Smooth Start

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On Monday, Greg rides the bus into town. It’s his first day at his new job. When he shows up at the office, the front door is locked. Greg finds another entrance and sees someone hurrying down the hallway inside. He knocks on the door to get her attention. “Excuse me! This is my first day, would you mind opening the door for me?” he asks. She turns around and says, “Oh, we have a new guy? Sure!” She unlocks the door and lets him in. “I’m Claire, the lead engineer.” Greg nods and thanks her for opening the door. “I’ll be on the design team. Nice to meet you. One last thing—do you know where my desk is?” he asks. She hesitates. “Umm, I think designers sit near the break room toward the right. Good luck!”

Hopefully employees starting at your company have a better experience than the one Greg had on his first day. Having a strong set of onboarding processes in place can help to avoid the confusion Greg went through and can set a new employee up for success. These procedures can also benefit the employer: while bad hires happen occasionally, poor onboarding practices can lead to early turnover—even within the first month of hire. Here are six best practices for onboarding.

  1. Get organized.
    Create a physical checklist. Since multiple departments are involved in onboarding, setting up a consistent protocol can help. Kym Woods, an HR specialist in Portland, OR, says, “It is important for all managers—IT, HR, and the new employee’s direct supervisor—to communicate so they are on the same page as far as timelines and expectations.” There are many pieces to the puzzle, and it’s important to make them all fit together to create a smooth experience for a new hire.
  2. Don’t neglect the details.
    Onboarding begins even before the employee’s first day—it starts when the offer letter is signed. The small things that can have a big effect on a smooth transition include a lot of behind-the-scenes IT setup, including providing a computer and setting up email, usernames, permissions, and other software, as well as physical details such as ordering a nameplate and office supplies, and getting a workspace ready. 

    It’s best to have all of this accomplished before the new employee’s first day: doing so creates a welcoming environment for the new hire. “If anything falls through the cracks, it can leave the new employee feeling frustrated, confused, and doubtful,” Woods tells The FruitGuys Magazine.

    Other little things, such as a bathroom key, an office tour, communicating office etiquette around the shared fridge, a rundown of the best nearby coffee shops, and the like are all crucial details that can make or break a new employee’s confidence in your company. It can even impact a new employee’s sense of self-worth. And as Greg’s story showed, setting up a meeting time to greet the new employee on their first day is crucial. While a new hire works hard to set a good first impression, once the papers are signed, it’s the employer’s turn to show their best side.

  3. Timing is everything.
    Onboarding can extend through the initial 90-day review period and into the first year on the job. Not everything needs to be dumped on the employee during the first day. For instance, it isn’t important to get into the details of certain benefits until the employee is eligible. And some trainings aren’t required in the first week, so schedule accordingly. Plan out what needs to be done before the first day; during the first day; during the first week, the first month, and the first 90 days. While some things can wait, be sure to get the most difficult and most important steps done first to let the employee settle in and successfully get to work
  4. Information overload?
    While timing is important, so is information. No one can remember everything if it’s presented all at once, in one initial meeting, but leaving out important details may be more harmful than causing a little bit of information overload. “If [employees] have to ask for it, they may be left wondering, ‘What else should I know that I haven’t been told?’” Woods says. Employees will feel greater trust in the company and its internal communication style if they’re given important information up front and a timeline that explains when the rest of the details will be conveyed. The human resources representative plays an important role: in the beginning, they need to provide information and corral paperwork, and they need to be available for follow-up questions once the new employee is able to process everything.
  5. Build relationships.
    This responsibility falls primarily on the new hire’s direct supervisor and fellow coworkers. A nice way to start connecting the new employee is to send out an email before they begin that introduces them to the company/team and includes some information about why they’re a great hire, what their role will be, and when to expect to see them on their first day. This puts the staff on notice to be welcoming and offer guidance and assistance as needed. Companies often have a team lunch with new employees within the first week of hire, which can help to initiate relationships in an otherwise busy work environment. As discussed in the article “Fostering Friendship,” work relationships can improve retention and overall employee satisfaction.
  6. Understand your impact.
    One-third of employees know whether they’ll stay with a company long-term after their first week. That first week is often filled with onboarding processes, emphasizing the need to create a smooth and successful experience. As Woods notes, successful onboarding “sets the stage for positive short-term valuation of … a company, which can turn into a long-term belief.”

Dana Lester has a bachelor’s degree in nutrition and dietetics. During her time at Oregon State University, she worked on creating the Green Office Certification Program, which helps campus offices assess themselves for environmental sustainability. She is passionate about holistic wellness, eating fruit, and writing.


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