Recruiting’s Smooth Landing: Employee Onboarding

January 27, 2023

Why recruiters should invest in onboarding new employees

When we think about recruiting, we tend to think about identifying candidates, moving them through the interview process, and presenting an offer to the successful candidate, at which point the job is over. But is it?

A journey by aeroplane isn’t complete without a smooth landing, and the taxi to the gate. Like a plane coming in for a landing, employee onboarding is where the work of recruiting really ends. A great hr onboarding experience improves both employee performance, and retention. It also has a direct impact on recruitment. HR onboarding is part of the employee experience, and therefore part of the employer brand. As a recruiter, the employer brand is critical to your success. That’s why it pays for recruiters to invest in onboarding new employees - the smooth landing.

Why is employee onboarding so important?

According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), employee onboarding has three primary purposes. 

The first, Acclimation, is about how the employee first begins to get settled in their new workplace. They begin to learn the basics of their job, of course. But it’s more than just their duties. They also learn the language unique to the company and the office traditions, and they connect with the people around them. It’s a start to becoming part of the culture. 

Acclimation sets the employee up for the next objective: Engagement. Truly engaged employees are those that are intellectually and emotionally connected to the work they’re doing, and to their workplace. Engagement also unlocks discretionary effort - that tendency to go just a bit above and beyond. It’s measurable, too; Gallup studies have shown that workplaces with a high level of engagement report 21% greater productivity, and higher customer satisfaction ratings as well.

Successful Acclimation and Engagement lead to the final outcome of onboarding new employees well: Retention. As the saying goes, you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. An employee’s first impression of the company they work for is a critical deciding factor in their decision to stay or leave, and that decision is made early. Some studies have shown that almost ⅓ of people have quit at least one job in their first six months, nearly 70% of those in half the time. One in ten employees said that their decision to leave a job was specifically because of a poor new-employee experience.

Given the sometimes-staggering cost of a bad hire, it makes a lot of sense to focus your time and effort on candidates who will be high performing employees in the long term with your company. Just one reason, of course, why the use of background screening software during the hiring process is a wise investment. Getting to know your candidate helps to ensure you’re hiring the right person who’s in it for the long haul.

There’s a payoff to getting it right. Companies who excel at onboarding new employees show retention rates that are 82% higher, and productivity increases over 70%. Better retention equals more productivity, and allows recruiters to focus on expanding the talent in the organisation … rather than replacing people who are opting out early.

The key? An employee onboarding process that works.

Depending on the nature of your business, each of the three objectives outlined by SHRM may have different aspects. Employee onboarding might encompass elements including technical and soft skill development, product and services training, technology and systems used in the business, and of course any compliance training that’s required in the field. Creating a new employee checklist can help make sure all the pieces fall into place. To make sense of the various elements that are right for your business, and to structure them well, let’s think of employee onboarding in three stages, mirroring the end of a journey by aeroplane. Approach, landing, and arrival.

Employee onboarding: Approach 

Employee onboarding doesn’t have to wait until the first day of employment. In fact, it shouldn’t. A new employee's ‘initial approach’ (like a plane beginning its descent) begins the moment an offer is accepted and signed. The days or weeks between that moment and their first day is a golden opportunity to get things off on the right foot.

A solid communication strategy for this period should ensure that the employee has any critical information they’ll need before they start. HR onboarding - employee handbooks, policy guides, and any required paperwork they should fill out - is a good start. (And of course, if you haven’t already conducted a complete background and reference check, this is a perfect time to put background screening software to work.)

It doesn’t have to be all business, though. Remember that at the heart of every employee onboarding process is a human being, with the same concerns and insecurities as the rest of us. Take the opportunity to allay some of those fears by letting them know what to expect on day one. Where and when to arrive. What you’ve got lined up for them to do. Introductions to a few of the people they’ll meet. Knowing what to expect will make your new employee feel comfortable and confident when they arrive, setting them up for a great experience.

Pro Tip

If you want to take this stage of onboarding new employees to the next level, make them feel like part of the team even before they’ve begun work. In your communication with them prior to their arrival, ask them a few things about themselves so you can introduce them to their new colleagues in a personalised way. Do they have any pets, or hobbies they enjoy? What’s the most interesting place they’ve visited? Nuggets like this can smooth the way for small talk with people they meet early on. Oh, and if your company has ‘swag’ - shirts or jackets, for example - send them along with a welcome package to arrive at their door before they arrive at yours.

