Effective Onboarding Can Boost Retention

New employee smiling and placing a plant on his deskBONUS CHECKLIST: Onboarding from before arrival to month six.

By Jon Lokhorst

Mr. Joe Employee (not his real name, but a real story) showed up for his first day of work at ABC Company, somewhat nervous but excited to tackle the challenges of a new position. Although tired from moving halfway across the country the week before to work at this company, he was eager to get off to a good start.

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Joe found it strange that the offices in his small department were dark and quiet that Monday morning. Thinking his anticipation had gotten him there a bit early, he found someone in a nearby department to ask the whereabouts of his new boss and teammates. A receptionist said she would make a phone call or two while Joe explored his new workspace.

No Boss and an Empty Desk

Joe found his desk by noticing two cellophane-wrapped packages of personalized stationery sitting on top. The desk was clean; in fact, it was so clean that the drawers were completely empty. There was a telephone on the desk, but no sign of a computer or other supplies. There wasn’t a chair to sit on, either.

As Joe scratched his head, wondering if he had misread the start date, the receptionist returned. She informed him that because the team had attended a conference over the weekend, they were taking Monday off. The CEO, COO and HR chief were also off because of a board meeting that same weekend. A part-time admin was on her way and might be of some help.

The admin apologized for the miscommunication and suggested Joe spend the day learning their ERP software. She rounded up the ERP user manuals and called IT for a spare laptop. No one had ordered a computer for Joe, not to mention set up an email address, username or passwords.

So much for making a good first impression! Fortunately, Joe survived the rocky first day to enjoy a productive and fulfilling tenure at ABC Company. But many other new employees don’t get past a bad start.

According to the Allied Workforce Mobility Survey, companies lose nearly 25 percent of their new employees within a year. Bamboo HR found that 31 percent of workers have quit a job within the first six months. More importantly, many decide whether they will stay long term during their first day on the job.

The Starting Point

Effective onboarding is the starting point for retaining top talent. Onboarding goes well beyond the typical new-hire orientation, which is traditionally a week-long focus on paperwork and company policies. Workers surveyed by Bamboo HR said the onboarding process needs to be more thorough and extend beyond the first week on the job.

The best onboarding flows seamlessly from the recruitment and hiring process. Once an offer is accepted, the new employee’s manager and HR start preparing for the worker’s first day. It may seem obvious, but many companies fail to get the new employee’s workspace ready. This includes basic supplies, a computer, and user names and passwords needed for email and other company software.

Most new-staff paperwork can be completed ahead of time as well. Clearing W-4 forms, benefit applications and other logistical pieces in advance frees up time for more critical onboarding activities on day one.

Do a “Culture Dunk”

Ramsey Solutions suggests giving new employees a “culture dunk,” immersing them in company history, vision and values as they begin work. Introducing them to company leadership and co-workers, as well as providing time for meaningful connections, helps to establish good working relationships early on.

The new employee’s supervisor needs to be an active player on this first day. Bamboo HR found that workers prefer that their new boss is the one to show them around, give the company tour and provide information about office hours, parking, etc. Hosting a lunch or coffee break is a great way for the boss to introduce the new employee to the rest of his or her team.

This is also prime time for supervisors to discuss initial work assignments with new employees. Clarity about expectations, authority and the involvement of co-workers in these assignments leads to early wins. Research indicates that over three-quarters of workers view on-the-job training as the most important onboarding activity in the first week.

Check In and Follow Up

Don’t fall into the trap of many employers and think the onboarding process ends there. Top companies view the onboarding process as an extension of their recruiting and critical to their branding as an employer.

Schedule regular check-in meetings to follow up on questions that arise once the employee gets established. Often, new employee orientation becomes information overload and a followup meeting is needed to review key policies and procedures. These conversations are also helpful to ensure the new worker is assimilating well within the organization.

Beyond that, regular followup ensures clarity of expectations and feedback on performance. It’s easier to make timely midcourse corrections and adjustments when issues are addressed in real time rather than waiting for formal performance reviews.

Ensure Meaningful Contribution

Remember, employees want to make a meaningful contribution and have their work make a difference. A well designed onboarding program jump-starts that process and increases the likelihood top talent will stay with your company for the long haul.

Onboarding Checklist

Note: Find ways to replicate these steps for virtual employees who are not on site.

Pre-start Preparations

  • Make company announcement of the new hire with job title, start date, etc.
  • Prepare workspace with computer and other supplies.
  • Set up user names and passwords for email and other software.
  • Send employment paperwork, i.e., W-4, insurance forms, etc.

Day one/Week one

  • Do “culture dunk” with an overview of company history, values, etc.
  • Arrange company tour and introductions by supervisor.
  • Hold orientation session to review employee manual, policies and procedures.
  • Discuss professional development plans and training opportunities.
  • Review early work assignments and expectations.

Month one

  • Provide team-building opportunities via assessments, etc.
  • Revisit company policies and procedures for questions and clarifications.
  • Establish regular check-in meetings to monitor progress.

Month two and beyond

  • Conduct monthly check-in to follow up on performance and development goals.

Month three

  • Review and revise job description to clarify expectations as iterated since initial hire.

Month six

  • Revisit professional development plan to ensure attention to core competencies.

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