The rising trend of using office happy hours and free snacks as a way to keep employees engaged has continuously proven to be less successful than being a proactive employer. Although outside factors may ultimately drive employee satisfaction, the actions of employers—particularly within the first weeks of employment—have a statistically high correlation to team members’ lifetime success in the workplace.
Despite those numbers, many companies still forgo thorough onboarding in favor of a meager orientation session or lightning-speed training—after all, when you needed a role filled yesterday, it’s hard to contemplate sacrificing precious time for drawn-out employee onboarding.
However, investing in comprehensive onboarding ultimately means investing in your employees. Research shows that employees tend to form fast opinions about the job during their first few days of work, which means that those early days are a tenuous time for employee retention. Indeed, statistics further show that most turnover occurs within the first weeks of employment.
Ultimately, the more time that you’re willing to spend on initial training and orientation, the longer team members tend to stick around. In order to improve retention levels and build a more positive onboarding experience all around, there are a few recommended best practices that have proven to attract skilled employees and keep them for the long haul.
1. Find the Right Candidates in the First Place
One of the most effective ways to reduce turnover is to make sure that you’re hiring team members that are a good fit with your internal culture and job expectations. In particular, companies tend to have better outcomes when they view recruiting as the first step in the onboarding process, rather than a separate function.
Candidates benefit when they are provided with realistic job previews (RJPs) as part of the recruiting process. RJPs go beyond a list of responsibilities or desired experience. Instead, candidates gain first-hand insight into the job and its day-to-day functions, through tours, Q&A sessions, multimedia presentations or by meeting with or even shadowing current team members as they move through their day. Sessions like these prove invaluable for matching candidate personalities to culture, since they can offer informal information on your team’s values and inner working that you just can’t get on the job boards or during an interview.
2. Don’t Let New Hires Twist in the Wind
The days that elapse between the time that an employee accepts a job offer and when they actually start are exceptionally sensitive. The vast majority of new hires are still deciding how they really feel about your company; hence the high turnaround rates for new employees in their first few weeks. And if they don’t hear from you in the days leading up to their first day, the silence speaks volumes.
Extending a warm welcome allows you to regain some agency over those first impressions—and ensures that you stand out from other companies new hires are still speaking to. Furthermore, this action offers a chance to form those first tentative collegiate bonds, particularly if you ask current team members to reach out to the new employee on your behalf. Either way, staying in touch is a chance to clear up any misconceptions before they breed consequences.
3. Send Paperwork Ahead of Time
New hires are excited to start a new role. Don’t dull their enthusiasm by saddling them with a ton of paperwork their first day. With the wide variety of online onboarding dashboards available today, there’s no reason new employees can’t start on important documents ahead of time, from the convenience of their home.
Doing so gives new team members easy access to important documents, like their social security card (really, how weird does it feel bringing your social security card to the office?). It also means they don’t spend their first day chained to their desk, filling out forms. And it gives you another chance to reach out ahead of time, helping to set the right tone for communication and reaffirming just how excited you are to have them on board.
4. Don’t Forget Smaller First-Day Details
Nothing underlines the foreignness of a new job like showing up on your first day unsure where to park or even if you’re dressed appropriately. These kind of details are easy for onboarding managers to overlook—after all, it’s probably been awhile since you were in those shoes. However, the more you’re able to provide little details like these, the more you’ll ease those first-day jitters, allowing new hires to slip into their new roles unhindered.
Be sure to communicate specifics about the parking situation, appropriate attire, and where you plan to meet employees when they first arrive—or if you’re not doing the greeting, who they will be meeting and where. Don’t forget to give them directions and provide a contact number in case they get lost. And if there are door access controls, tell them how they can be let in. These kinds of minutiae may seem obvious enough, but they’re easy to overlook in the excitement of sending out an offer. Meanwhile, they make a world of difference to your new hires and present your company as the kind of well-organized business that they want to work for.
5. Design an ‘Unboxing’ Experience for New Hires
Many businesses spend all their time carefully constructing a top-tier recruiting process, only to drop the ball as soon as those candidates sign on. At least 20% of employee turnover occurs within the first six weeks of employment; meanwhile, 69% of employees report that they’re more likely to stay with a company if they have a meaningful onboarding experience.
