Why employee onboarding matters

Employee onboarding
Are you making the most of your opportunity to make a good first impression?

You’ve arrived at your new job on the first day and you’re fairly nervous. You’re about to meet all the new people in your team and learn about the new environment. You’re even slightly trepidatious about the new role, because it’s a little different to your previous one. You get to the new office at about 8:30am. Admittedly, nobody specifically asked you to show up then, but you thought you’d rather be slightly early than turn up late. You head up to reception, but there is nobody there and you don’t really know where to go. You get the mobile number of your contact, but he’s not answering.

You go out to a nearby cafe and get a coffee and wait a little while. At 9:00am you go back up to reception to see if anybody is around. This time you greet the receptionist who tries to call your contact for you. No luck. By coincidence, somebody comes out of the lift on an unrelated matter, to speak to the receptionist. She asks him to show you around because he happens to be from your company. He does so, and finally you have met somebody who you are going to be working with who introduces you to others. It’s obvious he didn’t realise you were starting today. At around 10am, your contact finally shows up to greet you.

The story above was my experience of joining an organisation. Not only was the employee onboarding process non-existent, nobody really knew I was turning up or what to do.

I’m not too sensitive with this type of thing, so it wasn’t enough to send me running from the office, but it was definitely an awkward process to go through on my first day.

Why employee onboarding matters

Employee onboarding is generally the first real interaction that somebody will have with your team and your organisation. First impressions matter. From my experience above, these were my first impressions:

  • There is no process for employee onboarding
  • People don’t even know or care that I am starting today; and
  • The workplace seems disorganised.

Most people find starting a new job stressful and daunting. As such, this is a time where you should put your best foot forward as a leader in your team or organisation. Otherwise the first impressions can be magnified by the stress of the situation, resulting in a very uncomfortable first day for everybody.

I met somebody at this same organisation who had an even worse experience. He had travelled internationally on a work visa to be employed at this company. When he arrived at the office, he found that nobody was there, so he began to worry that the organisation didn’t even exist, which would invalidate his visa and send him back home! Luckily this wasn’t the case – the organisation had simply moved offices across town without telling him about it. Not a great start.

Why you need an employee onboarding process

Employee onboarding processes are beneficial for several reasons. Clearly, they take the guesswork out of the equation so people understand how they should onboard a new starter.

Employee onboarding processes set standards so that people don’t need to make up their own steps as they go along. This improves the consistency of onboarding such that most new starters have a similar experience.

You will never completely eliminate the human factor from employee onboarding, so the experience will never be identical for everyone. For example, some employees know the people in their organisation better than others, so they may give a more comprehensive introduction of the office because they know exactly who is who.

Other employees understand the history of the company and your team, so they may be able to talk about how the organisation started or discuss other points of interest. The process will never be identical from person to person, but you can get it close enough such that new starters have a similar experience.

Employee onboarding is not just the responsibility of Human Resources (HR)

As a leader, it is easy to become complacent with employee onboarding. Often leaders will rely on HR teams to run the onboarding process, putting little additional thought into it.

However, it is such an important first touchpoint with an employee that it should not be taken lightly.

As a leader, you should take control of employee onboarding for your team

At a minimum, you should be thinking about the following when you get a new starter in your team:

  • Send an email, or speak to your new starter before they commence. Tell your new starter how to get to your location, when to arrive and who to talk to…before they start. This makes the process a whole lot more relaxing for a new person.
  • Ensure the new starter’s equipment and desk is allocated and available. There is nothing quite as bad on your first day learning that you don’t have a desk or equipment to use. This makes a new employee feel like an afterthought – like they weren’t worth being prepared for. Make sure the equipment and location they need to do their job is ready for the day.
  • Tell people in your team that a new person is starting. It helps if everyone in your team knows that there will be a new starter commencing on a given day. That way if something unexpected happens, they will be able to take over the onboarding for you if necessary.
  • Introduce the new starter to everyone in your team, people in the surrounding area and people in other teams that they will interact with. Some people introduce new starters only to their team mates (and some don’t introduce them to anybody!) However, you should introduce new starters to everyone in their surrounding area and the teams they will interact with, because they are likely to come into contact with these people often. The faster everybody knows who is who, the less awkward and more welcoming it is for everybody. Some people are naturally talkative and will help ease the onboarding process, but others like a formal introduction to get them started.
  • Show the new starter the facilities. Is there a lunch room, shower or company gym? Make sure your new starter knows about them and about how to activate alarms or other security mechanisms. Don’t leave it up to the new starter to find out this information themselves, make it easy for them.
  • Have lunch with your new starter on the first day. Don’t leave your new starter to fend for themselves, offer to take them to lunch. Invite a few others in your team to attend too, to make it a little more social. Paying for lunch is also a nice touch. It doesn’t need to be a three course meal at a fancy restaurant, a sandwich will do. If you aren’t able to have lunch with your new starter, organise in advance for a colleague to do it instead.
  • Have a few structured sessions to teach the new starter about their new job. I know, it is tempting to say “read the documents on the intranet” to learn about how things work, but that is exceedingly boring. Hold a few meetings with your new starter to talk through how your team works and what they will need to do. It breaks up the monotony of reading documentation for hours upon end.
  • Give your new starter time to acclimatise. It can be good to let your new starter ease into their role. Some leaders like to throw people in the “deep end” but for me, this is an excuse for sloppy onboarding. A mixture of real work early on, combined with proper induction activities is important to make a new starter feel comfortable. Too many induction or learning activities will be boring, while throwing a new starter straight into the work with no proper induction may be stressful. Find a happy medium where they can ease into the work.

Click here to download the employee onboarding checklist for your next new starter.

There you have it. It isn’t rocket science, but as with many aspects of leadership, it just takes some preparation and forethought to give your new starter a reasonable experience on their first day. Not only does it make you and your team seem organised and prepared, it also makes the new starter feel welcome and comfortable.

The employee onboarding process is a new starter’s first touchpoint with your team and organisation. Make it count by preparing for it. You don’t need to go over the top. Just make sure you’ve made the effort to welcome them, to get off to the right start.

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