Employee onboarding is like the workplace honeymoon period. It’s the time when you, as an organization, start your loving, lasting relationship with your beloved spouse, your new employee.
As such, the onboarding period is where the foundation of the employer-employee relationship is being laid.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at employee onboarding. We’ll tell you what the secret ingredients are to build an awesome onboarding process so you can lay the foundations for a happy, lasting relationship with your new hires.
Failing to have a well-structured onboarding process has severe (financial) consequences. Some interesting – if not worrying – stats:
- 90% of hires decide to stay or leave in the first 6 months.
- New hires who’ve had a great onboarding are 69% more likely to stay with the company for three years.
- Organizations with a great employee onboarding program experience up to 54% greater new hire productivity.
Onboarding also accelerates the average time it takes for new employees to reach their optimum productivity level (OPL).
If we look at the figure below, for example, we see that in accountancy, the average cost of bringing an employee up to their OPL is 32 600 GBP – this is five times more than the ‘logistical’ costs of replacing an employee in this industry.
Onboarding is also about cutting down the time it takes for new hires to reach their OPL.
In a time where companies are at war trying to recruit the best possible talent out there, a great onboarding process is a must-have, not a nice-to-have.
Because let’s face it, you don’t want to go through a lot of trouble getting those new hires on board (pun intended), only to lose them again a couple of months later just because your employee onboarding wasn’t on point – or worse, non-existent.
What is employee onboarding?
Employee onboarding is the process during which new hires get familiar with the organization, the people, and the culture of the company they’ve just joined.
The purpose of an onboarding period is two-fold: on the one hand, and this is the traditional goal of employee onboarding, it’s meant to get new hires operational as quickly as possible. On the other hand, and this is a more recent role of onboarding, it’s used to shape the critical first impressions new employees have of the company.
5 Stages of employee onboarding
The onboarding period starts as soon as a candidate signs the offer letter. It ends when the employee is able to autonomously do the job they were hired to do.
The period between the moment a candidate signs the offer and their first day in the office is also known as the pre-boarding period. While pre-boarding is sometimes considered as a separate process, we’ll look at it as a part of the wider employee onboarding in this article.
There are various opinions as to the different stages of employee onboarding. We roughly distinguish 5 of them:
- Before the first day (pre-boarding)
- On the first day (orientation)
- After the first week/month
- After the first 90 days
- At the end of the first year
Your candidate just signed the offer you extended. Fantastic! Now you want to make sure they actually make it to their first day in the office. This is when the pre-boarding stage kicks in.
From the moment your candidates sign until the first day they set foot in the office, you need to engage with them. Send them already (practical) info about their new workplace, add them in the company’s employee chat systems, get their future team members to reach out to them, etc.
If possible, give your new hires already the material they need to get up to speed on the job, the industry, the company strategy and so on; most people like to be prepared when they start on their first day.
Pre-boarding is about making future employees feel welcome and wanted even before they’ve actually arrived and more importantly, perhaps, it’s about making sure they don’t feel like you completely forgot about them.
On the first day
Your awesome pre-boarding efforts have made sure your new hires are dying to get started on their first day. Well done!
However, this is not the time to sit back and relax. The employee experience of their first day in a new job – and office – tends to last throughout their entire time with the company. So you better make sure those first impressions are positive.
Working equipment, think laptops, phones, a ready-to-use workstation, login credentials, etc., are the bare minimum. Nobody wants to deal with malfunctioning hardware or heaps of software updates on their first day.
You also want to make sure the new hire’s manager is around to officially welcome them to the team. Too often still this isn’t the case and speaking of first impressions, this is one that is difficult to undo.
After the first day/month
For some onboarding programs, the next stage of the process will start after a week, for others, it will be after a month, or somewhere in-between. What counts is that the new hire’s direct manager has some kind of initial sit-down/feedback moment with their new employees after they’ve been with the company for a short period of time.
This is the time to ask them how they are settling in, what their first impression is, if everything is as they expected (or not), if they’ve got any questions, etc. In other words: this is when you check if there are any potential issues and if so, you can tackle them right away before they turn into your new hire leaving prematurely.
This is also the time to be clear about future expectations. One way to do this is with a 90-day plan. In his book, Startup CEO: A Field Guide to Scaling Up Your Business, Matt Blumberg discusses such a plan.
Depending on the job, elements to think of include: What are the first steps new employees should take? What are the resources they should know about and the people they should meet? And, of course, what are their key objectives for their first 90 days?
Establishing an actual plan helps to actively and intentionally work towards a clear goal.
After the first 90 days
It’s been three months since your new hire started. Time to have a chat again to find out how things are going. On top of the more practical questions you’ve asked them when they just joined the company, this is when you can talk about the actual work they are doing too.
Grab the 90-day plan you put together and start assessing.
Are the new employees enjoying their job – and performing well? Is it everything they expected? Are there parts of the job they struggle with? Do they feel like they fit in with colleagues and the company culture? And, of course, what did they think of their onboarding so far?
This is also the first real moment to find out whether or not your new employees are happy in their job. If not, this gives you an opportunity to try and do something about it; whether that means making some relatively small adjustments or trying to find a completely different job for them elsewhere in the organization.
