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The art of employee onboarding: Creating lasting first impressions

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“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” – Will Rogers

Business owners and human resources professionals know that the battle for technical and market supremacy often comes down to one critical factor – competition for top talent. The best people can be counted on to build the best teams and deliver the best results, but hiring the best talent is only the first step. A seamless transition from new employees to great hires depends on the art of employee onboarding.

Employee Engagement and Retention Begins with Onboarding

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reported that companies that skimp on onboarding lose 17 percent of their new employees within three months of joining the company. In another study, SHRM also found that new employees who went through a structured onboarding program were 58 percent more likely to still be with the organization after three years.

Statistics like these demonstrate why employee onboarding should be seen as the first step in a sustained program of effective employee engagement. Through onboarding, new hires develop an initial – and often lasting – impression of the organization as they are introduced to a series of individual onboarding goals, which may include:

The overall purpose of these individual objectives is to ensure that the new hire understands what the company expects from them, feels confident that the company will provide the resources they need to be successful and begins to develop a sense of themselves as a member of the company team.

The initial experiences that a new employee has during the onboarding process can set the tone for their entire tenure with the company. Onboarding not only helps an employee acclimate to their new job but can also instill a sense of purpose and loyalty which may last throughout their career.

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The Impact of Employee Onboarding

Effective employee onboarding is more than just a checklist of tasks; it is the gateway to the organization’s culture, a reflection of commitment to employee success and a powerful tool to enhance long-term retention and productivity. Below are some of the ways the art of onboarding is reflected in company growth and success.

  • Improved Employee Retention: High employee turnover can be incredibly costly for businesses, both in terms of time and money. According to SHRM, it can cost six to nine months of an employee’s salary to replace them. Effective onboarding is critical to improved retention. When a new hire feels welcomed, engaged and well-prepared for their role, they are far less likely to look for greener pastures elsewhere.
  • Faster New Hire Productivity: A well-structured onboarding process helps new employees become productive more quickly. It sets clear expectations, provides access to problem-solving resources and helps new employees build relationships and knowledge networks within the organization. This accelerates the learning curve and hastens contributions to the company’s success.
  • Enhanced Employee Engagement: Engaged employees are more committed to their work, more creative and more likely to go the extra mile for their organization. Onboarding initiates the process of prudent and ongoing investment in making team members feel valued and included, fostering a sense of commitment and engagement, which comes back to the company as employee loyalty and resilience.
  • Positive Organizational Culture: Employee onboarding is the first opportunity to define and promote the right company culture. When a new employee’s role is clearly connected to the mission of why the team has come together, the natural outcome is a positive organizational culture in which decisions and actions are based on shared values and a shared vision of the goals. A positive workplace culture creates an atmosphere in which employees are eager to come to work, inspired to do their best, determined to overcome problems and committed to staying with the organization as their professional home.

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Key Components of Employee Onboarding

Let’s take a closer look at the key components that make up an effective onboarding program.

Start with Pre-Boarding

Onboarding begins even before the employee’s first day. Pre-boarding involves all the necessary administrative tasks, such as completing paperwork, sharing company policies and handbooks, enrolling in benefit programs and preparing the employee’s workspace. Strong pre-boarding can make a new hire feel welcomed and informed before they even step foot in the office.

  • Send a welcome email with important information and an agenda for their first week.
  • Provide access to an online portal for paperwork and company information.
  • Assign a mentor or buddy to help new employees navigate their early days.

First-Day Employee Orientation

The first day is a pivotal moment in a new employee’s experience. Orientation typically includes introductions to colleagues, tours of the workplace and initial training. Make a great first-day impression by ensuring everything is ready and waiting for the new hire.

  • Assign an enthusiastic staff member to host the first-day office tour, welcoming the new hire and guiding them through the necessary steps.
  • Provide a warm welcome, a buddy system and introductions to key team members.
  • Share company news, history, values and culture in an engaging manner.

Training and Development

A significant portion of onboarding is dedicated to training. Training should be both role-specific and company-wide, as well as aligned with the organization’s goals and values.

  • Develop a structured training plan that includes both technical and cultural training.
  • Offer a mix of training, such as e-learning and hands-on shadowing of other team members.
  • Encourage questions and provide continuous feedback throughout the training process.

Social Integration

Employees who feel like they belong and are part of a team tend to be more engaged and satisfied. Social integration activities, especially during the first few weeks, help new employees to build relationships with colleagues, develop a sense of belonging and become part of the company’s social fabric.

  • Host team-building activities and social events.
  • Encourage informal interactions and facilitate introductions.
  • Provide opportunities for employees to share their backgrounds and interests.

Ongoing Support and Feedback

Onboarding does not end after the first week or month. It is an ongoing process that includes regular check-ins, feedback sessions and support.

  • Establish regular check-in meetings with managers and mentors.
  • Encourage open communication and create a safe space for feedback.
  • Provide resources for continuous learning and career development.

Employee Evaluation and Improvement

Regularly evaluate the onboarding process and collect feedback from both new employees and managers. Use this feedback to make improvements and adapt the program to meet changing needs.

