How to Successfully Onboard a New Employee

Onboarding.  Most people have at least some intuitive understanding of what it is, but the statistics are clear.  It’s something that a staggering 88% of companies don’t do very well, and yet, improvements in the onboarding process can improve employee retention by 82%. 

In this article, we’ll help take some of the mystery out of the process and put you on the fast track to getting better at onboarding, which will improve the morale, engagement and retention rates of all your employees, and by extension, improve your bottom line.

Let’s start with the dictionary definition of the term.  Onboarding is “the act or process of orienting and training a new employee.”

In a great many companies of all shapes and sizes, the onboarding process looks something like this:

  • The employee is called by HR and informed that they got the position they were applying for and given a start date.
  • On the employee’s first day at work, he or she is given a welcome packet, which includes a variety of forms to fill out:  Insurance, 401-k, tax forms for payroll, and the like.
  • There may be a training packet which either includes online training materials, or a temporary mentorship when sees the new hire paired up with a more seasoned employee, or a combination of both.
  • The new employee is introduced to the rest of the department by the department’s manager,

And that’s it.  That’s the process.

Needless to say, that leaves more than a bit to be desired and can often leave the new employee floundering for a time as he or she grapples with the particulars of their new position.  Let’s outline a better way.

Pre-Boarding an Employee

Before your new hire even arrives for his first day, you should start generating buzz.  Let the people in the department the new hire will be working at know a bit about the new person they’ll be spending time with in the near future, and also, take the time to start exciting the new employee about coming to work for you.

Send him or her a hand-written note and maybe a small employee gift to formally welcome them aboard.  Maybe a journal they can make notes in when they begin their training, or a fun drinking glass to keep at their desk, or a small container of candy.  It doesn’t have to be anything extravagant, but even small tokens like these can set the stage and show a glimpse of your company’s culture.

Of course, it’s also a great way to put your company’s brand in front of the new hire and anyone he happens to share it with.  In short, it sets the stage for success!

Another important component of pre-boarding is this:  Send a formal welcome letter.  Use a template if you need help getting started, but definitely take pains to personalize it.  This is also a good time to send over some of that paperwork so the new hire can start working on it from the comfort of home.  The more he or she can get done before the first day of work, the more time your new employee can spend getting to know his or her coworkers.

The Day Before a New Employee Starts

In the lead up to the new hire’s first day, gather the team that the employee will be working with and plan a little get-together/introduction.  Again, this doesn’t have to be anything extravagant, but if your budget permits it, including cake or other snacks and treats is a nice touch that makes the new employee feel more welcome.

It also pays to go ahead and set up the new hire’s desk with everything he or she will need to hit the ground running.  Here, you’ll also want to designate someone from the team to shepherd the new hire through the last of the paperwork, show them around and begin to acclimate them to their new job.  If all of that is in place before the new hire even walks through the door, the entire process will be much smoother.

The New Employee’s First Day

Obviously, there’s a lot to be done on an employee’s first day, but here’s the important thing in mind:  Properly training a new employee can take months, so don’t try to do too much on the first day.  The first day is all about setting the tone, introducing the new employee to his or her coworkers, getting the necessary paperwork turned into the various departments so everything is official, and showcasing your company’s culture.

As long as those things get done on the first day, you can call it a success.  Yes, training is important, and odds are that your employee training will be a mix of online resources paired with hands on training delivered by a peer on the same team, or, if you use a more formalized approach, your Training Department.

Here though, the training should be catered to the employee’s individual learning style and made as fun as possible.  Think about your prior learning experiences and training?  If the material is presented dryly, no matter how important it is, it’s going to be relatively more difficult to learn.

Studies have shown that the best learning is done in a relaxed environment that caters to the specific learning style of the employee in question.  Some people learn better by reading about a process and trying it.  Others learn better by listening.  Still others prefer a more hands-on approach that sees them simply diving right in and trying their hand at whatever new skill they’re attempting to master.

Most important of all though, is to engage the creative centers of your new hire’s brain and whenever possible, to gamify the process of learning.

Again though, it’s important to remember that training is a marathon, not a sprint, so don’t try to cram too many details in on any given day.  Mix things up and keep it light and engaging.  Be sure that throughout the training process, the new hire is given plenty of access to his or her teammates and gets constant exposure to your company’s culture.

If you do that, you’ll set both yourself, and your new employee up for success!