After the end of the first year
Although not everyone may think an employee onboarding has to last for a year, it’s a good moment to officially wrap up your onboarding. Have a final ‘onboarding’ sit down with your employee – in combination with their first annual performance review if you like – in which you cover:
- the practical side of things, as mentioned above (although this should not be an issue anymore at this point in time!)
- the job-related side of things; how are your new employees performing?
- their future at the company; you can start talking about your company’s L&D program, ask them about their preferences & ambitions in this regard, etc.
- ask them again what they thought of their onboarding and ask them what they thought was missing/if they have any suggestions to make your employee onboarding even better
Employee onboarding: A real-life example
Not that long ago, I started a part-time job in a new company myself. So for the first time in my professional life, I experienced what it is to go through an actual onboarding period.
Let me share that experience with you.
Before I had my first day, I joined my future team members on their teambuilding session. This allowed me to:
- meet my future colleagues (again) in a setting that was different and less formal
- feel involved (and get excited) even before I officially started
- get an idea of how people in the company interact with each other (in this case what struck me was how kind they were towards each other and how much fun they seemed to have together)
My future manager also invited me to attend an industry event during my pre-boarding period. Again, this made me feel involved and got me even more stoked to get started.
The first day
On my first day, my manager waited for me in the lobby when I arrived at the office. I don’t think I could have felt any more welcome. We went upstairs to great the rest of the team when my manager suggested we all go to the company cafeteria to have a morning coffee.
Getting access to the necessary systems and tools was painless and my boss had planned a team lunch to welcome me to the team.
After 90 days (or anything in-between)
As soon as I joined the company, I started to receive invites for department presentations. Pretty much every single department of the company was presented to me and my fellow ‘onboarding class of October 2018’ mates.
I thought this was a great idea for two main reasons:
- Even when you think you know what a certain department or team does by the looks of their department’s name, it often turns out that you had no clue or that they do a lot more.
- Being part of an ‘onboarding class’ with people from other teams creates a certain bond and it allows you to meet people in the company that you wouldn’t necessarily have met otherwise. These department presentations were held over several days and it was always great fun seeing my fellow classmates again.
To do things the right all the way, there even was an onboarding graduation ceremony, including a word of welcome from our CEO.
This is also when I had a good sit-down with a lovely lady from HR. We chatted about my first couple of months at the company, what I thought of it so far, how I’d experience my employee onboarding, if I had any suggestions for them to improve the process, etc.
7 Employee onboarding best practices
If I had to pour this real-life employee onboarding experience into 7 best practices I’d say:
- Get your new hires involved in (informal) team or company activities such as an offsite or a team lunch.
- Invite them to relevant industry events and where possible, add them to employee chat groups.
- Make sure all their hardware, software and any further equipment are working.
- Celebrate a new hire’s arrival with a team tradition.
- Make sure the new employee’s manager is present on their first day.
- Find a fun and engaging way to make your new hires familiar with the organization’s various departments and teams.
- Ask your new hires how they’re doing and ask for their feedback on your onboarding program throughout the process.
Employee onboarding software
We wouldn’t be a true HR tech platform if we didn’t write about technology now would we?
Creating a great employee onboarding program isn’t an easy task. Especially when you’ve got a lot of new hires. There is the content to think about, what do you want to tell them about the company (culture), when, and in what format, for example.
But you’ve also got the necessary paperwork that needs to be dealt with, although most if this can actually be taken care of during the pre-boarding stage. And then there is the scheduling since not all new hires will be going through the same stage at the same time.
The good news is, there is a lot of onboarding software out there to help you.
The options vary from free, checklist type of tools to all-in-one solutions that automate not only onboarding but functions such as payroll and benefits as well. There are five main types of employee onboarding tools:
We’ll give you a couple of examples.
If you don’t have an extensive onboarding budget, there are free tools you can use to structure your employee onboarding. A good example of such a tool is Trello.
The platform is primarily known as a collaborative project management application, but they’ve created a new employee onboarding template you can use to – indeed – onboard your new hires.
The folks at Click Boarding take the onboarding game to another level. The company provides personalized (mobile) onboarding experiences throughout the entire employee journey. This includes the onboarding of new hires, of course, but it also covers the process of employees moving across your organization and the offboarding of people who go elsewhere.
We already mentioned Talmundo in our enterprise recruitment software article a couple of weeks ago. Among other things, the platform takes care of your pre-boarding. As such, it welcomes your new hires as soon as they’ve signed their offer letter and provides them with a roadmap for the complete pre-boarding process.
On a final note
Employee onboarding is like the workplace honeymoon period. It’s when you lay the foundation for a strong, lasting employer-employee relationship. Failing to have a well-structured onboarding process has severe (financial) consequences.
When it comes to building a great onboarding program, there are several elements to keep in mind. There is the practical side of the process, of course, such as making sure the relevant paperwork is in order and that your new employees have all the necessary equipment – hardware & software – ready to go on their first day in the office.
But it’s just as important to take care of the other side of onboarding. The one that is about engaging with your new hires from the moment they sign, being clear about expectations, making them familiar with your company culture & values and helping them in getting to know their future colleagues.
Depending on the budget you have available, you can automate and streamline (big parts of) your employee onboarding. Doing so not only saves you a lot of time but will also be a big help in making sure your new hires are off to a great start in your organization. And improve your chances of a happily ever after together.
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