How to Create a Welcoming Onboarding Experience

Anna Williams
June 20, 2019

When you’re at the helm of a growing company, making smart hires at a rapid pace often seems like priority number one. But while finding the right people for your team is paramount, successful hiring doesn’t end after your candidate turns in their signed offer letter. Just as critical is your new hire’s onboarding experience—both for employee happiness, and your company’s bottom line.

"Studies have shown onboarding to directly correlate with employee retention, satisfaction, and engagement,” explains Joe Campagna, a human resources consultant. “A company that puts a lot of effort into helping employees get acclimated is a company that recognizes the competitive advantage of employee engagement.”

Case in point: Organizations that implement a strong onboarding experience can see employee productivity grow by more than 70 percent, and improve employee retention by 83 percent, according to a 2015 Brandon Hall Group study.

So how do you design an effective onboarding experience that gives your new employees a stellar first impression, seamlessly integrates them into the team, and helps them hit the ground running? Employ these expert-approved strategies:

1. Communicate early and often

Often, new hires experience radio silence in the limbo between when they accept their offer and when they start, leaving them feeling unassured and disconnected before day one. Instead, one to two weeks before your new team member starts, have their direct manager send a personal email reiterating their excitement in the hire and conveying that they’re on hand to answer any remaining questions.

To help calm first-day nerves, you might also send along helpful hints about seemingly simple housekeeping details that might weigh on a new hire’s mind—like dress code, the best public transit to take to the office, or to let them know they’ll be going out to lunch with the team on day one. Further, send over any employee handbooks, policies or company mission statements for new hires to absorb in advance, so they already start to feel invested in the company before they walk in the door.

2. Incorporate small, welcoming details

Personal touches can go a long way in making a newcomer feel at home. Add a cheerful “Welcome to the team!” banner, balloons, or a pennant with their name on it to brighten up your employee’s desk. Not only will it make their space already feel personalized, but established employees will be cued into the new hire and encouraged to introduce themselves.

Extra points for amping up the creativity: Christy Hopkins, a human resources consultant, suggests having an in-house graphic designer whip up custom name signs based on the new hire’s hobbies or interests—like a favorite TV show or the skyline of their hometown—to serve as an easy conversation starter. And don’t forget the value of a simple welcome gift in helping a new hire feel appreciated, whether it’s a zip-up hoodie that sports the company logo (for AC-chilled days in the office), a bag of snacks from a local bakery, or a small gift card to everyone’s go-to coffee shop.

3. Don’t overlook the impact of administrative basics

First-day swag is fun, but it won’t go far if the onboarding experience is missing the essentials. After all, nothing feels more deflating than showing up on your first day only to be stymied by email login snafus, a computer that’s missing critical software, or a desk without basic supplies. (Or even worse—a workspace that’s still littered with the flotsam of long-gone employees.) As you hire more and more employees, create a standard checklist of the key first-day admin items that are integral to a smooth first day, from office supplies to IT setup tasks, like sharing Google Docs or adding them to Slack.

Finally, plan for a short orientation to go over all key HR paperwork, organizational charts, and benefit info in person within the first few days, so employees aren’t left wondering when their dental care kicks in or feel they have to page through the fine print on their own. It may not be the sexiest part of the onboarding process, but having all your administrative ducks in a row shows your employees that your company is an organized, well-oiled machine that’s prepared for their arrival.

4. Encourage team bonding with strategic programs

Hiring an employee isn’t just growing your workforce, it’s adding a new personality to a team—and a well thought-out onboarding experience is key to helping your hire feel part of the community from the start. Besides hosting a welcome lunch on day one, shoot a group email to the entire team announcing the new employee—including details like where they’ll be sitting, what major projects they’ll be working on, or a few fun facts—and encourage seasoned employees to follow up with their own welcomes.

Even better, physically take new hires around to as many desks as possible. They won’t remember everyone’s names, but they’ll get familiar with faces and other employees will be more likely to engage with them around the office. Of course, a hectic first day shouldn’t be the only chance a new hire has to network with other team members. Hopkins recommends hosting a monthly happy hour in honor of all new employees. “Think outside the box and consider card games, board games, or other ice-breakers so that people are encouraged to bond at a higher level,” she says. Further, consider launching a buddy system with formalized monthly meet-ups or lunches out. “Choose company veterans and superstars to be a part of a formal group of mentors, and provide them training for the task,” Campagna says. “This kind of program shows the most success in retention and engagement of new hires.”

5. Make onboarding an ongoing process

While the majority of a new hire’s orientation will take place during the first few weeks, onboarding doesn’t end there. To ensure employees continue to integrate into the company and thrive as they take on more and more responsibility, have direct managers host one-on-one check-ins with their reports on a weekly basis. At the first meeting, clearly communicate expectations for the role, and help the new hire set goals for their first year.

On the HR end of things, a team member should schedule check-ins 30, 60, and 90 days after the employee’s start date. This time should be used for going over both challenges and areas of success, discussing resources or additional training that might be valuable, and identifying opportunities for further growth.

Finally, be open to feedback: After your employee has officially settled in, solicit feedback about their experience and how you might amp up the program for any future hires. The onboarding process plays a big role in both your employees' happiness and your company's overall success–so paying attention to the details of the first days in the office will profit everyone down the line.

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