HR 101: Start Onboarding the Day You Make the Hire

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Jul 12, 2019

The best way to ensure first-rate customer service in your firm, I’d argue, is to begin at the beginning: Make your workers feel a valued part of the team from the moment they’re hired.

Most everyone can remember a miserable first day at work. You show up in a new outfit and haircut, with butterflies in your stomach but high hopes for the adventure ahead. But instead of inviting you to get acquainted with coworkers and get right to it, your new employer makes you suffer hours under a fluorescent light in the HR office, filling out paperwork and waiting for someone to assign a desk, a computer sign-on and something interesting to work on.

With unemployment at its lowest rate in more than a decade, high turnover and competitive hiring are major challenges for all too many companies. Retaining new staff members can be particularly tough. Multiple surveys and studies tell us that a high percentage of new hires quit as soon as the first week.

Companies invest a lot in the hiring process. As leading HR analyst Josh Bersin has recently stressed, firms can increase the odds of a talented worker staying aboard if they create a welcoming employee experience from the moment a newbie walks in the door — and, ideally, long before and after that.

As long ago as 1998, a study at Corning Glass Works, reported in a SHRM Foundation paper, found new employees who attended a structured orientation program were 69 percent more likely to remain at the company up to three years.

Successful retention programs not only encourage employees to stay with companies; they also affect workers’ productivity, motivation, and the quality of their long-term output. When communicating with employees, whether online or face-to-face, companies need to find ways to make connections feel authentic and personal.

Streamline onboarding

Even before that first day arrives, companies need streamlined processes to ensure that employees’ needs, both explicit and unstated, are met consistently and that they have access to all of the resources they need.  Think about all the time and mental preparation you invest in getting a job and doing it well. Shouldn’t new hires feel that the company is making a similar investment in them? For instance, according to Inc, Twitter’s “Yes to Desk” program provides all employees with functional workspaces and full access to the systems they need before they even set foot in the office.

Training in company culture provides another critical part of the employee experience. Zappos is known for taking its workplace culture seriously: Much of a new hire’s first month is spent learning the company’s value system and seeing it in action. As Amy Hirsh Robinson, principal of the consulting firm The Interchange Group, told SHRM, “[Onboarding is] the perfect time to tell stories about the organization’s history, values, people and big-picture vision for the future.”

Whether through memorable interactions with senior leadership or access to effective online training tools, employers need to help new hires align with the company’s vision and understand how their work contributes to achieving it. It is also critical to put in place feedback mechanisms to stay informed about employees’ needs, work styles, and career aspirations. Those efforts begin with training managers in the most effective ways to engage with new workers before their first day.

Technology helps onboard remote workers

As Apple CEO Tim Cook told the Wall Street Journal, “For all of the beauty of technology and all the things we’ve helped facilitate over the years, nothing yet replaces human interaction.”

With nearly four million Americans working from home at least some of the time, companies must find ways to make remote employees feel like they’re part of a team, even without sharing a physical workspace. Luckily, technology makes that goal much easier to achieve, particularly as organizations scale.

By their nature, people who work in HR are passionate about creating a great experience for new hires. But they are sometimes less focused on (and knowledgeable about) technology that can help them do that. Those who have had conflicts with their colleagues in IT are particularly gun-shy about proposing new technological solutions.

HR leaders should persevere. As Bersin points out, the right kind of technological solutions can simplify personnel management in a way that benefits everyone, including the tech team. Even before their first day, companies can send new employees updates and messages of encouragement on their mobile devices. Once on board, regular video calls can make conversations with remote workers more personal. Taking advantage of digital connections not only helps remote teams feel more in touch but also helps combat the isolation that can take a toll on employee satisfaction.

First impressions matter

A chaotic or unproductive first day can make a company look disorganized, and it can tarnish an employee’s first impression. Employers can avoid that pitfall by establishing a pre-boarding process in which new hires use their devices to complete the necessary paperwork, submit documentation, create a new employee profile, and look over information about health insurance and other company benefits.

In markets like the current one, it will never be easy to find, hire and retain all of the right people all of the time. As many HR professionals can attest, getting a candidate to accept a job offer is only the beginning of a longer-term process — one that, when not taken seriously, can result in an early departure.

All new employees need to feel as though they have joined a company where they can perform at their best. Helping them get quickly settled, connecting them early on with colleagues and finding creative ways to handle necessary logistics and paperwork can set the stage for an employee experience that results not only in happy workers but also satisfied customers.

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