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Successful Strategies for Employee Onboarding

Now let’s look at some successful strategies employed by HR managers and business owners to create lasting first impressions and to rise above the standard onboarding experience through an exceptional, best-practices-based onboarding process.

Customize the Onboarding Experience

One size does not fit all when it comes to onboarding. Tailor the hiring process to each employee’s role and experience. Personalizing the experience shows that the company values employees as individuals.

  • Create different onboarding pathways based on role and experience.
  • Offer optional resources and training for employees who want to address skill gaps.
  • Adapt the timeline and depth of training to meet individual needs.

Use Onboarding Technology

Consider using an HR software platform to automate paperwork, track progress and deliver training materials efficiently.

  • Invest in an onboarding software solution that aligns with company practices.
  • Ensure that the platform is user-friendly and accessible.
  • Provide technical support and training for both HR staff and new hires.

Provide a Great Employee Handbook

A comprehensive employee handbook is an essential part of the onboarding process. It should contain all the information employees need to know, from company policies to office dress code to benefits details. Make sure it is easily accessible and encourage new employees to refer to the handbook if questions arise.

  • Create a well-organized and user-friendly digital handbook.
  • Offer training sessions or workshops to explain the content of the handbook.
  • Keep the handbook updated to reflect any changes in policies or procedures.

Encourage Employee Feedback

Feedback is a crucial element of onboarding practice. Encourage new hires to share their impressions of the process. Their input can help identify issues and drive continuous improvement.

  • Implement regular feedback sessions during the onboarding process.
  • Create a safe and anonymous way for employees to provide feedback.
  • Act on feedback promptly to demonstrate the company’s commitment to improvement.

Utilize a Mentorship and Buddy System

Pairing new employees with mentors or buddies can supercharge onboarding. Mentors and buddies can guide new hires through their early days, answer questions and offer insights about company culture.

  • Select mentors who embody the company’s values and culture.
  • Establish a structured mentorship program with clear expectations.
  • Encourage team-building exercises between mentors and mentees.

Showcase Company Culture

A company’s culture is one of its most significant assets. Ensure that it is on full display during the onboarding process. Highlight the mission, vision, values and what makes the organization unique.

  • Incorporate culture into every aspect of onboarding, from orientation to training.
  • Provide examples that illustrate the WHY in company decisions and actions.
  • Create opportunities for new hires to experience the culture firsthand.

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Measuring the Success of Onboarding

A crucial aspect of the art of employee onboarding is the ability to determine whether onboarding efforts are improving and if adjustments are needed. Here are several ways to measure onboarding effectiveness:

  • Employee Retention: Monitor turnover rates, especially among those who have completed the onboarding program. A successful program should reduce turnover and raise retention rates.
  • Time-to-Productivity: Keep track of how quickly new employees become fully productive in their roles. A successful onboarding process should expedite this timeline.
  • Employee Feedback: Regularly gather feedback from new hires to understand their experiences during onboarding. Use blind surveys and exit interviews to identify areas for improvement.
  • Performance Metrics: Examine key performance indicators (KPIs) for new hires. The onboarding process should positively impact these overall performance metrics.
  • Engagement Levels: Survey employees to gauge their level of engagement and job satisfaction. A strong onboarding program should lead to higher levels of employee engagement.

Employee Onboarding Pitfalls to Avoid

Along with following best practices and strategies for successful onboarding, it’s also important to avoid common pitfalls that can derail the onboarding process.

  • Mixed Messages: Inconsistent onboarding experiences can lead to confusion and frustration among new hires. Ensure that the onboarding process is standardized and consistent across the organization.
  • Information Overload: Avoid overwhelming new employees by breaking down the onboarding process into manageable, digestible segments.
  • Neglecting Company Culture: Focusing solely on job description skills and ignoring company culture during the onboarding process can hinder an employee’s ability to connect with team members, work collaboratively and thrive in the organization.
  • Inadequate Feedback: Without effective feedback, the HR team will not know what is working and what needs improvement. Collect regular feedback and use it for continuous improvement.
  • Neglecting Follow-Up: Once the initial onboarding process is complete, ensure that new hires maintain ongoing access to constructive guidance, development resources and opportunities for growth.

Onboarding is an Investment, Not an Expense

Effective employee onboarding is an art that can significantly impact the success of any organization, whether a small business or a global enterprise. A great first impression can improve employee retention, accelerate time-to-productivity, enhance employee engagement and build a positive organizational culture. For this reason, a well-executed onboarding program is not just a process or an expense; it’s a strategic investment in your team’s future and your company’s success.

If your organization is looking to enhance or implement an effective onboarding experience, Higginbotham’s HR Services is here to guide you every step of the way. Our team of HR outsourcing and consulting professionals is dedicated to creating onboarding solutions that align with your company’s unique culture and objectives to help set the stage for long-term employee success. Don’t leave your onboarding to chance – get in touch with our HR Services team today and discover how we can help transform your new hire experience.

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