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Employee onboarding reinvented: Thinking beyond the paperwork


Is your employee onboarding process setting your employees and your business up for success?

If it consists of nothing more than having your new hires fill out a couple of forms, probably not. In fact, you may be missing a critical opportunity to help your new employees ramp up faster and lay a solid foundation for them to be a long-lasting, engaged team member.

Without thorough onboarding, people are less likely to stick with your company for very long. Just “turning them loose to see what they can do” can put your company on the fast track to Turnover Town.

A 2017 Career Builder survey reports that 36 percent of employers lack a structured onboarding process. The survey also highlights numerous negative impacts of having a weak or nonexistent employee onboarding program. Those drawbacks include lower productivity, higher employee turnover, lower morale and lower employee engagement – all of which can cause drains on your bottom line.

Think about the cost of training employees and weaving them into the culture of your company – even for a short term. You lose that entire investment when they leave.

Want to improve your company’s odds?

A primary goal of onboarding is to turn a job seeker into a job keeper – it’s not just about offloading tasks to a new team member. There are many factors and important steps that can dramatically improve the likelihood they’ll stick around.

Consider what’s in it for them and your company. An onboarding process that yields a new employee a thorough understanding of their role will empower them with confidence and clarity, so they can put their full energy into their role and truly excel.

As a result, your company gets a strong performer who’ll be more likely to stay satisfied and engaged. You’ll also get more of an organizational commitment from them for the long haul.

When onboarding is done right, it can mean lower stress for that employee and everyone who works around them. The more people are clear on their roles and what they can bring to those roles, the more harmony in the workplace.

Onboarding should be ongoing

A strong onboarding experience can improve the new employee’s satisfaction and long-term commitment level.

Think about it as the final phase of your recruiting process: You have to make good on the picture you’ve painted for them. If you can’t walk the walk, then a new hire will get disenchanted and go elsewhere.

Your overall recruiting strategy should take them all the way through hiring, and get them acclimated and up to speed on the nuances of your business and their role. If you skimp on any of these key steps, they’ll likely get lost and check out early in their tenure.

Employee onboarding is about giving new employees the knowledge they’ll need to do every part of their job. That’s why it’s important to develop a comprehensive plan for the onboarding process.

Note that orientation and onboarding are two different – and essential – steps for new hires. Orientation is a one-time, often one-day event. But the employee onboarding process should span the new employee’s first three months, and can actually start before a new hire reports for their first day.

Onboarding starts before they start

Think about your new hires: They are going through an anxious time.

Whether your new hire is someone who is changing jobs, a fresh graduate shifting into the professional world, or even someone who’s transitioning from a caregiving role, accepting a new job is simultaneously stressful and exciting.

You want to dispel any anxiety or “buyer’s remorse” that could kick in after accepting a job offer. In many cases, a new hire may not start their job for a few weeks.

That’s a lot of time to wonder if they made a good decision. They may be asking themselves, “Is this going to be a good fit for me?” or “Will this job situation be good for my family?”

Meanwhile, all their friends and family are congratulating them and asking about their new job and their new company.

When there’s an absence of information, people tend to get nervous or invent certain expectations on their own. That’s why it’s important to keep in frequent contact – just as you were during the recruiting process. Keep that rhythm going.

For example, you may want to send a little bit of paperwork in the first few days, followed by a welcome video from the company or from their future team members a few days later. Then, you could send a bit more paperwork to be completed after that.

You don’t have to make contact every day, but it’s a good idea to call or email them once every few days until they actually start.

The value of first impressions

For a new hire’s first several days on the job, it’s important to keep the initial focus on interpersonal interaction.

Spreading out paperwork – and sending what you can in advance of their start day – allows you to break it into digestible chunks. When you get the bulk of the paperwork out of the way beforehand, new folks don’t have to sit and fill out forms for hours on end.

No one wants to do that on their first day – and that’s probably not the best use of their time anyway.

Using a well-designed HR software platform can alleviate the stress for both employers and employees, while helping to ensure that all the appropriate forms are complete from a compliance perspective.

You want those “first impression” moments to largely be time spent interacting with their new colleagues – not left alone to read the employee manual or watch training videos nonstop.

Of course, compliance training and reading the employee manual are necessary boxes to check off early in their employment. But give some thought to how and when this information is presented to them, so it doesn’t consume their first day.

By giving new employees time to discover what they like about the people they’ll be working with, and the company they’ll be working for, they’re able to form a more meaningful connection with their role and your company.

Welcome new hires with a warm, personal greeting, and have their workstation ready to go. Ensure that computers, phones and other tools are fully set up before they arrive. Scrambling for missing items while your new hire is standing around sends the message that your company doesn’t care about them or value their ability to be productive.

Plant the seeds that will drive productivity

Making sure employees know proper procedures and protocols early in their first week helps protect your company’s image and streamline workflow among your teams.

Don’t let a lack of training or poorly defined roles result in your new hire sending the wrong email to the wrong person. Outline and discuss your company protocols in detail. Cover essentials such as email etiquette, communication expectations, how to answer the phone, response time for requests and returning missed calls.

The first week is also an ideal time to have the initial conversation about their goals. Ask them to talk about their goals and give them specific goals to strive for. Be sure to introduce them to the people and resources at your company who can help them get there.

Discuss short- and long-term goals to give both the new employee and manager a gauge for how the new hire is progressing. This also allows the new employee to visualize their future with your company.