That means that you can’t leave it to new hires to acclimate themselves. First-day activities should be special, designed to impart a sense of belonging and provide an introduction to your company’s unique culture. Twitter, for instance, greets new hires with a bottle of wine at their desk and scheduled breakfast with the CEO. Glassdoor lets new hires pick out their computer ahead of time and hosts a scavenger hunt where new hires identify important areas of the office: the break room, the conference rooms, etc. Of course, if you’re a small company it may be hard to match the polished onboarding experience of a large corporation. But at the very least, you should have new employees’ desks all set up, with everything they need to start the first day on the right foot.
6. Work with Recruiters While New Hires Transition
Recruiters have been your new hire’s primary point of contact up until now, and because of this, they’ve understandably built up a certain amount of trust with your newest team member. There’s an opportunity here for recruiters to play a unique part in transitioning new team members into their new roles. However, many companies cut ties too early, forcing new hires to start the relationship building process over again from square one.
In-house recruiting teams have the unique ability to check in with new hires and guide them through their first days, acting as a sort of “onboarding concierge.” These recruiters should be the ones introducing new team members and giving hires their first building tour. But even external recruiters can help by maintaining contact with team members and checking in regularly— perhaps even scheduling a coffee date a few weeks from their start date for a more revealing look into the employee’s overall satisfaction and perceptions.
7. Clarify How New Hires Fit into Teams
Employees routinely cite positive relationships as one of the top reasons they stay at a job. But hiring can create tension among existing team members, particularly if there are fears that new team members will take over part of existing employees’ responsibilities.
Including team members in the hiring process should alleviate some of those concerns; employees are a lot more likely to accept new hires if they’ve taken part in the selection process. However, it’s also helpful to clarify expectations for new employees, especially where they fit within their team. Working with managers and key stakeholders, clearly identify the precise functions of the role. Be sure to understand how existing team members expect this hire to function within the team—including routine processes, team communication styles, and existing hierarchies. And make sure to communicate those expectations back to new hires. That way, they start their first day on the same page as everyone else.
8. Tightly Structure Onboarding Plans
Although the hiring process can be unpredictable, onboarding should represent the acme of stability. Employees treated to a structured onboarding process are more likely to invest in the company; for instance, Corning Glass Works, the team behind the famous Gorilla Glass used in the iPhone, noticed a 69% improved retention rate for employees who underwent a tightly structured onboarding process.
Schedule employees’ first days with introductory sessions, tours, and meetings to quickly acclimate them to your company and culture. This way, even if new hires do decide that you’re not the right fit for them, at least they’ll be making that decision with the fullest amount of information at their disposal—rather than just drifting away.
9. Document Everything
Before you create a thorough onboarding plan, it can be tempting to guide employees through the process by memory, particularly if you work at a busy startup where ad hoc processes are the law of the land. However, defining a well-documented onboarding design will allow you to track employee success and review which steps were most helpful—therefore improving the experience for new hires over time.
It’s beneficial to view onboarding as a living document. Don’t be afraid to make changes to onboarding procedures, adding and subtracting scheduled steps as you rate their effectiveness at orienting employees and bringing them up to speed with their new roles. Onboarding is a learn-as-you-go process, so you don’t have to have it perfect the first time around.
10. Track Success Rates Over Time
It’s impossible to gradually improve your onboarding program without accurate means to measure its success. Unfortunately, most companies don’t have a great track record when it comes to evaluating their onboarding programs. According to one study, some 45% of businesses fail to properly examine program success.
The important metrics to track are rates of turnover, productivity, and lifetime contribution to the company—all of which you can evaluate using HR software. Still, you can get some feedback right off the bat by asking new hires to rate the onboarding process immediately after completion. Those surveys provide invaluable insight into the overall quality and specific weaknesses of your current program, while memories are fresh from the process. Surveying new hires can help you see issues that you might otherwise miss—for instance, whether you’re doing enough to prep technical candidates for their roles, or whether sales team members actually understand the sales pipeline. That kind of information is invaluable when working with other teams to train new hires effectively.
All in all, inertia, or simply not having a good reason to leave, may be the one factor that keeps employees in their jobs, but we prefer to refer to it by its more positive name: employee satisfaction. And given how much of employee satisfaction hangs on those pivotal first experiences, a well-composed, thoughtful and, yes, even fun onboarding experience can drive employee satisfaction for long-term retention. Of course, onboarding needs to work in harmony with other factors: an energized and supportive company culture, non-dysfunctional team dynamics, competitive benefits, and room to grow and continue with career development. Onboarding is just one part of an effective cultural arsenal that will lead your company into the cutting edge of HR management.