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How to Create an Effective Onboarding Program

Reduce turnover by improving the new-hire experience.

A red carpet on a blue background.

​Solo HR professionals often spend a large amount of time searching for the best job candidates to fill their organization’s open positions. But their work isn’t done when those individuals are hired.

An effective onboarding program is needed to transform a new hire from a nervous newbie into a fully integrated and productive team member. The best programs take considerable thought and planning.

“Onboarding is a window into your company’s values and beliefs,” says LaTonia Dean-Brown, senior manager of people and organization at QVC, the TV shopping channel based in West Chester, Pa. “Your actions during the onboarding process help to set the company’s expectations for new hires.”

Putting your best foot forward can pay off. By ensuring early buy-in from new employees, employers can improve retention rates. In the U.S., organizations face an average turnover rate of about 22 percent, according to the 2019 North America Mercer Survey. That’s a costly trend considering that companies spend between one-half and two times employees’ annual salaries to replace them. The first six months are the most critical time after hiring new employees because that’s when 31 percent of new hires are likely to leave, according to a Bamboo HR survey.

“Onboarding helps ensure the new hire feels like a valuable member of the team,” which encourages him or her to stay, says Suzanne Ritchie, adjunct professor of HR at Bellevue University in Bellevue, Neb.

Give a Warm Welcome

For some organizations, onboarding and orientation are one and the same. But orientation is meant to be a one-time event, while onboarding is a process that should last at least 90 days. Orientation activities, such as completing new-hire paperwork and discussing benefits, are just a small part of what onboarding should entail. Depending on your company’s size and needs, a successful onboarding program will likely include orientation, job-specific training, introductions, culture acclimation and follow-ups. And it all starts the second a new hire commits to the job.

To be effective, onboarding should begin before an employee’s first day of work and continue for months after the employee has joined the company, says Osasumwen Arigbe, an HR consultant based in the Washington, D.C., area and Nigeria.

“A short-lived onboarding process will make employees feel overwhelmed and burned out quickly,” she says.

To create a tailor-made program, Arigbe suggests that HR professionals make a checklist of what they can do to help employees become successful. The list can include:

  • Sending welcome e-mail and a welcome packet to a new employee before he or she starts.
  • Identifying the new hire’s technology needs.
  • Setting up the new hire’s work-
  • station before his or her first day.
  • Making a new-hire announcement to the team.
  • Deciding who will greet the new hire on his or her first day.
  • Selecting a buddy for the new hire. 
  • Identifying HR documents that need to be completed.
  • Scheduling critical introductory meetings and events.
  • Arranging regular check-in sessions with the new hire for at least the first three months. 

Solo HR practitioners can seek help with these tasks from business leaders or managers, but they should make sure they have the budget, time and tools (such as training programs and orientation videos) required to create a successful onboarding experience. They might have to sell the company leaders on the benefits of a more comprehensive program.

Maintain Momentum

After structured training and orientation, onboarding might mean occasional check-ins or progress reports to ensure new hires continue to thrive throughout their first year.

“When you show you’re interested in and care about people, they will have a higher engagement than if you ignore them or assume they’re doing OK,” Ritchie says. “Periodically touching base with your new hires, asking about their experience, or even just remembering their name and saying hi when you pass in the hallway may help with retention and engagement, which is the whole point of creating a high-quality onboarding experience.”

As with any new program, there’s always room for improvement. According to Gallup, only 12 percent of employees strongly agree that their organizations do a great job onboarding new employees.

“When you receive feedback, act on it,” Arigbe says. “When employees see that you apply their feedback,” she continues, “they will feel more confident in sharing constructive feedback that can improve your onboarding process.”

When done correctly, onboarding makes the transition and training process smoother for everyone.

“Many managers are working managers, so they don’t have a lot of extra time to take on all of the responsibilities of onboarding,” Ritchie says. 

By creating a formal onboarding program that does the heavy lifting, HR professionals can free up managers to focus on building rapport and integrating the new employee into the team.

“When we provide a high-quality onboarding program that prepares a new hire for their job, we’re helping not just the new employee, but the manager and the overall organization,” Ritchie says.  

Kate Rockwood is a freelance writer in the Chicago area. 

Tips for Virtual Onboarding

In a post-coronavirus world, virtual onboarding will be a reality for many more companies, if it isn’t already. But that doesn’t have to be a negative. 

“Using technology during onboarding is efficient for both the company and the new hire,” says LaTonia Dean-Brown, senior manager of people and organization at QVC. “It also reduces the amount of errors that could result from a paper-only process.”

Here are six steps to help bring your onboarding process online:

1. Keep the process human. Introductions are more effective face to face. Use video meetings to introduce new hires to their teams, managers and other key company players, suggests Debra Swersky, founder and principal of brand consultancy LBD Producers in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. “Getting the new hire acclimated to individuals and the way that they work is not just about an e-mail introduction. Video calls are certainly important, too.”

2. Use snail mail. If you normally give new hires company swag (a branded T-shirt, mug, office supplies), consider sending a gift box to new remote employees. This gesture can go a long way toward making new hires feel like a part of the team.

3. Streamline paperwork. “We have moved all pre-employment tasks and new-hire paperwork to our human resources information system,” says Dean-Brown of her onboarding program’s adjustment to the COVID-19 pandemic. By allowing employees to complete paperwork online, you can keep all employee information in one central location and reduce the likelihood that data entry errors will be made.

4. Don’t skip out on culture. Just because new employees are working remotely doesn’t mean they can’t be integrated into the company culture. Swersky suggests setting up a time for new team members to chat outside of work-related meetings. “Think of things like virtual happy hours,” she says. 

5. Stay in touch. Don’t let new remote employees fall into the out-of-sight, out-of-mind category. Make sure managers know to check in on their new team members frequently, through whatever communication method is most efficient, whether by instant message, e-mail, phone call or video call, Swersky says.

6. Reacclimate in person. Many employees who were onboarded virtually will eventually need to begin work in an office. When that day comes, take a moment to reacclimate all recent hires to the organization and office environment, Swersky says.  —K.R.


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