Chronicles
  • Weeds

One reader noted that they were looking forward to "Anything I can get without a digital converter box."

But this week's Editor's Choice goes to the reader who was looking forward to "Any show that doesn't require that you watch every week to know what's going on.   I have too many schedules in my life to add a TV schedule to it."

Thanks to everyone who participated in our bonus survey!

«