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Take Your Onboarding Program Beyond Day One

October 27, 2021 Employee Experience
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By Sarah Fister Gale

It’s hard enough to find and onboard great employees in today’s cutthroat employment marketplace. But hiring is only the beginning. Even before the pandemic, one in five new hires quit in the first 45 days on the job. And now that there are more jobs than candidates to fill them, job seekers know if they don’t like the boss, their teammates or the working conditions they have the flexibility to find someplace better. 

That confidence has driven the separation rate, a measure of the percentage of employees who have left their organization, to record highs. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics released in October shows 4.3 million people quit their jobs in August. Hospitality, food service, wholesale trade and state and local government education saw the highest rates of voluntary separations. 

Employers can reduce this risk by making sure new hires feel embraced by the company from the beginning, even before formal onboarding begins.

“Many of these people aren’t simply looking for higher pay," said Jeff Givens, senior vice president of operations of JDA TSG, an outsourced program management and recruitment firm. "They’re looking for a great place to work, where they can continue to grow and thrive.”  

The Courtship Begins Before Onboarding

The courtship between employer and employee should begin before their first shift. Givens noted that most companies think of Day One as the beginning of an employee’s experience with the company. But it actually starts with their first contact and interview.

Every interaction a candidate has with a recruiter and the application process shapes their perception of the company as an employer, and companies need to factor that perception into their recruiting and onboarding journey.

“If you want to hire top-notch people, you can’t go wrong with getting the experience right ... right from the start,” Givens said.

At JDA TSG, one of the primary goals of the recruiting strategy is to make sure candidates start building connections in the company early in the interview process. Every potential hire has at least one conversation with their future manager, mentor, the CEO and the team they will be working with.

“Pushing ‘Day One’ to the first conversation puts company culture at the forefront of our talent acquisition efforts,” he said. “It helps set clear expectations, and shows our support for the candidate’s success.”

Related Article: Why Humans Should Remain Central to Digital Recruiting

Make a Good First Impression

Once a candidate is hired, the first day — and even the first few hours — can make or break their commitment to the job. They may have taken it because they need the salary or it fits their long-term career plans, but once they arrive their priorities will quickly shift to figuring out if this is a place they want to spend every day of the week. 

It is one of the most important days a new hire has with the company, and it should be treated as an opportunity to help them build connections, not bog them down in paperwork, said Daniela Sawyer, founder and HR manager of

“The first day impacts their whole journey … and first impressions last,” she said. 

To make a great first impression, Sawyer encourages companies to focus the first day of onboarding on helping new hires build relationships with their boss and peers through informal activities, including meals, company tours and introductions.

Set Up a Buddy System

Assigning new hires to a buddy or mentor as part of the onboarding process can also help ease the uncertainties that come with a first day on the job, said Brogan Renshaw, director of Firewire Digital

“Every new hire enters their first day of work feeling a mixture of excitement, nervousness and intimidation,” he said. “Assigning them a person to help them navigate this new experience will make them feel a little less out of place.”

These mentors can be especially helpful for remote workers, who may never get to meet their teammates in person, said Stephen Keighery, CEO of Home Buyer Louisiana. When his company hires a new virtual assistant, they are assigned a buddy who introduces them virtually to the people they’ll be working with, along with showing them the ropes and teaching them how to use the workplace technology. 

“A new hire’s first day shouldn’t end without them having met at least one of their peers,” Keighery said. “Otherwise, they’ll clock out with many of their questions left unanswered and not feeling confident about their place in the company.”

Many HR leaders embrace this buddy system approach by assigning new hires to seasoned teammates as a way to ease the transition. “It breaks away from the formal onboarding seminars that are dull and boring,” said Michael Hamelburger, CEO of Sales Therapy, a sales coaching agency. “During our feedback process, our new hires always mention how easy it became for them to adjust.”

Related Article: How to Reimagine Onboarding for Remote and Hybrid Workers

Share a Token of Appreciation

To make the first day even more engaging, some companies create fanfare around the new hire’s arrival by sending out company-wide announcements and providing small gifts to make them feel welcomed. For example, Marilyn Gaskell founder and hiring manager at asks candidates about their hobbies or personal interests during interviews, then uses that feedback to select a small gift for their first day.

“It’s never anything extravagant but it’s personal,” Gaskell said, adding that she includes a handwritten note to wish them luck for their first day.

It’s a small gesture, but it demonstrates the company’s interest in that employee and it makes an impact. She noted that employee feedback surveys show this small act instills a strong sense of belonging.

“It makes them feel as though they are valued in our workplace, which is essential for employee retention," Gaskell said.

In a challenging work environment, every new hire is essential to workplace performance. Taking steps to make their first day engaging reduces the risk of early attrition and makes them feel like they made the right choice.


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