The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reports that 15 percent of employees who quit a job within the first six months cite lack of proper onboarding as the primary reason they left the new position.
Other reasons these employees gave: no clear outline of responsibilities, insufficient training, lack of a friendly face to help out in their early days on the job, not enough attention from their manager or coworkers, and lack of recognition for their contributions.
All of these issues can be addressed through a well-developed and consistently executed onboarding process. Proper onboarding sets the stage for better employee engagement, which leads to lower turnover, which leads to lower recruiting and training expenses.
Here are a few must-have elements to a modern onboarding process that will help set your relationships with your new employees off on the right foot every time.
Before the new employee’s start date
Once a job candidate accepts an offer, there should be a concerted and carefully executed plan in place to make that person feel welcome as an integral part of the team, and it begins even before their start date. Even though the job offer acceptance may mark the end of a long and grueling process of applications and interviews for HR, recruiters, and the hiring manager, for the new employee, it’s an exciting time (and a little nerve-wracking, to boot).
Of course, all new hires have to complete paperwork, and some of this can be completed prior to their start date. Many employers now use cloud-based onboarding software to collect this information and welcome the employee to the company. Examples of paperwork that might be completed before the start date are employee information forms, W-4s, and direct deposit forms.
Once your new employee has completed the first set of new hire paperwork, reach out with a phone call or email to let them know how much you’re looking forward to working with them and what time they should arrive at the office on their first day. It’s also a good idea to touch base on parking or commuting options, and even remind them of items they’ll need to bring on their first day, like forms of identification needed to complete Form I-9. Let them know who to ask for at the front desk on that first morning, too—and make sure that individual is prepared to offer the best welcome possible.
If your company typically welcomes new hires with a lunch or other function, like a coffee get-together, you can also follow up with the employee to find out any food preferences or allergies you need to take into account. This is an easy step that will make the new hire feel like his or her needs are being addressed, and it shows you care about your workers.
It also doesn’t hurt to offer your new employee some swag—logoed coffee cups, t-shirts, or pens are a nice touch and can be used as a care package sent out just prior to the employee’s start date or as a welcome gift on their first day.
Welcoming the new employee on day one
Day one is the new hire’s first impression of the company as an official employee, so put in the work to make it a good one. Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
- Are access cards to the building or work area active and working?
- Is the new employee’s workstation set up, along with passwords for email and other accounts?
- Do they have access to the company network? Will they need VPN access?
- Have you ordered items like a company cell phone, company credit card, business cards, or other items your new employee will need?
- Will you need to schedule any training for them?
Take care of as many of these items as you can before the start date so the employee can hit the ground running. It’s also important to remember the little things on your new team member’s first day, like going over dress policy and the layout of the office, including where the restrooms, break room, and manager’s office are.
This is also a place where outreach from fellow employees can help make a new hire feel like they’ve made the right decision by accepting a job at your company. Be sure to introduce the new hire to the rest of the team, but look for ways to go above and beyond what’s expected. For example, consider having existing employees sign personalized notes welcoming the new hire and placing them at the employee’s workstation for their first day.
The first week
Beyond the excitement of the first day, there are several things that need to happen in the first week and finalizing new hire paperwork is one of the most important.
The new employee should provide I-9 documentation (e.g., valid driver’s license, passport, etc.) within the first day or two (it’s required no later than three days after the first day of employment). If the new employee didn’t complete a W-4 before the start date, make this a priority, and be sure they also fill out a state W-4 form if your state has an income tax.
Beyond that, if your company has any specific forms or agreements the employee should fill out as part of their work agreement, like a code of conduct or nondisclosure agreement, have them completed during the first week.
There are also things the employee is going to be eager to learn about such as benefits, so having information about how to sign up for benefits is a great way to make sure they know the company cares about their needs. Even though the period during which a new hire can enroll in benefits varies by company, it’s important to introduce this during the first week, so the employee knows what to expect.
Another step the hiring manager can take is involving other employees in making their new coworker feel welcome. An email from a new colleague that suggests lunch or coffee during the new hire’s first couple of weeks is a great way to develop employee engagement (for both the new hire and the established employee).
This can also organically establish a working friendship between the veteran employee and the newbie, where the veteran can show the newcomer the ropes – the ins and outs of how the company works, what the culture is like, and help with acclimating to the new position.
You might introduce the new employee to the company via an article published on an intranet and with the new employee’s permission include a photo and some fun facts. Note: In this age of social media, not every employee wants their management to be quite so close to their personal lives. While human resource professionals do sometimes check out Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram posts as part of the hiring process, a new hire might feel uncomfortable fielding friend requests or follows from a horde of new coworkers. It’s better to confine outreach in the early days to emails from a corporate account, intranet, or a professional network like LinkedIn.
Finally, continue to be attentive to the new employee’s specific needs. Starting a new job in a new place can be disorienting, so make sure they know questions are welcome and help connect them with key members of your organization who can help them find answers.
30 days and beyond
Studies have shown that having a good first six months is important to long-term employee retention. The Aberdeen Group surveyed executives and HR leaders to find that 86 percent felt an employee would decide whether the company was a good long-term fit within that first six months.
Onboarding doesn’t stop after the new hire’s first week. Check in with your new hires frequently, but don’t be overbearing. Schedule a meeting with them during the first week to assess how things are going and to make sure all required paperwork is in place and correct. And then set a date to keep in contact, especially during any probationary period.
It’s also important to remember that good communication should be a two-way street. Solicit feedback during this time, and listen to what’s being said (or, alternatively, what’s NOT being said). Find out how the experience is going for the new employee, and get a sense of whether they feel they made a good choice by coming aboard – and use that information to make the process better for the next new hire.
It often helps to assign an experienced employee (who isn’t the immediate manager) to provide guidance to the new hire during the first few months, establishing a relationship where questions can be answered, and advice sought informally. This can be another employee in the same department or someone from another team the new hire will work with. This is a good way to introduce the new hire to various departments in the company, achieve an understanding of and familiarity with managers and executives, and steep the employee in the corporate culture.
The bottom line
It’s clear that having a good onboarding process helps your bottom line. Turnover is costly, as much as one fifth the employee's salary according to the Center for American Progress and in some cases could be as high as $250,000 per employee according to SHRM. If a candidate is worth hiring, it’s also worth it to make sure they’re properly invested in the corporate message, culture, and goals and have the essential tools, resources, and support necessary to achieve success within your organization.
Your onboarding process is a reflection of what your organization values, it’s a promise to your new employee, and provides you with a way to back that up in the first few days and weeks as well as months and years to come.
- Glassdoor, a website that showcases anonymous reviews of employers and management teams by current and former employers, offers a pretty comprehensive checklist for onboarding a new hire. The list offers some great suggestions, from common sense steps to things that may be a little less common.