Onboarding and Retention

The first 90 days in the life of a new hire need to be treated as mission critical by employers. The new hire’s first impression of their boss, their colleagues, the work space and their job responsibilities immediately shape how they feel about their new company and have a big impact on whether they stay or go.

Retaining employees is not only important, it affects the bottom line. The cost of a new hire can equal 100% of the position’s salary. The cost in hiring, training and onboarding someone new — plus the lost production during the time a position sits empty — accounts for the huge expense. And retention is directly tied to how well the employer onboards the employee in the first 90 days and the company culture that sustains employee engagement.

But those first 90 days, when the new hire is most unfamiliar with the places, faces and processes of their new employer, are key to keeping your newly found talent. Here are two disparate scenarios of how onboarding can be executed either thoughtfully or without a second thought.

The ‘Oh no!’ Scenario
Put yourself in the shoes of a new hire. Your first day is approaching, but you haven’t heard from anyone since they called to make you the offer. As you wonder what time you should arrive on your first day, you also wonder if they remember you’re coming. When you still haven’t heard from anyone the day before your first day, you email your new supervisor and finally get a response to be there at 8 a.m.

You arrive pressed and polished and ready to jump in. A fidgety assistant shows you to your desk and embarrassingly explains that your supervisor was unexpectedly called away and won’t be in the office today, but that you should feel free to get acquainted with your colleagues and the office.

You sit down at your desk to see that it’s covered in dust and the mouse to the computer is missing. Looking around the office you notice tall stacks of paper and used coke cans lining most desks. People walk past without saying hello and you start to feel the dread of your decision sinking in.

The ‘Ah yes!’ Scenario
You are called and personally offered the position. Your new supervisor tells you how excited they are to have your talents and skills on board and that they look forward to the contributions you will make. They ask for your home address and offer to send you a few books that you may enjoy reading. The books, your supervisor explains, are the foundation of the company’s business strategy and philosophy. In the two weeks after the job offer, the books arrive in the mail with a handwritten note, signed by everyone in the office, reiterating the team’s excitement that you’re joining the company. You read the books and exchange a few emails with your supervisor about the concepts in them and their relation to the company culture.

On your first day, your supervisor is waiting and ready to walk you to your desk. On the desk is a gift card from a nearby coffee shop and a welcome sign from the team. You put your things down and are immediately whisked away into training and orientation. Throughout the day you are oriented to the new surroundings, learn where to find office supplies and who to call for technical assistance. Your training schedule is clearly lined out for you with a timeline and content that will be covered.

When you check your email, you find a company-wide note introducing you to the other employees, and it even includes details from your resume that you hadn’t discussed specifically with your supervisor. Then the supervisor walks you around the entire office introducing you to all of your new colleagues. At mid-day, your new team takes you to lunch. In the afternoon, your supervisor hosts an open house with refreshments for your new colleagues to drop by and learn more about their newest colleague. During the open house you get to learn more about the hobbies and extracurricular activities of the folks you now work with.

Ongoing interaction is established by way of weekly one-on-one meetings with your supervisor. This is clearly defined as a time to discuss roadblocks, achievements and anything else that has surfaced.

Both of these scenarios are true stories. The fate of a new hire is essentially determined by how involved and valued someone feels. The employer has total control of the onboarding process and it is worth establishing a company-wide operating procedure for onboarding new hires so the process is consistent across departments and expected from each supervisor within the company.

Employees work at Google's headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.
Employees work at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.

Retaining talent

The welcome mat doesn’t disappear after day one. Beyond the first 90 days, retaining your talent is a constant and evolving process.

“For employees, solid relationships will keep employees not only engaged but retained,” says local recruiting expert Patricia Dougherty. “Instead of having ‘team building,’ have what I call ‘team bonding’ exercises and events. Do purposeful things that will assist with and help in connection: learning about self, learning about each other, real relationship building, team bonding experiences.”

Take a look at what your company currently uses to create a culture and a place where employees feel engaged in the workplace. Google has a reputation for mastering culture and engagement. Among their incredible perks are dogs at work, free gourmet meals, huge educational reimbursement, napping pods, 18 weeks of paid leave for new mothers and conference bikes (that resemble the Cycle Pub). Although their budget is probably much larger than most companies, the point is that people really care about their work environment and they want it to be a place they enjoying spending time.

Here are some interesting perks companies are using to drive connection with their employees and to stay committed to the idea of valuing their employees.

Google employees (and a Google dog) outside the company's California headquarters.
Google employees (and a Google dog) outside the company’s California headquarters.

1. Unlimited paid time off
2. Gym memberships
3. On-site services like dry cleaning and spa offerings
4. Company-sponsored sports teams
5. On-site ping pong table, basketball court or mini-golf course
6. Company events like a BBQ or music festival
7. Paid birthdays off
8. Ski pass
9. Expanded paid maternity and paternity leave
10. Paid time off for conducting community service
11. On-site childcare
12. Comfortable and inviting common areas with coaches and reading material
13. Free coffee station, complete with cappuccino machine
14. In-house educational or brown bag sessions — there are experts of all kinds of things, even things not related to the job, within your ranks. Ask them to teach a class!
15. Offering the employer’s product/service to employees for free — this is a win-win as employees are often brand ambassadors or the first to realize when something isn’t going right.

These are things an employer can build into their culture to foster engagement. Additionally, team-bonding events and regular check-ins are simple but effective. As Dougherty says: “There will not be engagement without relationships. There will be no tight relationships without interaction. Interaction brings on illumination and employers – that’s what you want. Today’s interaction will make it more likely you have one tomorrow, and meaningful dialogue leads to connection, which leads to trust which leads to engagement. It’s a domino effect: You can’t have one without the other. And, if you’re just focusing on the end result, you’re missing the point.”

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