The time between ‘Welcome aboard!’ and ‘Goodbye and good luck!’ can be a very short one in some cases. Up to 20 per cent of new hires leave their jobs in the first 45 days, according to a new survey from the US. In the study of more than 40 organisations, HR departments reported that only 40 per cent thought their onboarding practices were effective in retaining new staff.
You might assume that this onboarding problem is exclusive to small-to medium-sized organisations that lack the manpower or resources – but you would be wrong.
One of the common mistakes that employers make when it comes to onboarding – whatever the size of the business – is the focus on getting the paperwork done rather than getting the people aligned with the organisation, says Morné Swart, vice-president at SumTotal Systems.
Another is inconsistency across organisations and attention to onboarding trailing-off after a few weeks. Swart says an ideal onboarding period is somewhere between one and three months. But it is important not to confuse onboarding and training, which should be a continuous process.
Onboarding should really begin from the moment the person is offered the job he says.
“Prior to their start – pre-boarding – there are things that an HR manager can do easily that have a massive impact on the new employee and leverage excitement around their role,” says Swart, “Firstly, keep in touch; don’t go silent on them.” A phone call from their manager welcoming them and anticipating their arrival is a good way to make a favourable impression.
Swart says there are three ingredients to successful employee engagement from the get go:
- There should be a sense of purpose so that a new employee knows what they are doing. Expectations about the role and responsibilities should be clearly communicated so they are well-defined and realistic.
- Another ingredient is mastery, he says. The process should help you feel comfortable – that you will be able to do your job to the very best of your ability. “No matter how confident you are, the oldest and strongest emotion is fear of the unknown, and a new job can be scary territory.”
- Thirdly is provision and speed to proficiency. Onboarding might stop after 28 days, but you still have another nine months before you know if you’re efficient at your job.
Further to the significant recruitment costs associated with a failed hire, successful onboarding can mean an 18 per cent increase in customer retention, a 12 per cent increase in customer satisfaction, a 15 per cent increase in employee engagement and a 5 per cent increase in revenue.
“Organisations that invest in onboarding accomplish four things: they emphasize people and performance over paperwork; make it a partnership among HR, the manager, and the employee; they establish onboarding as a continuous development process; and they measure outcomes,” Swart says. “Invest in onboarding, and you are twice as likely to reduce new hire time to proficiency.”
What has particularly struck Swart, who is visiting Australia from New York to talk about the company’s survey findings, is the great diversity in the ANZ workforce. But this brings challenges when it comes to onboarding.
“We are seeing a shift with a new generation coming into the workforce, creating one of the most multi-generational workforces, ranging from Boomers to Millennials. But one size does not fit all when onboarding. If you are not speaking to the individual, not fitting the onboarding process to an individual’s needs, then you’re not likely to create a favourable impression for your new hire,” he says.
As a technology specialist, how does software enable HR to adapt onboarding to a particular demographic?
Technology can help by allowing HR to set up programs that reflect the interests of that individual, says Swart. It also allows job sharing and job shadowing, and team-oriented programs so that an individual can learn quicker and feel more comfortable before they go it alone.
And while certain age demographics lean towards preferences for onboarding – such as Millennials tending to seek individual attention, whereas Boomers respond to assigned tasks and connection to teams – Swart says, “the point is that the connection to the business is different for each person. It’s about understanding who they are, what role they are playing and adapting onboarding to their needs.”
You only have one chance to create the right impression says Swart. “You can only ask one time: ‘How was your first day?’ So the answer needs to be the right one.”