Improving the onboarding process and increasing employee engagement

Date: 29 Oct 2021

New employee onboarding and orientation has never been more important. The number of jobs being advertised has hit record levels in what could be called a perfect storm. 2020 and 2021 saw an unprecedented number of people quit their jobs, in a wave that some called The Great Resignation. Meanwhile, economies have started to rebound and once shuttered businesses, particularly in the service sector have started to re-open. With the costs involved to attract and recruit people with the right skills and cultural fit, it’s crucial to make onboarding a positive, seamless experience that avoids great talent leaving before they’ve had their chance to shine.

Improving recruitment and onboarding is key to increasing employee engagement, retention and the employer-employee relationship. Yet only 12% of employees agree that their new employer did a good job. It can be such a let down. You’ve gone to such lengths to attract the right type of candidate. You advertised ‘rock-stars wanted’. You wooed candidates with the promise of an incredible culture, incredible career opportunities and the finest craft coffee this side of Christchurch. Yet in the first week of their new job, everything unravelled thanks to a sloppy onboarding.

colleagues in lab coats

A good hr onboard should be like a world-famous orchestra; you know - the ones where every instrument plays in perfect harmony at just the right time. But in reality, onboarding can be piecemeal, poorly planned, with the wrong things happening when you and your recruits least expect them. So what goes a great onboarding look like — and is it achievable?

You’d be amazing how many organisations don’t follow a standardised onboarding checklist or template as part of procedures for hiring. This should be the first item on your list. It will mean you can deliver the same great onboarding experience time after time. A paper checklist is a start. A spreadsheet is a little bit better. But automating this with your employee onboarding system really is the way to go. Make those upfront formalities work like clockwork, using ready to go letter templates that just go when you need them to. Start with the basics like sending the right offer letter, contracts of employment plus any formalities such as NDAs, bank details and tax-code information. The sooner these are signed and sealed (and the person feels secure that they have been employed), the less of a chance of them being lost to a rival employer.

We want to give people the warmest of welcomes and want them to be able to start work on their target start date. Give your IT department as much notice as possible so they can sort out those all-important software licenses and invites to your productivity and collaboration software. With the global chip-shortage that’s going on at the moment, order any laptops or other equipment as soon as you can — and if you’re reissuing used kit, give it a real deep clean and sanitise (reassuring people that this has been done thoroughly).

You’ve probably normally done ‘first day inductions’ on-site — along with a tour of the building and that all-important introduction to colleagues. That can be a fear inducing moment of truth for even the most confident of us. But with so many people being on-boarded from home and virtually, you’re going to need to pivot your approach to deliver an equally impressive experience. How about replacing that first day colleague lunch with an online get-together that combines a meet and greet with sweet treats that you’ve delivered ahead of time? People never forget that first day — so send people a sweet treat and some sustainable-swag, along with a card that’s been virtually signed by everyone. Present it nicely — and your new stars will post and spread the love on LinkedIn.

Someone in front of a laptop having a virtual meeting with other people

A virtual orientation is a chance to take people through everything they need to know — from the rules and regulations through to the unique customs and rituals that are right at the heart of your unique culture. Obligatory training modules can be scheduled and delivered on-demand by your onboarding and recruitment software. It might make sense to stagger these over the first few weeks to avoid that sinking feeling of overwhelm. The same goes for check-in sessions at 30, 60 and 90 days. In addition to a line manager, it makes sense to give people a buddy or mentor in the business that they can turn to for help; and if you have a support or mental health offer for your people, make them aware of exactly how and where to access it.

Keep lines of communication open and communicate with people little and often — especially if they’re working from home or another virtual location. Explain the way you handle performance management, training and professional development up-front, so there’s no surprises up ahead. Walk people through the ways they’ll be measured — whether that’s against targets, KPIs and even against company values and culture. That way your new starters know exactly what’s coming and when in their days ahead.

Engaging new employees is not rocket science. It’s about creating a repeatable system and process that works for you and delivers just the right experience for your ideal candidate. It doesn’t need to be complex and it doesn’t need to be costly. Don’t be afraid to experiment and review your efforts by doing a survey after each onboarding. That way you can tangibly and objectively measure the value of your efforts and pinpoint the areas that still need a slight tweak.

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