Rethinking Your Employee Onboarding

Rethinking Your Employee Onboarding

First impressions matter.

We all have a picture of that cookie-cutter first-day-at-a-new-company experience – you know, the pamphlets on the desk, introduction meeting after meeting, the half-hearted welcome email from the entire company. It all seems so impersonal, no matter how much company swag they shower you with. We’ve all been there, and continue to go there – why is this the norm?

Employees are the single most important investment you can make at an organization, yet the attention a new hire receives will never compare to the love a customer gets. With an average turnover rate of 19% across many industries, to create a more loyal and talented workforce – you need to take the time to make their experience truly personalized.

Here are a few ideas to help you create an awesome new-employee experience.

Workspace Matters

The worst impression you can make on a new employee is being a stickler for expenses. At least 12% of employees claimed they would quit their job if they didn’t feel appreciated.

You may spend tens of thousands a year on an employee, why would you cheap out on the space that you provide?  If you’re not empowering your employee with a workstation that they’re happy with, you’re decreasing productivity and workplace satisfaction.

Netflix, a company that is celebrated for their culture, creates loyalty and an empowered employee-base from day one by investing in their employees. Here’s one employee’s story on their first day:

“I requested a desktop workstation server over a self-serve portal. The next morning a brand new ThinkStation was humming under my desk with a note from the IT team that said, ‘We assumed you wanted the latest Ubuntu. Please advise if not.’ No BS approval process!”

That’s how it should be. Giving your new employee a new laptop, desk chair, or keyboard is small peanuts when it comes to their overall satisfaction in their new position. If you hire a carpenter, give them a hammer they’ll want swing around.

So before you say no to that standing desk request, remember that the small accommodations you make now will cost nothing in the long run when it comes to sparking loyalty in a valuable employee.

Make sure that you have a company gift ready at their workspace that they will actually use. Whether it’s a water bottle or a lanyard, make sure to have something that they will use often and proudly. To add a personal touch for each employee, ask their direct manager to write a handwritten note expressing their excitement for their new team member. This makes the managers seem more accessible and personable while giving your new employee a little confidence boost.

Give them a WFH day

Even if you don’t already have flexible work built into your organization, consider giving your new employee a day to recharge and work in their own comfort zone. It sounds contrary to the age-old advice of being the first one in and the last one out in your first weeks

The fact is, people are generally more engaged when working flexibly part of the time, and the first weeks are the absolute best time to take advantage of this. Your new employee isn’t knee-deep in any projects yet and it wouldn’t be too disruptive if they were away – this is especially true if you already have regular WFH programs in place.

Starting with more flexible hours allows your new employee to gradually phase into the company – if they feel overwhelmed, they can spend a day or two from the comfort of their own home, adding some familiarity to their onboarding experience. Showing your new employee that you care about how well they’re adjusting can help their overall emotional well-being. If they aren’t in the right headspace, how can they succeed in their new work environment?

And really, if it disrupts your onboarding process so much to spend a day on Zoom with them instead of a board meeting, there’s probably something off about your process, to begin with.

Make an actual Facebook

The first week of work is overwhelming. There are a million names to remember, you don’t know who sits where, and know almost no one outside of your department. Don’t let your new employee start out by feeling far behind.  

Create an intranet-hosted book of faces that your new employees can refer to while they get to know their new teammates. You can create an organization chart on that shows employees at every level, from CEO to an intern. To make it more engaging, have each employee fill out a bio that includes their out-of-office interests and fun facts. It’s a great way to have employees get to know each other and maybe establish out of office groups – like a killer sand volleyball team.  

If your organization is too large, have the department managers create and maintain slide decks to introduce the team. If you’re not ready to run, not to worry! You can always keep a print version of the “face book”, but if you’ll be updating it often we recommend keeping it digitally.

As part of your onboarding experience in the first week, plan to take your new employee’s headshot to add them to the chart so they feel apart of the team already!

Consider a rotational onboarding program

Nearly 40% of new leaders fail within their first year and a half on the job. This could be symptomatic of an employee onboarding system where leaders aren’t given the means they need to succeed in their new position.

The initial weeks of an employee in a leadership or managerial role set the foundation for the future of their department. To be successful, they need to know more about team relationships, previous learning, and what direction the department is currently going in. The worst thing you can do is try to meet these important informational needs with an overwhelming amount of emails and onboarding documents instead of helping them build a foundation.

Consider instead Etsy’s onboarding process – a boot camp rotating new personnel through every single team in the organization.

“You come in, spend a week with the team who hired you and then spend the next four to six weeks out on rotation with other teams,” explains Etsy CTO Kellan Elliott-McCrea. “That has obvious benefits in that you get cross-trained on the organization and you learn what we’re doing, but it also has some non-obvious benefits, including the development of some strong personal ties. People, you boot camp with end up being part of your support network at Etsy.”

Onboarding isn’t just for recent hires, you repeat the onboarding again annually for your first three years. These employees are now able to put best practices into place and even identify some areas of disconnect throughout the departments.

Rotational programs are nothing new, particularly in older industries like finance, where they’ve been the norm for getting a new hire acclimated with the environment (and finding their place in it). Getting up to speed with context and finding their place in the organization is one of the biggest reasons new employees, particularly leaders, flounder.

So maybe the solution is to delay immediate project work and go on a tour around the office – properly introduce them to their new family they’ll be spending much of the next period of their life with.

Ask them what they want

A truly successful onboarding program asks the employees what they look for in an onboarding program. Conduct surveys and interview with employees following the first week of the onboarding processes to discover their likes and dislikes of your programming. Don’t be afraid to rework some aspects of your program, there’s always room for improvement!

Take it a step further to personalize the experience by sending your new employees a form before your onboarding begins. Before you create this form, take some time to flesh out this idea with your team and department heads. What kind of onboarding schedules can you provide? Would the new employee like to knock it out in one day, spread it over a week or the first month?

Write out the “slanguage”

You know the acronyms that your org uses so much that you probably say them in your sleep? That’s part of your “slanguage”. Your verticles, processes, titles, or even the go-to sushi place are an important (and fun) part of your employees’ everyday life.

In these new uncharted waters, jargon could slow down the onboarding of new hires. Steve Pritchard, an HR Consultant from Anglo Liners says, “Every company has its own informal vocabulary of terms and phrases that are unique to them. This can be confusing for new hires or other employees who aren’t familiar with all of the terms that employees throw around, which can lead to a breakdown in communication, delaying tasks and wasting company time.”

If you want to spice up your onboarding content, create a live internal dictionary to help your new employees, “New hires can then use this to get to know the different terms used as soon as they start, and existing employees can use it as a go-to source whenever they hear a term they aren’t familiar with.”

Start by identifying keywords, acronyms, and phrases by having a sit down with your organization’s influencers.  Then, after a brainstorm with your staff, put together a fun-filled, emoji-clad dictionary that’s sure to make any new employee excited about their position.

In summary

The worst thing you can do is turn employee onboarding into an exam – filled with hundreds of documents to read and daily pop quizzes on your ability to keep up on corporate jargon. Give your new employees flexibility, and start hiring well in advance so they have a buffer period to get caught up.

After all, a good investment in an employee can be a lifetime investment in your company.

By Emma Hundley

In my free time, you’ll catch me gulping down coffee or binge-watching the new Netflix Original.