employee onboarding

Research reports that an employee’s most productive time in a new job is within their first six months of employment – meaning employers have a unique opportunity to train, engage and build relationships with their most recent hires during this honeymoon period. In a new world shaped by COVID-19, with employees switching jobs at record rates, this time is even more critical. 

Unfortunately, many organizations invest all their time and budget courting candidates with calls, company videos and recruitment campaigns and fail to focus on prime opportunities at the beginning of the employee and employer relationship. Effective talent management – and even talent development – needs to start on day one. In other words? During their onboarding. 

voluntary turnover by the numbers 

According to Equifax, 40 percent of employees who left their jobs voluntarily did so within six months of starting in the position, with another 16 percent leaving within 12 months – meaning more than half of voluntary turnover happens within a year of the employee’s start date.  

And the numbers continue to climb. SHRM reports that 60 percent of an entire workforce will leave a company within just four years if there’s no formal process for ongoing training and career development. In a survey of 350 HR leaders, they found that 76 percent of those organizations aren’t effectively onboarding their new hires. And even more troubling? A survey by Kronos (now UKG) and the Human Capital Institute (HCI) revealed that nearly a quarter of respondents said they had no onboarding program at all.  

Luckily, there’s a lot organizations can do to prevent this turnover. That same SHRM survey indicated that companies with an engaging onboarding program retain 91 percent of their first-year workers. All in all, investing in a robust onboarding experience as a talent management staple should be a no-brainer. But how, and where, should companies start? 

the right structured onboarding processes drive employee confidence and productivity 

First and foremost, having a structured onboarding process is essential. But it must be the right structured onboarding process. 

Even when companies develop such programs, the SHRM survey showed that most don't meet their top goal. Although 62 percent of respondents said their primary goal with onboarding is to integrate employees with the workplace culture, this isn’t proportionally reflected in the results. Culture integration accounts for just 30 percent of the onboarding process for managers and just 27 percent for non-managers, according to respondents. 

related content: 6 ways HR can improve employee productivity. 

Instead of using onboarding as a tool to ensure employee retention, about 40% of current onboarding activities consist of completing paperwork, such as filling out benefits forms and going over compliance documents. When asked to rank the most practiced onboarding activities, respondents said: 

  • reviewing rules and regulations (75%) 
  • providing an overview of the company (73%) 
  • resources orientation (62%)  

While many onboarding programs cover the basics of what new employees should know walking into an organization, a significant number don’t. 

how to improve your company’s onboarding experience 

Onboarding should be a magical time for new employees who are still in the proverbial honeymoon period. But the reality doesn’t quite line up. Research tells us that often their first few months are a time filled with anxiety, confusion and stress.  

We can mitigate a great deal of new hire anxiety and improve the experience – and increase employee loyalty and longevity – by rethinking early talent management in five key ways.  

#1 help employees build connections 

Whether it's a new hire lunch (in person or virtual), team-building activity or strategic introductions to team members, friendships and relationships are critical to retention. Use introductions to provide your new hires with access to employees at your company who would make good mentors. Providing mentoring support will give your new hires an additional layer of comfort at their new job, the possibility of mentor/mentee relationships that continue past new employee orientation and opportunities for ongoing learning, support and talent development. 

Providing new hires with a mentor or peer buddy can have a positive impact on both productivity and retention. Under Google’s ‘Buddy Hire Program,’ most Nooglers (Google’s affectionate term for its new hires) are assigned a mentor to help speed progress toward becoming a productive employee. 

IBM’s Royal Blue Ambassador Program provides every new hire with an experienced employee mentor for 30 days to help them adapt quickly to working at the firm. Beyond 30 days, IBM has a volunteer collaborative group known as its ‘grassroots community’ that continues to help new hires acclimate. 

Consider forming a ‘new hire’ affinity group, especially if you’re onboarding larger groups, so that new hires can share problems, opportunities and experiences with each other. It’s important that your new hires bond with others – and their fellow new employees are the best people to understand this period of adaptation and learning. 

Companies may want to provide a career transition coach who can help new employees acclimate, connect and get to full productivity in those first crucial weeks and months. According to the Harvard Business Review, the two biggest reasons for turnover among new hires are a lack of established relationships and the inability to adapt to a new culture. Coaching can help employees understand their role in helping the organization achieve its vision, define and prioritize goals, develop strategies to accomplish those goals, get early wins to build confidence and develop strategies for building internal relationships. 

related content: 3 ways to support an employee-first experience through internal career growth opportunities. 

#2 create a communication onboarding process and workflow plan 

Put a communication plan in place. This plan should include key touch points and planned communications, beginning on the employee’s first day. A good cadence is generally at two weeks, 30 days, 45 days and 60 days into their tenure.  

Google’s analytics team has led the way in determining which factors have the highest positive impact on new hire productivity. For them, human resources (or people operations) is a science. They’re always testing to find ways to optimize their people, both in terms of happiness and performance. In fact, almost everything Google does is based on data, so it should come as no surprise they use data to gauge employee performance and improve productivity. 

