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The Best Onboarding Practices for Employee Engagement & Retention

Posted on February 28, 2020
Hannah EsbenshadeWritten by Hannah Esbenshade | Email author
The Best Onboarding Practices for Employee Engagement & Retention

“The real competitive advantage in any business is one word only, which is “people”.

– Kamil Toume

Almost all employers have enacted a new hire orientation that typically takes place on the first day of employment. As workplaces have evolved over the past decade, they’ve embraced the practice of expanding orientation into an extensive onboarding program taking place over several months.

And while many leaders understand the importance of having a comprehensive onboarding program to set employees up for success, I wonder if they understand the correlation between successful onboarding and longtime retention. Research continues to show that a thoughtful and thorough onboarding program is key to retaining new hires, especially within their first year at a company.

Timelines and action items for onboarding will vary by company from what I’ve seen in my practice as an HR consultant, but the overall objectives are generally the same. The goals are to assimilate new hires into the organization and guide them into a highly engaged and meaningful career.

4 Key Themes of an Effective New Hire Onboarding Program

With that understanding, keep the following themes in mind as you look to tailor the onboarding approach to your specific organization.

Be Transparent

After a candidate has accepted an offer, companies should put effort into keeping them “warm”. Don’t leave them guessing about what to expect. Let them know when updates from their hiring manager or an email from the company’s onboarding system will be sent. Put a checklist or workflow in place with different tasks designed to touch base with your new hires.

The following are some ideas to get you started:

  • Share the timeline – As a candidate progresses through the recruiting process, let them know what to expect next by setting up canned emails and having recruiters keep them in the loop.
  • Provide a realistic job preview – be honest about what the job entails. It’s better to have a candidate remove them self from consideration early in the process than to have a new hire leave after a few months on the job.
  • Be generous with details – provide as much information as possible on the company and onboarding process. Orientation can be overwhelming and stressful, so any tips on what to wear, where to park, or what to expect during morning rush hour will be appreciated. Share a copy of the employee handbook and benefits package to allow new hires the opportunity to familiarize themselves with policies, practices, and benefits ahead of orientation.

Be Effective and Intentional

Make a strong effort to bring the onboarding process to life as much as possible. Incorporate the company’s mission, vision, values, and culture into orientation by including real-life examples. It’s important to have CEO and other C-Suite members meet with new hires to share the company’s story and help them understand how they fit into the mission of the organization. Schedule a time for Payroll, IT, and other operational support employees to stop by and introduce themselves. As the HR leader, make it your goal to ensure new hires feel valued and appreciated, and that the organization is excited they’ve joined.

Many employers have found utilizing mentors to be a highly effective onboarding practice. Good mentors act as a peer resource and source of encouragement for new hires during their first months on the job. They play a strong role in adjusting to life within your organization and they jump start the process of building a support system and sense of belonging.

Constantly Improve the Process

As with most things in life, we should always be looking for ways to improve our processes. Make it a habit to periodically review the onboarding process to ensure the information that you’re providing is accurate and up to date. Ask yourself, are your new hires confused about where to go for information? Do they know who to contact for issues with their paycheck or benefits?

When looking to measure the success or baseline of your onboarding strategy, begin to send out short surveys at various intervals throughout the employee’s tenure. Aim for sending a survey to new hires after they’ve completed their first month on the job and follow it up with a stay survey once the employee hits six months to one year of service. Your onboarding survey should focus heavily on ease of integration into the company, whereas your stay surveys should focus on employee engagement factors. Analyze the data from survey responses to pinpoint strengths and areas for improvement.

Here are some suggestions on building resources for your new hires:

  • Create a contact list of applicable internal and external stakeholders (e.g. security office or outsourced IT firm).
  • Utilize your company’s intranet. Keep the site as easy to navigate as possible (the fewer clicks, the better!) and make sure information is reviewed and updated as needed. Getting new hires used to checking a central location for new information can save you many hours of work in the long haul.
  • Rearrange the orientation schedule to include frequent breaks and a good mix of activities. Try to avoid long stretches of presentation.

Focus on Continuous High Engagement

Don’t let the recruiting process be the highest stage of engagement for employees. Instead, figure out ways to distribute that energy and focus throughout the first year and beyond. Have executives, managers and HR partners pulse check new hires throughout their first year. Pulse checks are a quick and easy way to stay connected with employees and plants the seeds for a working relationship that lasts through the rest of the employee’s tenure. The overarching goal should be to build trusting relationships and reiterate the company’s dedication to employee success.

Additional Reading:

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