Hiring a new employee can be daunting for everyone involved. Often managers aren’t sure what they should do or put in place to welcome a new hire, especially in smaller firms and start-ups. Employees will feel nervous about making a good impression and learning new things. An effective onboarding programme is crucial for ensuring long-term employee engagement and optimal productivity of both the latest recruit, and the entire company.

Why is onboarding so important?

Get the onboarding process right and you’ll have happy, productive, and loyal employees. In fact, it’s been shown that new employees who attended a well-structured onboarding orientation program were 69 percent more likely to remain at a company up to three years.

Retention is key, but so is keeping employees productive. As many managers will know hiring new employees is expensive and it reportedly takes an average of over six months to "break even" on a new hire. An effective onboarding process can actively reducing that time frame.

So, how do you do it?

Start onboarding early

The first thing to bear in mind is that onboarding doesn’t last a day, or even a week, starting from their first day. It lasts months and it begins as soon as they accept the job offer, which could be long before they step into the workplace.

Stay in regular contact with your new hire before they start work and share regular news and updates from the company. Drop them an email with the bus timetable, invite them to work drinks, or give them access to the company's intranet. This is a great chance to make them feel part of the team, give them enough information to make sure their first day goes smoothly, and get them excited about working with you.

Plan ahead

You should aim to have short, medium, and long-term onboarding goals for your new starter. Think firstly about how you’re going to get them settled into the office and the company. What do they need to know before, when, and after they arrive? Who will be meeting them? Are reception expecting them? Do you have their workspace and equipment ready for them?

In the longer term, once they’re settled, you should have a plan in mind that covers their short and long-term goals, i.e. what are they going to be working on every day? And because the first six months of any new employee's time with a company are critical - this is when 86% of new hires will make their decision to leave or stay - you should think about what will they be working towards over their first six months of employment. Having answers prepared for the following questions will help you create a plan for your new employee:

  • Will then be training for a long period of time?
  • Or are they jumping straight into a project?
  • How much are you expecting them to contribute in the first few weeks and months?
  • What are their performance objectives for the first half of the year?

Make sure to discuss and communicate as much of this as possible to them so they know what 's expected of them and they will appreciate also having a say in the goals they will be working towards. 

Face-to-face interaction is key

Nothing is as demoralising as not knowing anyone in a busy, chatty office. Make sure your new employee meets a number of people face-to-face on their first day, and if possible even before. Make sure someone is keeping them company most of the time during their first day, and encourage other members of the team to say hello or at least smile and wave from their work stations. Personal interactions will go a long way towards shaping their feelings about your company.

Consider allocating your new team member a "buddy" for the first six months of their employment. This person should be a peer of a similar or slightly higher position and they should know their way around the place. This person will feel more approachable than senior management so your new hire can ask their buddy questions or turn to them for assistance when you aren't available.

Avoid overloading your new employees

One major problem with many onboarding programmes is the amount of information loaded onto new employees in a short space of time. Some HR departments appear to see onboarding as an opportunity to cram as much promotional material as possible into one day, and then they assume their job is done and everyone can get back to work. However, endless presentations of the company structure will not engage anyone! Leave this background info in a convenient location - like the company intranet - for browsing at a later stage, and keep their first day really simple and easy-going. Focus primarily on the things your new employee needs to know in order to start doing their job.

If your new employee finishes day one feeling comfortable and excited, you’ve a much better chance of keeping them happy and productive for months and years to come.

About the author

Jake Waller is a wordsmith who plies his trade here at Findmyshift. He uses his background in engineering to simplify complex topics for a variety of tech firms. When not writing for Findmyshift he blogs under a pseudonym at My Name is Skylance and has a passion for creative writing and editing, about which he's always talking on Twitter.