Best Practices for Every Stage of Employee Experience: Stage 3, Onboard
The employee experience encompasses all interactions a worker has with an organization, from pre-hire awareness to post-employment. It includes the employee’s feelings and perceptions of their job, their colleagues and the company.
The employee experience breaks down into seven stages, all of which make up the employee journey:
Many companies use employee-journey mapping to better understand employee experience at each stage and drive employee engagement. It's similar to customer-journey mapping, which seeks to improve customer satisfaction, loyalty and more.
This seven-part series explores best practices for each stage of the employee experience. In part one, we uncovered why leaders should prioritize employee experience before someone has become an employee. We also looked at how to make a lasting impression during the hiring process in part two.
Today, our focus is on stage three of the employee journey: onboarding.
Employee Experience Stage 3: Onboarding Employees
Onboarding is the process employers follow to integrate new employees into the organization. It’s a time when companies fulfill promises made during recruitment and hiring, and lay the groundwork for the rest of the employee lifecycle.
The onboarding process starts before the new employee steps through the door (or logs onto the computer), as they communicate with the organization on things like start date, expectations and tech requirements.
Most employee onboarding programs last between 30 and 90 days. However, Gallup’s Creating an Exceptional Onboarding Journey for New Employees report supports a longer timeline, noting it typically takes new hires 12 months to reach their full performance potential.
“Onboarding is a critical time, but it never really ends,” said Josh Bersin, founder and CEO of the Josh Bersin Company, industry analyst and author of “Irresistible: The Seven Secrets of the World’s Most Enduring, Employee-Focused Organizations.”
“New starters, new employees and continuing workers always need new education and training, connections and growth opportunities,” he said.
Many Companies Get Employee Onboarding Wrong
Research points to many missteps within the employee onboarding process. According to Envoy, within the first 90 days of starting a job, nearly one in three new hires will leave.
And Gallup’s report shows that of those employees who stay, only 29% feel they’re fully prepared and supported to succeed in their new role.
When companies can get it right, it goes a long way in terms of employee satisfaction. Employees who’ve had an exceptional onboarding experience are more than 2.5 times more likely to be extremely satisfied with their job and place of work.
Organizations must look at employee onboarding as more than something "to get through." By keeping employee experience at the center of the process, they can meet new employee expectations and keep talented people.
Related Article: Improve Recruitment Processes and Boost Retention With an Employee Experience Journey Map
Employee Experience Stage 3: Best Practices
“An irresistible’ company,” Bersin said, “realizes that its employees are its #1 stakeholders.”
“Not only do employees build and deliver products and services, they are actually the most committed stakeholders of all,” he said. “Customers can switch, investors can sell their stock, but we, as employees, are committed for the long haul.”
Those "irresistible" kinds of companies listen to their employees. They take care of them, offer flexibility and give them opportunities to grow.
Companies need to focus on their employees through every stage of the journey, but due to the high number of new hires jumping ship, the onboarding process might be more critical — or more often overlooked — than others.
To cultivate a positive employee journey through every stage, organizations should look to expert-recommended best practices for the employee onboarding process.
Don’t Overlook Pre-Boarding
Onboarding shouldn't start on the employee’s first day.
Bersin says great onboarding includes “pre-boarding” or pre-join activities. This could mean a walk-through of the company’s tools, a conversation about the company culture or a run-through general administrative tasks.
Clear and regular communication is an important factor during pre-boarding. People generally don’t like uncertainty; it causes stress, anxiety and all sorts of other unpleasant feelings. Leaders have the ability to put future employees at ease by giving them as much information as possible before that first day.
Pre-boarding materials and information you might provide include:
- Expectations regarding work hours, break schedules, clocking in/out procedures, in-office vs. remote work policies, etc.
- Account setup and login information for the company’s digital onboarding platform, where employees can complete necessary paperwork and assessments.
- Invitations to company events before official employment, such as team-building activities, social outings or departmental dinner parties.
By the time a new employee clocks in for the first time, they should have access to all relevant platforms, systems, tools and documentation — along with any equipment they might need.
Go Back to the Buddy System
We all used the buddy system as kids, right? Maybe you were at camp or school and someone in charge paired you with a peer who could show you the ropes.
