At a glance
By Beth Wallace
The first few days, weeks and months at a new job are critical, both for the organisation and the new employee. This is the time to establish expectations, understand the company’s vision and values, and develop relationships.
Yet, a recent global culture report by US employee recognition solutions firm O.C. Tanner has found that only 43 per cent of surveyed employees report having an onboarding experience that consisted of more than a one‑day office orientation and a “laundry list” of workplace benefits.
Susan Drew, senior regional director with recruitment firm Hays, says a comprehensive and continuous onboarding process is crucial, because it can directly affect the new employee’s performance potential.
“When compared to a short orientation, it helps a new employee become productive far more quickly,” she says.
“It helps them feel welcome, valued and engaged in their work, ensures they learn the skills, knowledge and behaviours they need to do their job well, and facilitates relationship building and regular feedback to improve performance.
“It ensures new hires are well‑prepared, well‑supported and well‑integrated into your team and organisation.”
Guide to success
The first element – communication – should begin before the employee starts their new role, through a welcome email, onboarding agenda and team introductions. Then, throughout the first week on the job, communication should be frequent, with regular check‑ins, feedback and coaching to help new starters learn and adapt.
“During the first month, keep communication ongoing and supportive to help your new employee grow and develop,” Drew adds.
Even at this early stage, managers can set the scene for career development by establishing clear and realistic goals, so employees understand their role and performance expectations.
“Set short‑ and long‑term goals for their career growth,” she suggests.
Compliance, customs and connections
At accounting firm Pitcher Partners, onboarding compliance is managed through the company’s applicant tracking system (ATS).
Once a candidate has accepted an offer and signed a contract, they can submit required documents through a dedicated onboarding portal.
“Aside from it being a user‑friendly way to onboard, it’s also more secure than sending documents via email,” says Rachel Sands‑Hall, talent acquisition manager at Pitcher Partners.
From a customs and culture perspective, Sands‑Hall says the “buddy” system at Pitcher Partners ensures new hires have a dedicated person they can approach to ask questions or raise issues. It is also this go‑to person who introduces them to – and drives integration with – the wider team.
In addition, a weekly induction session and monthly morning tea can encourage new joiners to learn more about the company and meet peers in an informal setting.
Sands‑Hall says it is the new hire’s direct manager who is responsible for coordinating training and development, initiating connections with relevant stakeholders, and explaining where they fit into the company’s overarching mission.
Given that so many people are involved in the onboarding process, it is important to define everyone’s roles and responsibilities, Sands-Hall says. “There’s a part to play for lots of different people to make sure the onboarding process is smooth and enjoyable for the new joiner.”
Virtual onboarding: Top tips for engaging new employees
While some companies may prefer new hires to attend onboarding events in person, when this is not feasible, Drew says companies should take steps to make remote workers feel prepared and included.
“You could start by sending a welcome package to the new hire, including a laptop, headset, notebook and any other items to help the new hire feel valued and excited ahead of their first day,” she says. “Include clear instructions on how to set up the hardware and connect on their first day.”
Drew also recommends managers set up video meetings with relevant stakeholders to introduce the new hire and create a personalised onboarding plan, outlining objectives, activities and timelines.
“Book regular video meetings to check in, answer questions and provide feedback,” she adds. “This is essential for remote workers, who may feel isolated or disconnected from colleagues or their manager.”
A range of technology solutions exist to streamline the onboarding process.
In addition to ATS, workflow automation and staff management platforms such as ServiceNow and BambooHR offer tools that enable hiring teams to simplify administrative and compliance tasks.
Standalone onboarding platforms such as Workelo can also be integrated into existing employee management programs. Such solutions can also deliver online training modules and digital onboarding checklists.
Drew adds, “Personalised video welcome messages, social collaboration tools, live webinars and virtual workshops are also solutions an employer could consider adopting. Some organisations are even looking into virtual reality tours.”
Whether online or in person, Sands‑Hall says companies should maintain aspects of the onboarding process, such as providing regular feedback and networking opportunities until the end of the new joiners’ probationary period.
“Things will taper off after two or three months,” she says, “but checking in with them after that time is still important”.