Employee onboarding: Landing

This stage of employee onboarding new employees relates to their first days with your company. Especially the very first day. This takes planning and preparation. 

Firstly, and most importantly, be ready for them! Sad as it is to say, some employees still show up to work on their first day only to find that a workspace hasn’t been set aside for them, or a computer isn’t ready, or their logins haven’t been set up. All of this leaves a very bad taste in the mouth of a person who was excited for a new start. Don’t make that mistake. Whatever your employee needs to do their job - space, tools, tech - should be ready and waiting for them. To make sure that nothing is overlooked, create and use a new employee checklist.

There should also be a schedule and plan for their first day, possibly the first two or three, depending on the nature of the job. Are there components of HR onboarding - maybe a run-through of the benefits plan - yet to do? Set it up. Are there training modules the employee needs to complete? Schedule time for that. A tour of the workplace? Get the tour guide prepped and ready with a plan. People that they should meet? Put those into the calendar, and make sure those people are ready to welcome the new employee enthusiastically.

Pro Tip

There are a few things you can do to make sure your new employee’s landing is silky smooth. If you learned things uniquely about them during their ‘approach’ - their favourite treat, maybe? - a personalised welcome package waiting for them in their workspace is a lovely touch. If there’s a lot of information they’ll need to absorb, present the information in different ways to mix things up. Nobody wants to sit and memorise the contents of a 387-page binder on their first day. Instead, set them up with a browser-based course, a walk-around with a tour guide, a few things printed out, maybe a video or two to watch. And if your company’s workforce allows, get more than one person involved in their hr onboarding. Multiple teams, and people at different levels of the organisation, can all have a part to play.

Employee onboarding: Arrival

For this stage of employee onboarding, think about the employee’s first few weeks with your organisation. Remember that onboarding new employees is an ongoing process, not an event. During this period, the goals should centre around continued learning about the job, and becoming part of the social fabric of the company. For the job-related elements, make sure that the employee has consistent, ongoing support. Unless the job is fundamentally routine and basic (and really, what job is?), nobody can be expected to learn and perfect their performance in a set of duties immediately. Allow time for ramp-up, anticipate a learning curve, and make it clear that someone’s there for them if they have questions or need support.

Integrating the employee into the culture is equally important. Throughout their first few weeks, schedule regular check-ins with their manager, colleagues, and any other staff they’ll be working with. Relationships are critical in business, and this is the time to start building strong ones.

Pro Tip

To really solidify the employee’s arrival, there are a few things you can do to help with both the job-related functional aspects of onboarding new employees, as well as the social. On the former, create accountability - for both the employee and the person responsible for hr onboarding - through metrics. Concrete expectations for their first day, first week, second week, and so on. If you really want to get creative, some suggest that gamification can work well here, inviting the employee to ‘level up’ when they’ve reached milestones successfully. As far as social integration is concerned, consider whether the buddy system is right for your organisation. Linking the new employee up with a mentor - preferably a peer, someone that can relate to them at their level - is an ideal choice, provided they’re a positive role model.

Prepare for landing

Improving the process of onboarding new employees is challenging enough; putting a process in place where there hasn’t been one can seem like an overwhelming task. There are a few things you can do to help take some of the weight off your shoulders. First, automate what you can. There’s lots of HR tech on the market that can help streamline your process, take repetitive tasks off your list, and make sure that every stage is completed well. Background screening software and online reference checking software are great examples close to our hearts, naturally.

In every stage of employee onboarding, keep the human at the centre. The hr onboarding process is there to support the candidates, the employees, and the hiring managers. To make things better for the people involved, not the other way around. Get the process right, but keep it fun and interesting, too.

Finally, remember that no process is perfect right out of the gate. Start with what you’ve got. Then, get feedback and act on it. Ask recently-onboarded employees about their experience - what worked well, and what could be improved. Iterate as you go, tweaking where it’s needed to make your process even better.

A great hr onboarding process is key to making a great first impression with your new employees. Onboarding new employees well leads to better engagement, higher levels of performance, and greater retention. Meaning recruiters can focus on sourcing and attracting the next top talent to your organisation, and isn’t that what we all want?