Getting new hires up to speed is a critical success factor in onboarding. In the book Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead by Laszlo Bock, Google's former SVP of People, Google found that a simple ‘reminder alert’ email to the hiring manager can reduce the new hire’s time to productivity by a full month – a whopping 25% decrease. The email includes a very short list, encouraging the hiring manager to prepare for, greet and make time for their new hire. Simple, but highly effective. 

Once hired, Nooglers undergo a two-week in-person training and orientation program (although sessions may currently be via video conference, due to the pandemic) that explains the organizational structure, core technologies and best practices. Beyond that, senior employees deliver in-person (as able) lectures on Google practices and culture, during which they talk about their experience and share team perspectives. The result is a better rapport and shared values and language. 

#3 encourage managers to engage with new hires 

A new employee’s manager is one of the most important people in the onboarding experience – and gaining their support may directly improve or undermine a new hire’s chances of success, as well as their long-term talent development. In a study that followed 409 college graduates through their first two years on the job, the degree of supervisor support that new employees felt had implications for role clarity, job satisfaction and even their salary over time. Another study found that supervisors can promote or inhibit newcomer adjustment through their supportive or obstructive behaviors. It’s critically important that effective onboarding programs consider not just the experience of the newcomer, but also that of the hiring managers. 

Ask managers to share department and team goals, key performance metrics and their management style to help new hires understand key priorities and what to expect. A localized departmental version of onboarding will help your new hires immediately understand the focus and the priorities of their new department and team. 

Here are some ways managers can participate in successful onboarding programs: 

  • deliver reminders to managers to meet with new hires at set intervals 
  • provide pre-scheduled meetings with managers and key employees 
  • create frequent opportunities for two-way communications and ‘check-in’ feedback sessions 
  • put structures in place to measure new hire engagement and longevity 
  • hold hiring managers accountable for shortening the time to minimum productivity and improving new hire retention and satisfaction rates 

Managers can help maximize your new hire’s success by recognizing individual progress, improvement and achievements. If a new hire is quickly getting up to speed, let them know. Managers can be reminded to make a point to say ‘thank you’ or ‘good job’ and avoid only reaching out if new employees appear to be struggling. Ask managers to check in frequently and take the time to talk about individual goals and professional development opportunities. Showing a sincere interest in each individual will go a long way to cultivating a strong, lasting relationship. 

#4 ask for feedback and input 

This is ultimately for your benefit, HR. Without the data from feedback, you have no way of measuring the success of your onboarding program, the increased investment you’ve asked for from your executive team or departmental success. It can also lessen the impact of your talent management and talent development processes and strategies.  

One of the most obvious and beneficial ways to improve your onboarding program with data is to survey employees that went through your new hire training after one, six, and 12 months have passed. Use that survey data to identify the program components that worked, those that need improvement and areas where additional action is required.  

Two top tips for your survey: 

  • Use external benchmarking of your competitor’s onboarding programs to help you maintain a competitive advantage. 
  • During onboarding, ask new hires why they left their last job. It might sound taboo, but it can provide you with insight into which factors may again cause them to quit this new job – and help your organization measurably improve retention in the process. 

#5 create a pre-employment onboarding guide or communication campaign 

A highly effective way of reducing ‘first day’ stress before your new hires even begin orientation is to get them fully engaged with the company. This is where technology support comes in. 

Giving access to your internal employee site as soon as an offer is accepted is a great way to get new hires acclimated quickly. This should be a destination for incoming new employees to find everything they need to know about working at your company, including: 

  • standard operating procedures 
  • what technology the company uses (such as performance tracking apps and communication tools) 
  • your company values  
  • fun off-the-clock tips  

You can also include stress-free quizzes for tracking progress. 

Succeeding@IBM offers pre-start date learning and training, and new hires that participate in their pre-hire community are 80 percent less likely to leave during their first year. Warby Parker sends an electronic welcome packet with the company history, core values, press clippings and what a new employee should expect during their first day, week and month. The night before starting, new employees at Warby Parker get a call from their direct supervisor. 

The idea is to make the onboarding process as smooth as possible and to set up new employees for success by giving them the information they need before they even start. By the time they do get started, new hires can hit the ground running. 

related content: prioritizing career wellness in 2021. 

final thoughts on onboarding 

Historically, onboarding has been treated as a single event rather than a process: new hires are passive participants in one- or two-day orientations. They receive information about policies and procedures, sign lots of paperwork and are given a tour if on site. But today’s talent economy requires forward-thinking companies to assess how they bring new employees into their company culture and get them up to speed, often virtually, so they can be productive as quickly as possible. 

As hiring heats up and turnover rates dramatically increase, the time has come for executives, hiring managers and HR leaders to realize the tremendous impact modern onboarding practices can have on new hire productivity and retention. The traditional goal of simply having people signed up and familiar with the basics must shift toward one of delighting new hires and providing them with the information and support they need to be productive as soon (and for as long) as possible. 

risesmart marketing

staff contributor

20 October 2021

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