Laura Putnam, founder and CEO of Motion Infusion and author of “Workplace Wellness That Works,” said a friend of hers worked at a company with all the bells and whistles — yoga classes, beanbag chairs, margarita machine, mindfulness room, you name it. However, she left due to a toxic culture and moved to a smaller company, where she ended up much happier.
“One of the first things that happened when she arrived,” said Putnam, “is she was assigned a buddy, another employee who worked there who looked out for her for the week and made sure that she was introduced to people.”
Bersin also recommends the buddy system, though he says, ideally, the manager should take over the task of buddy or mentor.
The employee’s manager “should work with them for the first year to make sure they’re meeting people, learning and understanding the company,” said Bersin. “It’s more than a 30-minute course on how to claim holidays on the HR platform.”
Related Article: Using AI to Onboard New Recruits May Be a Bad Idea
Allow Enough Time to Learn
Most new employees aren’t ready to go full throttle on the first day. It takes time to integrate into a company and learn the ropes — 12 months, according to Gallup.
Instead of throwing task after task at a new hire, Bersin recommends an approach that mixes work with learning. For the first few weeks, managers should use assignments and activities that keep the new employee engaged with the work, team and company.
“Many managers ignore this and assume that people will figure it out,” he said, “which often leads to underperformance or turnover.”
And remember: a transfer within the company or someone getting promoted still requires onboarding and time to learn. “Think of it as ‘transition management,’” Bersin said.
Related Article: A New Approach to Long-Term Staff Development Is Overdue
Create a Sense of Belonging
Douglas Conant, an American businessman, was brought in to turn around Campbell Soup when it was underperforming. He served as the president and CEO of Cambell Soup Company from 2001 until 2011.
“The first thing he did," Putnam said, "was he recognized that the issue at hand was not a performance issue. It was a culture issue." His strategy to turn it all around? Thank you notes.
“He literally dedicated time in his schedule, every single day, to write thank you notes. It’s estimated that he wrote over 30,000 thank-you notes during his eight-year tenure there,” Putnam said. And now, years later, people at Campbell still have their notes from Conant. “They treasure them.”
These measures, whether in person or virtual, can help a new employee feel like they belong.
Another great way to create belonging during employee onboarding, Putnam said, is with the approach design company IDEO uses. Each new employee gets a questionnaire that, when filled out, goes to the new hire’s team. Below is an example of the types of questions you might ask:
How McDonald’s Drove Productivity Through an Elevated Employee Experience
In the new remote/hybrid workplace, work/life boundaries are blurred and workplace stress is a top driver of mental health needs.
How to Future-Proof Your Employee Experience Strategy in 2023
A framework to navigate through economic uncertainty
Challenges to Efficiency in 2023: Your Employees Need the Digital Workplace of the Future
The era of asking employees to do more with less is upon us
The Essential Role of Communicators in Fostering Wellbeing in the Digital Workplace
Join us for practical insights on how digital communicators can support employees to thrive in the digital workplace
Addressing Employee Needs and Wants with a Digital Workplace
The workplace is getting more and more digital – both in how we work and where we work
Maintaining a Human-Centered Approach During Digital Transformation
When it comes to digital transformation - people drive change, not technology
“These kinds of things, they sound silly, but they actually make a big difference in making people actually feel like the organization, the team that they're on, the boss, their co-workers, actually care about them,” said Putnam.
Related Article: How to Onboard New Hires With More Purposefulness
Schedule One-on-One Time
Putnam's friend, the one who left her toxic job full of bells and whistles to work at a smaller company? Beyond giving her a buddy, the organization’s top leaders also took her out to lunch in her first week.
Employees are individuals, and they want to feel like individuals — not numbers or cogs in the machine. Executives, managers and supervisors can feed into this need (and drive employee satisfaction) by establishing regular one-on-one time with workers.
Of course, one-on-one time doesn’t have to be lunch. It could be a ten-minute check-in or attending an important life event outside of work, like a graduation ceremony.
“First impressions are lasting impressions,” said Bersin. “If an employee struggles in their first few weeks, they will likely need more help later, and that just makes a manager’s job harder."
That's why it's really important for line managers and HR to spend time with new people to make sure they’re not quietly failing in any way or misunderstanding various parts of the job, he said.
