Is your employee onboarding process welcoming new hires or scaring them away?

At most companies, employee onboarding is an administrative hassle rather than a chance to make a great first impression. Here are some ways to make new staff feel welcome and engaged.

Smiling attractive mature businesswoman handshaking businessman at meeting negotiation, happy hr senior executive woman shaking hand welcoming new hire partner, making deal satisfied with good result

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In the ongoing battle to attract and retain talent, many employers and tech leaders consider the battle won once an employee has signed on the digital dotted line, accepting an employment offer after weeks or even months of interviews. However, the overall talent retention journey is far from over once the offer is signed. "One in five new hires will leave within the first six months of starting a new job," said Brent Pearson, the CEO of Enboarder, a "People Activation" platform company.

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Most of us have felt the occasional pangs of loneliness and disconnection in the hybrid work environment. Imagine the trepidation of a new hire once they have signed an employment offer and hear … nothing. According to Pearson, too many employers focus their onboard process on what they need from new employees. There are certainly forms to be completed, information to be attained and documents to be distributed. However, much like carefully selecting an outfit for an initial in-person meeting to make a great first impression, the onboarding process is the employer's chance to make a great first impression with the employee they spent weeks wooing.

The similarities to personal relationships don't end there. Just as an initial interaction sets the stage but does little without follow-up, so too should your onboarding process extend beyond a swag bag and initial conversations. "Onboarding is a journey that takes place before, during and significantly after a new employee's first day on the job," Pearson said.

Think beyond the administrative tasks

Technology has been part of the onboarding process for years, focused primarily on the administrative side of the equation. There's nothing wrong with automating the myriad tasks ranging from setting up logins to distributing laptops. Technology can also be used to foster human connections that can create a positive onboarding experience.

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Most of us are familiar with campaign-based marketing efforts, in which a string of events occurs based on a potential customer's actions, carefully providing bite-sized information as needed rather than deluging customers with pages of information. The same techniques can be applied to onboarding. For example, rather than delivering a novel-sized employee handbook, Pearson advocates timely nudges that provide small bits of information to new employees. Not only do these nudges make information easier to process for the new employee, but they provide a regular connection point for the new employee.

These nudges need not be focused solely on providing information or making the administrative tasks of starting a new job less painful; they can also be used to foster new connections. "Consider the stakeholders a newbie would want to meet and start building relationships with, and use the onboarding process to start creating these connections," Pearson said.

Additionally, onboarding can be personalized to make the new employee feel welcome. Enboarder asks new employees for their favorite song and snack food and incorporates them into their first day on the job.

Onboarding new hires is more than fluff

While companies in highly competitive industries have long understood the power of creating positive employee experiences, to the point that things like video games and extravagant lunches have become a running joke, creating a positive onboarding experience is more than just HR fluff. A 2018 Glassdoor study noted that people who experienced an effective onboarding process were 18 times more likely to feel highly committed to their organization, in stark contrast to employers who have experienced new hires ghosting after signing an agreement or within a few weeks of starting a new job.

Consider asking your most recent hires about their experiences onboarding with your company, recognizing that they may bias toward underreporting any negative aspects of the experience. If you're serious about improving your onboarding process, set up a "burner" free email account and ask that your new alternate identity be put through the onboarding process. See if the process creates excitement and connection, or uncertainty, or radio silence and confusion.

Savvy leaders are quickly realizing that talent acquisition and retention are perhaps their most important responsibilities, not administrative hassles better left to HR. If you find yourself lamenting your inability to retain employees after weeks of interviews, or find your new hires confused and unproductive, it may be time to investigate and improve your onboarding process.

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By Patrick Gray

Patrick Gray works for a leading global professional services firm, where he helps companies rapidly invent and launch new businesses. He is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companio...