Employee Onboarding for Success: How to Get New Hires up to Speed at Your Water Lab

You've hired a new employee to help meet your lab's busy demands. But before this new hire can become a key member of the team — whether they're a water quality lab technician, part of the administrative staff, or an intern — you'll need to provide an employee onboarding experience that's structured, hands-on, and realistic to the experience of working at your lab.

Strategically planning this process, even before their first day, will help your new employee become comfortable and productive as quickly as possible.

Who Should Train Lab Employees?

Depending on the role, the employee onboarding process may involve several staff members at different stages. Human resource representatives, safety officers, direct supervisors, and peers should all play a part in helping new employees get up to speed. Pair the new employee with a mentor who can be their go-to resource for questions during their first few months and throughout their career at the lab.

What to Include in Your Training Checklist

Every lab should have a training guide for new employees. This should include an onboarding checklist, which supervisors and new employees sign off on as they complete each step. Some areas to cover in this checklist include:

  • Emergencies: Discuss what to do in case of an emergency and share any reporting procedures or evacuation plans. Make sure they're familiar with the location of building alarms, emergency equipment, fire extinguishers, fire pull stations, safety showers, spill kits, and eyewash stations.
  • General lab safety: Go over the process for raising and addressing safety concerns in the lab. Cover all security procedures, such as locking down doors and devices, as well as the location of extra protective gear. Review the best practices for handling hazardous materials and infectious agents. Identify tasks that should be conducted in a biological safety cabinet. Don't forget to discuss procedures for follow-up after exposure to a biohazard, including reporting requirements.
  • Water quality training: Familiarize the new hire with the equipment they'll be using, paying close attention to machinery that could pose a hazard if improperly used and any specialty water testing supplies. Be sure to include specific materials that could present an elevated risk of injury, health hazard, or property damage. Go through quality assurance manuals and standard operating procedures, and ensure the new hire is proficient in current water testing protocols.
  • The employee handbook: Distribute a hard copy of the handbook and orientation manual. This should also be easily accessible on the company intranet or other internal system for future reference. This booklet should include human resources guidelines such as dress code, ethics, and the lab's operating hours and holiday calendar. Also include lab-specific guidelines, including procedures for reporting injuries and requesting special equipment.

Ensuring your training checklist is comprehensive regarding safety measures — even if that means repeating protocols that you live and breathe every day — could prevent critical, and avoidable, issues down the line.

What to Do Before — and on — Day One

There are actually several tasks that you can knock off your employee onboarding to-do list before the new hire's first day.

Complete any necessary paperwork, and have documents ready for the new employee to review and sign. Write down the roles and responsibilities for everyone on the team who they'll be working with. Gather the employee's badge and nameplate, office supplies, and any relevant personal safety equipment. Setting these items aside with an employee handbook and something personal, like a notebook or mug with the company logo, will help set a friendly and professional tone.

The first day at a new lab can be overwhelming, so have their mentor give them a general orientation and a tour of the facility. Introduce them to fellow employees and let them observe the workflow. This will help them become familiar with the surroundings and get a better understanding of the lab's pace, services, customer base, and work culture.

Week One: Set Them Up for Success

In the first week of employee onboarding, start working through your training checklist. Safety is the top priority in any lab, so introduce these procedures early on to ensure each and every new hire will be in compliance.

"Especially with well-educated new hires, we all make assumptions about what they know, especially if they have significant work experience elsewhere," Scott Hanton, general manager of Intertek Allentown, told Lab Manager. "For example, just because you hire a Ph.D. with 10 years of work experience doesn't mean that they understand your lab safety protocols."

Human resources will provide ethics training and an introduction to the company, and the lab manager should plan lab-specific training. During this week, supervisors should identify any additional training the new hire may need.

New hires want opportunities to prove themselves early on, advises Indeed. So before all their training is complete, assign them some basic tasks so they can get hands-on practice in the lab and start to alleviate the team's workload. Work with them to establish specific and measurable goals, which can be evaluated both in the long and short term.

Month One and Beyond: Let Them Fly, But Touch Base

Within the first month, the new employee should complete their initial lab training and, if they'll have a client-facing role, begin introducing themselves to the lab's customers. Supervisors should schedule mini reviews after months one and three to check in and support their new employees. This is the perfect time to solicit their feedback on your lab and talk about their progress and performance.

You might be surprised at how much you can learn from a new employee about your lab's strengths and challenges — especially in the early days. So be thoughtful about the onboarding process and support them throughout. The more you invest in these employees, the more invested they'll be in the work.

Kelly McSweeney
Science and Technology Writer
Armed with a master's degree in writing and a decade of professional work in scientific publishing, Kelly McSweeney writes about science and technology innovations. She translates complicated topics into stories that capture the curiosity of everyone from casual readers to technical experts. Kelly has degrees from Emerson College and the University of Vermont, and has worked on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics publications at Wiley, In Compliance magazine, and Pearson. Her articles about the latest research are published by ZDNet, Northrop Grumman, and Wiley.