Appoint mentors as guides

Mentors can help ramp up a new hire’s productivity and help them gel with their coworkers. It may be more manageable to assign multiple mentors, so the new hire will have options for who to go to for help and the mentors can maintain their productivity.

And make sure the mentors have the time to take on these responsibilities; otherwise, your new hires may get frustrated if their mentors don’t have time for them.

You can’t assume anything or take any knowledge for granted. What you and your employees deem routine and ordinary may be foreign to new team members.

Some industries and companies practically have their own language. Don’t just expect your new team members to know the lingo right off the bat – help them get up to speed.

For example, you might create a cheat sheet of acronyms and buzzwords that are commonly used around your office. Have the mentor share this document and review it with the new hire. When mentors share anecdotes of how they first learned the terms, it can help new folks connect with the meaning of their new office jargon and feel understood.

Get their feedback

Make sure new hires know they’re free to share their ideas. Encourage problem-solving and innovation.

They may not be comfortable doing so the first day, but keep asking as time goes by. They’ll likely have feedback and insights that can help them dig even deeper into their jobs and may even improve your employee onboarding process going forward.

It’s important to do a formal feedback session with new hires after approximately 90 days on the job.

Questions to ask new hires:

  1. Is there something you thought you would know today that you don’t know at this point?
  2. Do you feel comfortable with the knowledge that you have and the work to be done today, this week, etc.?
  3. Do you know which coworkers to go to for help?
  4. Now that you’ve gone through our onboarding process, do you have any feedback for me?
  5. What part of the onboarding process was most helpful to you in getting you up to speed in your role?
  6. What do you wish you’d known in your first week?

If you’re just getting started with developing your onboarding program, you may also want to quiz other newish employees who have been with the company for less than a year or so.

Collecting feedback from each new employee is important. It prevents your employee onboarding process from becoming stagnant and helps ensure its effectiveness. When you treat your onboarding program as a living thing, revising it with each new hire, you keep improving the process and the results.

The rewards of proper onboarding

Giving new employees a solid foundation through onboarding pays off for both the employee and your company. Without a doubt, a well-planned, consistent onboarding program can greatly increase an employee’s performance, job satisfaction and commitment to your company for the long haul.

The company as a whole benefits from reduced turnover and improved morale.

Maintaining a stable core of employees who have a deep understanding of their roles can decrease stress for individuals and increase harmony in the workplace. You’ll observe gains in overall job satisfaction, and employees will naturally become proud ambassadors for your company and your employer brand.

Along with these positives comes increased productivity. This encourages employees to keep their eyes on their performance goals, and potentially set even higher goals going forward.

Essential elements of employee onboarding

Although your company’s onboarding strategy should be uniquely tailored to your organization, let’s recap some of the key components you should keep in mind:

  • Start the onboarding process as soon as the job is accepted. Take care of paperwork and stay in frequent contact before new hires actually start.
  • Create an onboarding plan for each employee. It should cover specific steps for a new hire’s first week and span their first three months. Develop a plan and keep track of steps tailored to specific roles.
  • Give your new hire a warm welcome. Send a letter from the CEO or a video from their new team. Take them to lunch on their first day, and be sure to let them know first thing (or ahead of time) who’ll be taking them, so they’re not left wondering come lunchtime.
  • Connect them with their new coworkers. Make sure others in the office take time to say hello and ask if they need help. This can prevent your new hire from feeling like a fish out of water.
  • Have their workspace ready for them on the first day. Be sure to have their desk, computer and basic supplies ready to go. As mentioned earlier, you want new hires to feel like you planned to welcome them into your office and that their contribution is important – right from the start.
  • Give your new hire “role clarity.” Show them how their job contributes to the company and team. Explain why their particular role matters to the overall success of the company. Instruct them on when and how to go up the chain of command. Ask them to start thinking about goals, and set a date to discuss goals in detail with them.
  • Demo office technology. Conduct a short training on standard workplace technology, such as submitting timesheets and requesting PTO. Be sure to cover any other software or devices they may not be familiar with.
  • Don’t rush their productivity. Before you assign them various projects and responsibilities, give new hires time to get a thorough understanding of their job, your company and the way you do business.
  • Introduce them to stakeholders. Once your new hire has started getting acquainted with their job and work environment, take them to meet supervisors and department heads their team works for. Let those stakeholders explain their own roles and what their department or division does. Or, as an ice-breaker, you could have your new hire ask each stakeholder what they do, and how their department interacts with the new hire’s department or team.
  • Help the “new kid” get comfortable in their new work environment. Enlighten them about your company culture. Explain the unique aspects of your organization, and give them opportunities to observe those key points in action. Discuss the cultural norms of your company, along with the ways various people and departments interact and rely on each other. Help your new hires learn about the human experience between their work responsibilities.
  • Avoid shortcuts and skipping over steps. Take the time to train them right to help propel their productivity later. If you don’t, you’re setting them up for failure. A helpful motto is: You can spend two hours now (on training), or two days later sorting out the mess.

A PEO can help

The costs of improper (or nonexistent) employee onboarding are staggering, but sticking to solid practices pays off in a big way. It does take vision and discipline to conceive a thorough plan and see it through. When you put in the effort, though, you’ll develop engaged employees who are committed to your company’s success.

If you’re feeling daunted about creating an employee onboarding program for your company or department, a professional employer organization (PEO) can help you develop a detailed plan that addresses your specific needs and desired outcomes.

To learn more, download our free e-book: HR Outsourcing: A step-by-step guide to professional employer organizations (PEOs).