Employee Onboarding Guide: Everything to Know

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The employee onboarding process does a lot more than help transition new hires to their role. Broadly speaking, employee onboarding involves equipping new employees with the skills, knowledge, and behaviors needed to function effectively within the organization. This process is distinct from orientation, which is deals mainly with learning about the company and the job.

Strategic onboarding refers to a structured onboarding process. This process takes new hires through various clearly defined phases, sometimes lasting up to a year. Strategic onboarding goes beyond administrative procedures and acclimates new employees to the organization’s processes, systems, culture, and values.

Onboarding can be an expensive affair, explaining why some companies do not have a structured process. However, this cost is justified since the quicker new hires take to their new roles, the faster they produce value for the organization.

Why Does Employee Onboarding Matter?

Many staffing personnel fails to notice the link between onboarding and new-hire retention. According to research by Brandon Hall Group, a leading research and analyst firm, 51% of organizations lose most of their new hires within the first six months of employment. With the cost-of-hire often exceeding 100% of the replaced employee’s salary, the onboarding process can play a crucial role in retaining new employees while cutting costs.

Strategic onboarding also helps to improve employee productivity. According to an article in Training Industry Quarterly, it takes between one and two years for a new employee to become fully productive. Successful onboarding provides new hires with the necessary tools and resources to adjust to their new position, which allows them to be more productive faster.

Furthermore, today’s prospective employees have more employment opportunities than ever. A poor onboarding experience can motivate new hires to look for other options, usually within the first six months of signing the contract.

According to an Aberdeen Group report, companies with a standard onboarding experience enjoy 50% greater new hire retention than those who don’t. If your organization prioritizes employee retention, a strategic and standardized onboarding process may be the key to meeting your objectives.

Finally, an effective onboarding process helps to increase employee engagement. Onboarding is the employee’s first point of interaction with their new work environment. Strategic onboarding can help them feel connected to your company’s mission, vision, and values.

This experience sets the tone for how the new hire thinks and feels about your company. The onboarding process also offers the perfect opportunity to assimilate new hires into the company culture. 

What Does Success Look Like?

Strategic onboarding might mean different things to different people. So how do you know that your onboarding process is successful? The answer lies in looking at key success metrics.

New Hire Turnover

New hire turnover is an obvious place to start. Research so far indicates that there is a strong correlation between the onboarding experience and turnover intention. Measure the turnover rate within the first year or two of onboarding. The first six months are the most critical. New employees typically decide to stay or leave the organization during this period.

Voluntary and involuntary turnover may indicate different problems, so it’s a good idea to measure them separately. For instance, involuntary turnover has more to do with a recruiting problem. Poorly qualified candidates are less likely to stay for the long haul.

Voluntary turnover, on the other hand, may have something to do with the onboarding process. This is especially true if turnover is highest within the first three to six months of hire.

Training Completion Rate

Training is an integral part of onboarding. Track your training completion rate to identify any issues with the onboarding process. Inadequate training can harm the new employee’s ability to transition to their new role. Collecting data for all your training programs, including training on soft skills, company policy, and technical training, can help identify holes in your onboarding process.

New Employee Perspective

New hires can bring a fresh perspective to your onboarding process. Holding focus groups to find out new employees’ impressions about the onboarding process can prove invaluable. Pulse surveys are also perfect for obtaining feedback about your process.

Keep your survey questions simple with either a scale rating or yes/no answers. For example:

  • I am proud to work for [Organization]
  • I would recommend [Organization] to my peers as a great place to work
  • I have been adequately prepared to perform my role

Some questions may require longer answers but can be just as insightful. For example:

  • What’s one thing you would change about the onboarding process?
  • What is the best/worst thing about your week?

Most of all, the survey questions should reflect your company’s goals and values. Use the data you collect from new hires to estimate the success of your onboarding process.

Time to Productivity

This metric lets you know how long it takes new employees to meet the expected performance levels. While measuring this metric isn’t an exact science, it will reveal a lot about your recruitment, onboarding, and training processes.

