You find an excellent candidate for an open position. You extend an offer. They accept. Congratulations!
Unfortunately, this is where many businesses — large and small — get caught flat footed. It’s easy to get so caught up in the hiring process, that what comes after (aka “joining the company”) becomes an afterthought.
Maybe you’ve gone so far as to at least create a templated email to welcome new hires. But you’re realizing it’s time to create a more formal, thoughtful onboarding process for your new hires. Luckily, there are tons of resources — from checklists and templates to guides and research — many of which we share here.
But before diving into the details, the first step is to define what onboarding means.
Onboarding is the means through which new employees are introduced to an organization’s culture, values and resources. It isn’t a singular event, but rather a process that occurs over time and through multiple touchpoints.
In reality, the process varies from industry to industry, and even company to company. But regardless of the workplace environment, the companies that invest in a framework for instructing new hires on how to connect with colleagues, find and use appropriate resources, and understand the expectations for their role enjoy hire rates of employee engagement and retention.
A recent survey from Glassdoor found that organizations with a strong onboarding process improve retention of new hires by 82% and increase productivity from workers by more than 70%.
Put simply, gone are the days when a business can simply throw an employee into a job and let them “sink or swim.”
According to a survey of HR leaders, the top ranked goals for onboarding in North America were 1) new hire engagement, 2) new hire retention, 3) new hire job readiness, 4) new hire time-to-productivity and/or level of productivity and 4) the ability to compete for and attract critical talent.
While the goals of an onboarding process can vary from business to business, most organizations invest in onboarding in order to improve retention and productivity. If an employee’s experience is poor, the chances they’ll leave increases. This can be pricey: the average time it takes to hire a position is 36 days and the estimated average cost is $4,129.
Even with these crucial business outcomes tied to onboarding, only 12% of employees agree their company does a great job onboarding new hires, according to Gallup.
A new employee orientation centers around one event vs a planned out onboarding process, which can take place over multiple days, months or even years.
At an orientation, the focus is often on paperwork and policies, while onboarding focuses on people, resources and connections. Yes, the employee handbook needs to be reviewed, but this doesn’t complete an onboarding.
Onboarding focuses on connections and relationships. Effective new hire onboarding creates pathways for employees to become part of the team faster and more quickly. Orientation paperwork is easily outsourced: onboarding is an in-house, ongoing process.
Developing an onboarding process begins with a commitment to invest in their success even before the new employee’s first day, and time and resources during their first weeks and months.
The goal is to create a welcoming environment that helps the new hire assimilate themselves with the team and the company culture. It also provides information and survival tools they’ll need on day one and beyond. Onboarding sets initial and follow-up touch points to assure everything is going smoothly or correct if it isn’t.
Creating an onboarding process requires the HR team, owners and operators, and managers to think through the steps a new employee will experience at different points in their job, and to phase out those steps.
Of course, this needs to adapt based on your company’s needs: the products or services they provide, the customers they’ll encounter, the work they’ll be required to do, etc. But there are some example steps to include in an onboarding process. We outline four here.
Before their first day plan an environment that says we’re excited to have you with us and we’re ready for you to join the team.
On day one, offer a few minutes to put away their things and check out their new work space, then start the tour.
You’ve already planned a first day lunch, but don’t stop there. Schedule meetings throughout the first weeks and months with others who have a stake in the new hire’s success – and isn’t that everyone?
Onboarding should be an ongoing process. Yes they’ll likely be working with a trainer to get them up to speed, but getting them involved with the culture is as important. Who to meet with and how often? Again it depends on the learning curve and the size of the company, but general guidelines:
It worked in preschool and it works in business. Having someone to provide training is important. Having a buddy you can ask silly questions without wondering if it makes you sound silly is critical. An associate assigned to take the new hire under their wing is yet another way to emphasize how valuable they are. A buddy brings the newest member of the team into the fold faster and more effectively than most other processes.
Assign someone who well-represents the company, is enthusiastic and has time and patience to devote to the process. You may need to ask others in the group to help with the buddy’s workload as they help the new hire. They’re stakeholders, too.
A new hire that lasts on the job benefits the entire group. Everyone has a vested interest to make sure they’re welcomed, learn quickly, and become productive. Some companies even offer ‘buddy bonuses’ to entice team members to become a part of the process. Is it worthwhile? Research shows 87% of companies that use a buddy program during onboarding say it’s effective in fast-tracking new hire proficiency.
Onboarding begins with the offer of employment and can end months after the first day of work. Consider onboarding as a process, rather than a project. It can take months or weeks, depending on the size of the company, the complexity of the work involved, the distribution of teams, and other factors.
A survey by SilkRoad found that 39% of HR leaders said their onboarding program was 1-3 months long, and 38% said it was limited single day or week.
The key is not to rush it. One study by HCI found employers who stopped onboarding after just a week left new hires short on resources, discouraged and confused. Some employees take less time to build relationships and get up to speed on the work than others. The length of the process has to be fluid to accommodate all new hires and their needs.
You can add up the actual or anticipated costs of onboarding: lunches paid for, the amount of time trainers and others take out of their day to connect with the hire, the swag you may offer. These costs can be increased or decreased, depending on your budget. Some estimates peg the average onboarding cost at $400.
How much time and resources went into bringing the new person on? The first months on the job are critical, particularly in a tight job market. Some data points to 28% of new hires quitting after the first month, others say a third won’t make their 6 month anniversary. The cost of onboarding may be minimal against the cost of restarting the recruitment and training process to get another new hire up to speed.
When an internal candidate moves into a new department or position, they may need a bit of onboarding — or cross-boarding — as well. While it might not be as in depth (hopefully they’re already immersed in company culture), a mini process can be essential.
Data from HCI reports shows 81% of businesses agree onboarding internal hires is just as important as onboarding externals. Taking the time to tailor onboarding for cross-boarding can help promoted or transferred employees get up to speed faster and be more successful.
The impact of onboarding is easily measured. Is the new hire assimilating into the team quicker? Are they productive and independent sooner? Are attrition rates lower? Effective onboarding will show improvement in all these areas.
However you measure the results, it should align with your organization’s expectations. A study by the Vlerick Business School found the following goals for onboarding:
Starting an onboarding process from scratch is daunting. Onboarding checklists can be invaluable. They can help with planning and assure items have been accomplished. They can also provide a conversation starter for some meetings. Did this step in the process work well for you? How could we improve that one? Was that a bit of a time waster?
The checklist can become a template for what worked, what needs more work to work better, and what didn’t work at all.
Each organization should customize the template to their needs. This onboarding kit contains templates and checklists, and can be customized based on your overall industry.
This article is intended only for informational purposes. It is not a substitute for legal consultation. While we attempt to keep the information covered timely and accurate, laws and regulations are subject to change.