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How Successful Onboarding Kickstarts Employee Engagement & Retention

Recruiting Tips
Changing Tech
Friday, Jul 31, 2020
New hire being onboarded from home on laptop

Don’t let onboarding ruin new hires’ impression of your company

The final days of a candidate’s experience can feel like a sugar high. There’s the tug of war of negotiating offer letter terms, messages of welcome and congratulations, and the excitement of finally saying yes. 

Then comes the cliff: your new hire’s start date is several weeks out. It’s radio silence. Your new hire is excited to get started, but not sure what to do in the meantime. Days go by. The thrill of starting a new adventure quickly turns to uncertainty. 

In the absence of communication, your new hire starts to wonder if they made the right choice— “Am I really going through with this?” 

They’re not sure what to wear for their first day. 

Where do I park? 

Should I bring my own lunch?

Experiences like this one are common. We’ve likely all felt this way at some point. Collectively, we’ve come to accept that’s just the way it is. But should we?

Thoughtful onboarding equals happy, productive new hires

When onboarding goes off the rails it’s usually for one of two reasons: 

1. Communication prior to a new hire’s first day is poor or non-existent

2. Onboarding is reduced to a series of administrative tasks

Poor onboarding erases the positive experiences someone had with your company up until that point. So much so, that one in three new hires look for new employment within their first six months on the job. 

Here are some more stats:

  • Nearly 70% of employees are more likely to stay with a company for 3+ years if their onboarding experience was great [TalentWise].
  • More than ½ of all organizations with a formal onboarding process get more productivity out of their new hires and have greater retention [Aberdeen Group].
  • Effective onboarding leads to higher employee engagement, and businesses with high levels of engagement are 21% more productive and 22% more profitable than less engaged businesses [Brandon Hall].
  • New employees are more productive in their first few weeks of work when digital onboarding is used in the hiring stage [Talent Board].

Onboarding vs. Preboarding: What’s the difference?

You may not have heard of “preboarding” before. Here’s why it’s important: 40% of employees say they’ve experienced a lack of communication between the time they accepted a job and their first day of work.

That’s a problem. It’s also an opportunity. 

Employers spend a lot of time and energy on their candidate experiences. Why? Because they understand happy candidates boost their brand’s reputation and turn into productive, engaged employees. 

Then comes onboarding, right?

Well, sort of.

Most people would say “onboarding” or “new hire orientation” does come next. And they’re half right. Onboarding starts on a new hire’s first day and continues for 30, 60, sometimes 90 days. But this doesn’t account for the two, three weeks – sometimes months – between the time your candidate accepts your job and their first day. That’s preboarding.

Employers that focus on that preboard stage that comes in between the offer acceptance and day one set new hires up for success – and retain them longer.

How to preboard new talent

1. Focus preboarding on your organization’s culture, brand, and values. Your new hires spent a lot of time talking to your recruiters about what it’s like to work for your company. Preboarding is the time to reassure them that they made the right choice. Show them what approach and values will help them get ahead and contribute to your company.

2. Set new hires up with a mobile-optimized preboarding portal. Make it easy for new hires to learn more about your organization and quickly find answers to commonly asked questions. Include information on your company, their new team and role, products and services, benefits, upcoming events, and first day logistics, such as what to bring and where to park.

3. Include recruiters and hiring managers in the preboarding experience. Being a new hire is lonely – in fact, up to 40% of adults report feeling lonely at work. Friendly faces should make an appearance throughout the onboarding experience. In fact, high-performing organizations are more likely to involve hiring managers in the onboarding process.

Streamline preboarding with automation

Getting ready for a single new hire takes a village. HR, Finance, IT, hiring managers, and individual teams all work in concert to make sure tasks get assigned and accomplished before new hires arrive. With so many touchpoints, it’s no wonder that new hire logistics take time and are prone to error. The worst thing you can say on a new hire’s first day is, “oops, we forgot.”

That’s the beauty of automation. It takes care of repetitive tasks and handles the communication between teams. Everything – laptops, onboarding packets, paperwork, training resources, etc. – is set up and ready for new hires on their first day. There is no last minute, day-of scramble. New hires have everything they need to hit the ground running.

Automation benefits employers

Here’s how:

  • Get new hires up to speed faster: Tailoring the new hire experience to the employee’s job, department, location, etc. helps new hires acclimate to your corporate culture and procedures early.
  • Reduce manual, redundant tasks: Automation streamlines processes and helps your team increase productivity and eliminate oversights. Reporting and metrics give HR a direct view into tasks that require completion and bridge the gap between departments involved in the onboarding process.
  • Ramp up productivity: New employees are able to hit the ground running on day one with early exposure to important information and the opportunity to complete paperwork online.
  • Retain new hires longer: Task management tools help to ensure new hires are equipped with the tools needed to succeed. Provide a window into your culture, assuring new hires feel they are a part of the larger organization.

Use real-time analytics to improve onboarding

Centralized reporting is the key to optimizing your onboarding program. Data is poor when it sits isolated in pockets around the business. It’s strong when it follows new hires throughout the employee lifecycle – from the time they’re candidates through their departure.

1. Time to productivity. When employees come up to speed quickly, it’s an indication they’re completing relevant training in a timely manner. If in six months your new hires seem almost as lost as they were in their first few weeks, chances are there are gaps in your onboarding process.

2. New hire retention rate. More than half of employees who leave their job do so within the first 12 months [Equifax]. If new employees don’t stick around long, chances are they’re not making connections or finding meaning in their work. In addition to training, one of the goals of effective onboarding programs is to make candidates feel like they’re a part of the organization.

3. New hire error rate. New employees are always going to make mistakes. Keeping a pulse on the frequency of errors and how often the same mistakes are repeated tells you where to focus on talent development.

4. New hire referrals. Happy employees refer people in their networks. Referrals from new hires are an indication these employees are bought into your company culture and see long-term potential with your organization.

Preboarding + onboarding sets new hires up for success

Your recruiters created a winning candidate experience. That shouldn’t end when the offer letter is signed. A quick hand-off from talent to HR is a missed opportunity. Here’s what to remember:

Set candidates up for success before their first day with a strong preboarding program.

  • Preliminary training, paperwork, introductions, and familiarization with your culture and values can all be done prior to your new hire’s start date.
  • Continue building on the trust and rapport between your recruiters and job seekers. Preboarding smooths the transition from candidate to employee, increasing productivity early and the likelihood new hires will stay longer.

Recruiting and HR play important roles in onboarding new hires. iCIMS Preboard – used by approximately 2,000 companies, including Benihana, Foot Locker, Fulton Financial, Hard Rock International, LL Bean and Spirit Airlines – seamlessly integrates into onboarding solutions from leading HCM providers, including ADP, Oracle, Ultimate Software and Workday.

Want to learn more? Download our complete New Hire Checklist.