Employee Engagement

The Beginners Guide to Employee Onboarding

February 17, 2021


Connor Ward

Onboarding is something businesses do badly, if at all.

You go to all the effort to hire someone, paying for the ads and sitting through the interviews. And then you completely forget about them. It just doesn’t make sense.

That’s why almost a quarter of us leave within a year. Yep, you heard that right: 23% of employees churn within the first year. Which means you’ll have to go through that recruitment process, all over again.

That’s why we put together this guide. Whether you’re managing your first team or a founder who's been around the block, chances are you’ve got some room for improvement when it comes to onboarding.

I’ll be walking you through:

  • Running an onboarding program from start to finish
  • Case studies and examples of companies who get it right
  • Twine’s onboarding philosophy

But let’s start with the basics.

What is employee onboarding?

Onboarding is how you integrate someone into your company.

This takes many different forms. The onboarding process at your corporate could be a rigid “orientation” week. While at your startup, it can be a week free of work and full of coffee.

You may have noticed I put the word “orientation” in quotation marks up there. In the world of HR and employee engagement, there are a few phrases like that. We’re not going to spend too much time on these, as we don’t think all organisations need to worry about “organisational socialisation” or “stakeholder alignment”.

Instead, the activities and tactics outlined below can be used by anyone.

Why bother?

Before we dive in, let’s talk about why we need to get serious about onboarding. Right now, 51% of us are thinking about a new job. And when we do leave, it’ll cost our employer between 100% - 300% of our salaries. Ouch.

It’s not like we don’t know how to fix it. 67% of employers believe retention would be higher if candidates had a better idea of what working at the company was like. But we’re not doing anything about it.

In fact, only 12% of us think our employer does a good job of onboarding of us. Twelve. Per-cent. That’s it. No wonder half of us are planning to leave.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Below, I’ll walk you through how to lead a new hire from their first day up through to their first annual review.

How to run your employee onboarding program

1. Before the first day

Talk to them

Before they start, call them up. It’s good to let them know you’re excited about their arrival. But, more importantly, you’ll need to nail down when they’re starting.

Try not to make it a Monday, these are the worst days for someone to start. And don’t even think about starting first thing on a Monday. This is for a few reasons. First, it’s not uncommon for people to moan about returning to work after the weekend (not a great introduction). Second, it’s the day of the week everyone is least organised for.

Instead, make it a mid-week start.

It’s a good idea to give break between their old role and this one. Remember those stats from earlier: 51% are thinking about a new job. Your new hire could be one of those, itching to escape a stressful job. Give them few days to relax so they can start afresh with you.

Once you’ve settled on the start date, let them know what will happen on their first day (we’ll cover what will actually happen later).

Set them up

Don’t forget the boring bits.

Make sure you have all the tech set up before they start. We want a smooth operation. This will include setting up an email, their Slack account and more. It’s a good idea to hand over these, or at least their email, before they start.

If you’re using Trello, Milanote or Google Tasks, it’ll be a good idea to set them up a to-do list of what to do on their first day or accomplish at the end of their first week. We’ll cover what these should be in the “First Week” section below.

Send an official welcome

After you’ve settled on the start date, it’s time for the official welcome. This will involve sending over an official email with any official documents they might need (like an employee handbook).

Here’s the welcome email I received:

It did the job but, since then, we’ve improved things. Below, I’ll show you exactly what we’ve done.

Case Study: Twine’s Welcome Centre

Before newbies start, we send them a link over to our welcome site. It’s a static site that shows off what we’re all about. We’d like to think we’re not like other companies, and we wanted our onboarding to reflect that: it’s got some funny illustrations we did of each other and a map of our favourite local haunts.

For the more serious stuff, there are links that go off somewhere else. Yep, you guessed it: they send you off to our Twine intranet. We usually grant them access to their email and invite to Twine shortly before their start date. Everything they need to know about when they get paid and how their pension works can be found in the knowledge base.

2. The first week

Walk them into the office

Walking into work for the first time isn’t easy, but there are a few things you can do about that. Meeting them outside of the office is a good idea. When I started at Twine, I already knew the people I’d be working with. They’d invited me along to one of their company socials. You can’t roll out the champagne for every newbie, but you’re bound to have a coffee place nearby where you can break the ice.

Twine’s Onboarding Philosophy

At Twine, by the end of the first week, we want our employees to:

  • Know how much we value teamwork. We don’t want to be one of those companies with lots of siloed teams jostling with each other. That’s why we introduce new employees to managers from each department. We also make a point of booking in time with remote workers too.
  • Know how they’re expected to communicate with others. This is harder than it sounds. There’s a big difference between how a corporate and a startup work, and if you’ve only known the one you’re whole career, it can be difficult to adjust.
  • Know when they’re supposed to stop working. In some jobs, you’ve got to stay late to meet deadlines. In others, you’re booted out of the building at 6 pm. Your new hire should know what’s expected of them, and what’s not. This really important if you have remote workers, as these guys have a tendency to lose a sense of work/life balance than those in the office.

Case Study – Your First Week at Twine

Everyone who joins Twine, regardless of what team they join, will have to at least complete the following activities for each day (their own team will fill in the rest).

3. Beyond the first week

Setting the probation period up for success

After the first week, you should work with your new hire to establish what you both expect to get from the probationary period. That’s a list for you and a list for them. Quite often, probationary reviews are one-sided: it’s all about what the employee is giving to the company, not the over way around.

Checking in

You’ve got to regularly check in to make sure they’re still onboard. And this can be solved by a cup of coffee (or hot beverage of your choice). There are tons of apps that organise this for you, the most well known being the Donut plugin for Slack.

These aren’t just for assuaging any buyer’s remorse. It typically takes eight months for a newly hired employee to reach full productivity. Think of these weekly check-ins are a chance for experienced staff from to chip in and get them up to speed faster.

Measuring success

Onboarding is hard to measure. Sure, you can whip up a spreadsheet with your retention rates or productivity. But without a huge amount of new hires, you won’t have the numbers for a proper analysis.

Yes, I’ve included a lot of data in this article about onboarding. But those are the results of surveys across lots of organisations in lots of industries. It’s not a good idea to benchmark yourself against these.

So, how do we know we’re doing the right thing? (or, in other words, how do I justify spending so much time on this?)

Well, you could start by talking to people. Appraisal forms, exit surveys, and even your Glassdoor page will tell you what you’re doing wrong. But when the feedback is good, it’s not obvious where you could improve. Take things like culture and employee happiness. They really benefit from well thought out onboarding but you can’t sit down and measure these.

Here’s what we think you should do: get feedback constantly from new hires – after the first day, week, month, appraisal up until their probation. Even better, get new hires to make changes to your onboarding program. No one will know it better than the people going through it. Remember the Welcome Centre case study from earlier? That project was led and built by people who had only been here a couple of months – and they did a damn good job.

Getting started

That’s the basics covered. Well, it probably doesn’t seem too basic. But it’s how we do our thing, and we’re pretty happy with it.

Obviously, we haven’t spent too much time talking about who is doing all this work. We’ll leave that to you. We’ve worked with countless customers to help them with their employee engagement, and our main contact could be anyone, with any background: HR, marketing, whoever.

But they all have one thing in common: the tools they use. Yes, I’m talking about Twine. It’s the tool that binds the onboarding experience together. Knowledge is where employee handbooks live. People is where new starters meet the wider business. And News is where you tell your company's story.

Check out this short overview to see what it can do and then take a 30 day free trial for a spin.

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