First, determine the key performance indicators (KPIs) of each role. Next, come up with a deadline for employees to meet those KPIs and calculate the number of days it takes new hires to meet the KPIs.

The time to productivity will likely look different between various roles within the organization. New hires in entry-level positions might need skills training, leading to a relatively high time to productivity. On the other hand, seasoned executives have the technical knowledge and experience to hit their KPIs quickly.

Case Study

Twitter is an exceptional example of implementing a comprehensive employee onboarding program. Twitter’s program, known as “Yes to Desk,” is a 75-step onboarding process starting when a new employee accepts the job offer.

This onboarding process brings together various teams within the organization, including recruiting, HR, and IT. New hires find an email address, a bottle of wine, and a T-shirt awaiting them at their desk when they arrive. The CEO joins the new hire for breakfast at the cafeteria for an informal welcome.

Next, the new employee goes through orientation, familiarizing them with the facilities, HR, and IT. Finally, the new hire has lunch with the team they’ll be working with.

Twitter also hosts 30-minute presentations for the new employee every Friday. Christened Happy Hour, the presentations continue over a couple of weeks. The new hire gets to meet different project managers and leads and understands what other teams are working on.

Twitter also collects feedback about onboarding after a couple of months and continually updates its process.

One Secret Weapon to Master Employee Onboarding

Onboarding software is no doubt the ultimate gateway to mastering your employee onboarding process. BambooHR is an exceptional all-in-one HR software that comes with a suite of onboarding features and capabilities, including:

  • Automatically send onboarding tasks
  • Customizable new-hire packet
  • Get to Know You email
  • Onboarding checklist
  • Electronic signatures
  • Custom workflows

This software handles every aspect of the employee lifecycle, including HR management, hiring, application tracking, onboarding and offboarding, performance management, employee satisfaction, and payroll. The software targets small and medium-size businesses looking to unify and optimize their recruiting and HR processes. 

This SaaS platform comes in two custom pricing plans, including Essentials and Advantage. The Advantage plan comes with a full suite of onboarding features not available with the Essential plan. You’ll have to contact the company to get your custom quote. The software also offers a free trial if you’d like to take it for a test drive.

5 Essential Strategies for Employee Onboarding

Starting a new job is an overwhelming experience for most employees. They will likely have anxiety about performing the first tasks and projects and general nervousness about working for a new organization. A successful onboarding process can help the new hire feel more comfortable and competent.

Here are a few onboarding best practices to consider applying to your process.

1. Communicate with employees before their first day  

In many cases, new employees experience radio silence between accepting the job offer and arriving on the first day. The new hire can only guess what to expect on their first day, including trivial details like where to park, who to ask for on arrival, or how to find supplies.

A short call from a manager with a brief introduction or an email from HR walking them through the first day is a great idea. An onboarding portal is also perfect for giving new hires access to important company information before their arrival. This information may include company history, culture, values, mission, and vision.

Communicating with new employees before they arrive helps to avoid confusion. New employees will also be more confident if they know what to expect on the first day of the job. Walk the employee through what to expect when they arrive in as much detail as possible.

This interim period is also the perfect time to get the paperwork out of the way. This includes:

  • Employment contract
  • VISA & work requirements
  • Policies requiring acknowledgment
  • Payroll forms

Most onboarding software, including BambooHR, allows you to manage paperwork remotely and supports electronic signatures. Preferably, the first day on the job should focus on the engagement side of onboarding rather than mundane paperwork.

2. Plan the first day

A slow or chaotic onboarding can give a negative impression of your organization. For example, a delay in the onboarding process may create the impression that the new hire doesn’t have to get to work right away. To avoid this, make sure that the employee has everything they need to get right to work.