Think About Technology’s Role
Don’t overlook technology’s role in the employee journey, especially during onboarding — whether it’s a new employee or someone moving to a new position or location.
Low-code employee experience platforms, for instance, can let managers and HR teams build custom onboarding programs and shape the employee journey.
“These are essentially journeys that step employees through various activities, give them opportunities for feedback and to schedule meetings,” said Bersin. “Many payroll systems have simple onboarding training modules, but good EX tools go beyond this.”
Technology during the onboarding process can also automate forms, track progress, help leadership monitor new hires and solicit employee feedback. According to SHRM, around 68% of organizations that are proactive in their onboarding have onboarding systems that are partially or fully online.
But while technology is helpful and even needed during employee onboarding, it should only be used as a single piece of the puzzle.
SHRM found that employees who take part in regular, face-to-face onboarding or orientation ultimately have a better understanding of the job and the company than their computer-based onboarding counterparts.
Related Article: Why Virtual Onboarding Beats Traditional Onboarding
Empower Managers to Wear Spandex
Employee experience is dictated heavily by managers. They're uniquely positioned in the workplace. They can persuade or dissuade their team members from engaging.
Gallup research shows managers account for at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores — meaning a new hire’s experience can vary greatly depending on who oversees the onboarding process.
“The simplest thing that every manager can be doing and that they can be trained on,” said Putnam, “is they need to lead by example.”
She calls it the: I want to see my boss in spandex phenomenon.
“I was working with this accounting firm, going in and teaching a pilates class once a week.” At one point, Putnam said she ran into one of the partners in the building, a “self-important looking dude.” She asked him to join the class, to which he responded: “I don’t wear spandex.”
“Interestingly enough,” said Putnam, “he started showing up to these classes. And every single time he showed up, the class size would double.”
That’s just one example, she said, of people wanting to see their boss in spandex. Not just in a physical sense, but in every dimension. It’s not about being perfect, she said. “It's about visibly showing team members, 'hey, I'm prioritizing my wellbeing', and in doing so, giving your team members permission to do the same.”
Use the Environment to Promote Wellbeing
Gallup scientists researched people in more than 150 countries to determine the common elements of wellbeing. These five categories include:
- Career wellbeing: How you occupy your time, if you like what you do.
- Social wellbeing: Do you have strong relationships and love in your life?
- Financial wellbeing: The management of your economic life.
- Physical wellbeing: Having good health and enough energy to get things done.
- Community wellbeing: The engagement you have with the area where you live.
Putnam said she, and others, also separate out one more element as being integral: emotional wellbeing.
Organizations can use nudges and cues, what she calls “environmental prompts, where you’re literally creating a built environment,” to build upon these areas and promote wellbeing and a positive employee experience among new hires and existing staff.
She pointed to Pixar, with a headquarters that encourages connection by utilizing a central room that employees must walk through to get from Point A to Point B. People are likelier to run into others, prompting conversation and collaboration and promoting social wellbeing.
Another example is having healthy snack and drink options at every meeting. It’s not just making the healthy choice the easy choice, said Putnam. It’s also cultural cues — the signals being sent to employees about whether toxicity is tolerated, if sending and receiving late-night emails is a common occurrence and more.
Initiatives focusing on these areas of wellbeing indicate to new workers what the employee experience will look like going forward. And those indicators heavily weigh into the employee’s decision of whether to stay or go.
Building a Strong Employee Experience Foundation With Onboarding
Onboarding is a critical process that can make or break the employee experience at a company. It can also signal to new employees whether the company is one worth sticking with.
Implementing best practices in the onboarding process — and at every stage of the employee experience — makes new hires feel supported and valued. It also lays the foundation for a successful and productive work relationship, as the employee moves further along their journey.
About the Author
Michelle Hawley is an experienced journalist who specializes in reporting on the impact of technology on society. As a senior editor at Simpler Media Group and a reporter for CMSWire and Reworked, she provides in-depth coverage of a range of important topics including employee experience, leadership, customer experience, marketing and more. With an MFA in creative writing and background in inbound marketing, she offers unique insights on the topics of leadership, customer experience, marketing and employee experience. Michelle previously contributed to publications like The Press Enterprise and The Ladders. She currently resides in Pennsylvania with her two dogs.