Three strange onboarding processes that… leave a lot to be desired.
First impressions count for a lot. Just as you might go running for the hills if a first date spent ten minutes haranguing the waiter for getting their order wrong, a new hire is likely to be on the lookout for reasons not to trust their employer from the second they walk through the door.
And if they find something to confirm their suspicions, in one in five cases they won’t hang around.
Most leaders know this, which is why it’s strange that so many organisations get their onboarding so, so wrong; from leaving the onboarding process in the hands of an incompetent leader, to subtle threats in documents. These three examples act as a ‘what not to do’ guide for HR professionals and business leaders.
“Don’t be a douche”
This particular onboarding document, which HRM became aware of late last year, is quite troubling. It definitely reads like a small business owner has written their own onboarding document without running it by a trained HR professional – perhaps without running it by another human being at all.
The employee who showed us this example received it on the first day of his first job out of university.
The document contains phrases such as:
- “Explain to people first in person. Don’t be a douche and send an e-mail”
- “Know it’s going to suck sometimes”
- “The pain will pass”
- “Get over yourself. It’s not about you personally. Everyone gets that shit happens. It’s about how you deal with [things] that matters most.”
That kind of language is risky, even if some organisations (particularly startups) like to postcard their devil-may-care culture early.
The more troubling part comes towards the end of the document in a section about how staff should approach quitting if they decide the job isn’t for them.
After saying that all employers and employees are replaceable, it reads “People only remember how you left… so do it right, for your own sake. [This city’s] creative industry is connected.”
There are a few things wrong with this. Firstly, talking about quitting in an onboarding document sends the message that you expect people to quit, or are at least used to it. This is alarming to new employees and a sign that you might have a retention issue.
Secondly, it’s a veiled threat. It strongly suggests that the organisation will torpedo the career of whoever gets on its wrong side. If you feel the need to have such a line in an onboarding document you should ask why you feel it’s necessary to scare staff – particularly junior staff.
According to the employee who shared it, this hodgepodge and somewhat menacing document was a forewarning for what was to come.
It turned out the role did not match what he’d signed up for (it ended up being very sales/client management focussed). What’s more, he received a lack of support from leadership and had to navigate an apparently toxic culture where staff feared speaking up. He left after less than a year in the role.
If your organisation needs help with its onboarding efforts, AHRI’s short course ‘Develop and Implement HR policies’ can assist with content ideas, useful structures and much more.
“Stop making me feel bad”
The next story HRM heard was also from a person’s first full-time role. They’d been accepted into a six month graduate program in a large organisation. There was an HR department, but it was very much in the shadows. The employee was introduced to the HR manager on day one to sort out her building access pass and then she never heard from them again.
On her first day, none of her systems had been set up. She couldn’t even log into her computer. She was given the newspaper and told to read through it to pass time. She did this for the majority of her first day.
The next day, she was granted access to her computer but still couldn’t access the systems she needed to use. Back to the newspapers it was. This approach stretched on for her entire first week and the months that followed were no better.
She recalls asking her supervisor each day what she could do to help or if there were any tasks he could assign to her. At one point he said, “Stop making me feel bad.” He still gave her no substantial work to do.
Strangely, others in the team were swamped and could have used the help of a junior, but the culture of the small team was frosty and based on distrust. Half of the staff didn’t like the other half and the manager wouldn’t allow others to step in and coach this employee through the first months of her first job; they’d sneak her tasks whenever he was out on a long lunch.
By the time her six month contract was coming to an end, her manager called her into a meeting to discuss a permanent position. She declined.
She recalls that her boss was very surprised by her decision not to stay on. He offered last minute incentives – a move into a more creative department, promises of a promotion on the horizon – and showered her with compliments about her work ethic, which he hadn’t done once in the last six months. She felt burned by the company from her very first day and couldn’t wait to leave.
Hiring HR for show
The final story is of an HR professional who had a terrible onboarding experience herself. She left a job that she loved as an HR coordinator to take on what she thought would be a promotion, working at an advisory level.
From the get go, she had a funny feeling about the organisation and, with hindsight, says she should have listened to her gut.
On her first day she got shown to her desk and found that it was attached to the GM’s desk. It wasn’t a proper desk size either, more like somewhere you’d place your coffee and a pot plant. She sat there on her laptop for the first couple of weeks and was given no guidance from the organisation about what it wanted its first and only HR professional to actually do.
Eventually she ended up moving to a desk in the sales department. She finally had a space of her own, but as she’d still been given no advice on the kind of HR work this company wanted, she found she was often taking sales calls and assisting customers who’d come in – nothing to do with HR.
Nevertheless, she persisted. Eventually she inherited the desk of the former payroll manager, about five weeks into her role. But she wasn’t allowed to move anything; she was surrounded by filing cabinets and employee files that she wasn’t allowed to access.
The final straw for this employee was the reaction of the GM when she mentioned to him that there were issues with Award compliance. She was denied visibility to check over staff’s salaries and what award level they were on.
It got to a point where she felt she was being asked to cover something up – and she wasn’t willing to do that. So, after just two months, she quit and spent the next 18 months in temp roles before committing herself to an organisation that she felt she could trust.
In these last two examples, it seems clear that no one in the organisation put much thought into what they wanted each role to entail. The large organisation hired a junior without thinking about pairing them with a manager who nurtures young talent. The last organisation seems to have hired HR just so it could… actually it’s hard to tell what they wanted.
Even if they had great onboarding processes in place, how many hires are willing to stay on in a directionless role? If anything, their issues with onboarding should have alerted them to the fact that they had deeper issues with their workforce planning and recruitment. Funnily enough, even slightly better onboarding, that had regular check-ins, would have raised a red flag sooner.
The takeaway from the first example seems pretty clear: don’t be a jerk to your new hires. An onboarding document is a new employee’s first real glimpse into a company’s culture. If the company in the first example had someone in HR, you can imagine them asking the employer, “Do you want them to think you’re running a professional, ethical organisation or do you want them to think you’re a douche?”
*Some details have been changed to protect the interviewees identities.