Some checklist items include:

  • Desk
  • Computer, phone, tablet, or BYOD registry
  • Security logins & access keys
  • Specialist tools & equipment
  • Uniforms & personalized name tags
  • Logins for hardware, role-specific software & apps, and password management tools

Again, most onboarding software allows you to create a checklist that you can refer to each time you are onboarding. This ensures that you never miss a thing.

Consider also a welcome package for the employee. This small gesture reinforces that you value the new hire’s contribution to the organization. A welcome package may include company swag, notes from co-workers, lunch certificates, or personalized merchandise.

3. Define success

You’d be surprised at how many new hires have no idea what success in their role looks like. Provide the employee with a detailed job description and a list of their responsibilities. Discuss your expectations and what your organization offers to employees to achieve their goals. Where necessary, go over each key task to avoid any confusion or misunderstandings.

Provide specific KPIs to help employees perform optimally and measure their performance. These goals help the employee understand how their efforts fit into the overall business strategy. The employee is also empowered to make informed decisions during the critical first days, weeks, and months.

Check-in with the new hire at least once a month for the next three to six months. These check-in sessions help to empower the employee for their role. You might also be able to catch early warning signs of an employee planning to leave and make the necessary adjustments to retain them.

4. Introduce new hires to the team

Set up informal meetings to introduce new hires to people they’ll work and communicate with regularly. Twitter does this during the onboarding process, where new hires have lunch with their team members.

These introductions give a human face to your organization. New hires also feel more confident approaching and collaborating with team members.

Also, be sure to introduce the new hire to their direct supervisor or manager. If possible, arrange a one-on-one meeting on the first day. This is an excellent opportunity to discuss goals and KPIs right from the start.

Consider also assigning the new hire an onboarding buddy. Preferably, this should be a team member or a peer. The new employee likely has many questions, and an onboarding buddy can help them make a natural transition to their role.

5. Consistently update your onboarding process

Onboarding is a continuous process. Ensure that your process grows and evolves with the times. Feedback from new hires is instrumental in refining and optimizing your onboarding process. Anonymous surveys are great for getting honest feedback about your process and areas for improvement.

Most Common Employee Onboarding Mistakes

Knowing what not to do during employee onboarding is just as important as knowing what to do. Below are five examples of the most common mistakes that employers make during onboarding:

Procrastination – Successful organizations take employee onboarding seriously, which is reflected in their structured and organized process. Some employers leave things to the last minute, leading to delays, disorganization, and lowered productivity. Technology such as onboarding software can help to ramp up the process.

Short-term-only onboarding program – Many organizations focus on onboarding during the first week. However, it can take up to a year for an employee to reach peak productivity. Employees often feel abandoned and ill-equipped to fulfill their roles successfully. Optimized onboarding takes up to 90 days with regular monthly check-ins. These check-in periods are critical for recognizing successes and identifying areas for improvement.

Information overload – New hires are sometimes bombarded with paperwork, reviewing essential information, peer and management introductions, and training. A pre-boarding process where some of these tasks take place can help relieve the pressure on new hires. Similarly, spacing out some processes and extending the onboarding period works equally well. Consider compiling FAQs for common inquiries like payday, paid time off and holidays, sick days, dress codes, and expense reports.

Unclear job scope – The marketplace is fluid, and job descriptions evolve over time. Still, the employer is responsible for providing an accurate list of specific expectations, tasks, and skills relating to the job. An accurate job description gives the new employee a realistic perspective of their job and helps them transition quickly and smoothly.

Ignoring the company culture – understating, adapting, and fitting into a company culture is hardly an intuitive process. New hires adopt the company culture by learning and repetition. Training and reference materials are great resources for new employees to learn about the organization’s culture. Also, an onboarding buddy can help walk the employee through the practical aspects of the organization’s culture, policies, and procedures.

A comprehensive employee onboarding process has short-term and long-term positive net effects on employee satisfaction, productivity, and retention. It is worth seriously considering going beyond simple administrative onboarding. Technology can help automate much of this process and streamline your onboarding procedures.

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