Rethinking Employee Engagement for New Hires

Effective onboarding has a lasting impact on your company’s success.
Gauraa at SmartGift
September 3rd 2021Sep 3, 2021

The job market has seen its fair share of upheavals in 2020, and now, amidst pandemic burnout, we’re experiencing what many business professionals are referring to as the “turnover tsunami.” According to The Achievers, a whopping 52% of workers are looking for new jobs this year. With uncertainty in the air, longer hours, exhaustion from WFH, and lack of HR support, workers are feeling undervalued. If you look at the picture close enough, these turnover rates begin to make sense.

For any company, high turnover rates translate to added costs in recruiting, onboarding, and training new employees. Additionally, a high turnover can impact the morale of current employees, which can lead to a higher turnover of existing employees. In other words, a high turnover is simply bad for business.

So, what can we do to improve employee retention and company loyalty? The answer is simple: an improved onboarding process for new hires.

Onboarding employees is a significant and time expensive task, but one that can shape the future of your company. The process — which aims to familiarize new hires with the organization’s core missions and goals, as well as the expectations of their job — can lead to thorough engagement if done effectively. Per Forbes, “an improved employee onboarding process directly correlated to improved retention and reduced recruitment and training budgets.”

Poor onboarding can have lasting impacts on employees and their work. According to Business News Daily, most companies tend to make new hire orientation the focus of onboarding, instead of the long-term success of the employee. This is one of the core causes of employee turnover, which can cost companies between 100% to 300% of the employee’s total salary.

We understand that onboarding can be a daunting process on your own, so we’ve compiled a list of strategic new hire solutions to help you keep employees satisfied and motivated, whether they’re working remotely or in person.

New Hire Onboarding in Remote Environments

When the pandemic struck the U.S. in March of 2020, many companies were not prepared for fully-remote operations, let alone virtual new hire onboarding. Now, after seventeen months of trial and error, we’ve picked up a few strategies along the way.

Create a Personal Connection Early

Without the comfort of a quick break room chat to calm first day nerves, it’s important to make employees feel comfortable and equipped at their new jobs. So, how do you keep them engaged before the start date? Find a way to welcome new hires into the company and the existing teams.

The multinational consumer goods company Reckitt sends a new hire gift basket to all recruits before their first day, which includes a selection of the company’s cleaning, health, and hygiene products. This helps cement a personal connection with the company and create a positive atmosphere before getting started. Sending a new hire welcome kit of helpful or personally curated items, or a new hire swag bag will make it easier to foster connections remotely.

After signing an offer letter from Google, new hires (“Nooglers”) immediately begin receiving communications from the onboarding team. This is shortly followed by an official new hire announcement, greetings from colleagues and higher-ups. Then, hires are asked to select a username, laptop, and other orientation preferences — all of which help employees feel welcomed and engaged with the company’s culture.

Another way to foster trust and connect with new hires is through personalized video recordings from current staff and higher-ups in the company. Stanley Young, the former CEO of NYSE Technologies, uses video messages to communicate his corporate vision, mission statements, and company goals to new recruits. This makes employees feel valued, and less like a replaceable commodity (one of the main reasons behind high quit rates).

Provide Prompt and Formal Documentation

Waiting for the first day of training to hand them their new hire kit is a thing of the pre-WFH past. Send a formal new hire packet shortly after recruitment so they have all the information needed to get started. Forbes distills this packet into four distinct sections: essential information (such as company logins and payroll information), employee resources, and the contact information for current employees and team members.

Starbucks has long been commended for their onboarding process. The Starbucks new hire kit includes a hat, apron, a partner guide (or employee handbook), and all formal contracts and documents for the employee to sign. In addition, Starbucks’ training kit includes “self-guided modules” that give new baristas (or, “green beans”) insight into company practices, customer service, as well as a comprehensive history on coffee beans and brewing. Self-guiding modules and training videos can be an especially great asset for remote employees, as they can play them back whenever they’re looking for solutions to a specific problem.

While most of this information might be accessible through the company CRM, supplying it in a single packet early on can help employees learn how to navigate operations, and feel confident before their start date. This matters even more in remote settings as it proves harder to approach new colleagues for answers online.

Restructure the New Hire Buddy Program

New hire training can be difficult online, where it’s no longer possible to physically shadow a seasoned coworker. It can, however, be helpful to have a designated person available for support over the first few weeks at the company.

According to the Harvard Business Review, “Onboarding buddies can give the type of context you won’t find in the employee book.” They can also teach recruits about company culture from a nuanced perspective, and guide them to information such as relevant stakeholders, and strategic problem-solving. This makes the transition smoother and significantly less frustrating.

Having a remote buddy can also humanize the organization, which might feel like all screens and no pulse when a new hire is starting remotely. One on one relationships with coworkers are an important aspect of employee engagement and satisfaction, both of which have shown to boost productivity levels.

Facilitate Ongoing Check-Ins

Regular employee check-ins are always important, but even more so when work is remote. A recent SHRM poll shows that 38% of employees lacked initiative when they felt leaders were dismissive of their ideas without even hearing them.

Checking in with a new hire during the onboarding process is a great way to set the foundations for their time at the company. This makes people feel recognized as human beings, instead of feeling demoralized, as though they are failing to meet expectations at the get-go.

Schedule structured weekly check-ins with new recruits, and have your HR send out brief new hire survey questions so you can incorporate their feedback.

New Hire Onboarding at the Office

According to Paycor, 58% of employees are likely to stay at a company for at least three years if they experience a great onboarding program. Here are four strategies that ensure high employee engagement from the very start.

Make Their First Day Memorable

New hire welcome emails are great; but greeting them personally is better. Life as a new hire can be intimidating. With training sessions and assignments ahead, unfamiliarity with their colleagues, and a vague sense of how things are done at the office — a friendly hello from management can go a long way to make them feel comfortable. Remember: the first day of work sets the tone for the rest of their experience at the company, so it’s crucial that they associate it with positive feelings.

Larger companies like Google go out of their way to host days-long orientation for new hires. This allows them to get acquainted with their fellow cohort and lay the foundation for a community. Google also includes small festivities such as catered lunches, happy hours, and what is known as the “Noogler Hat Ceremony” to commemorate the milestone for their employees. This helps create strong, personal bonds with the company from the very start.

Rachel Bellack of the Improv Advantage additionally recommends having new recruits start on a Friday instead of a Monday. This ensures that people are more relaxed at the office and have more time to connect with the new hire.

Instill Company Values From the Get-Go

While you may have a clear idea of your company’s core values, it’s likely that your new hire is starting on a different page. This is why demonstrating your company’s core values and engaging recruits from the very beginning is vital.

“Tie the values to everything that they do in their first few weeks,” says Lotus Buckner of NCH. “For example, if they are assigned their first project, explain how that contributes to the organization’s mission and how it exemplifies the values.”

Meetings with executing management is another great way to instill company values within new hires. Poorna Udupi, an engineer at Netflix, recently revealed that the streaming service’s onboarding program entails meetings with the company’s Chief Product Officer, Chief Financial Officer, as well as the Chief Executive Officer. This strategy has a considerable impact on engagement and helps align employees with the company’s ethos and goals.

Tightly Structure Their First Week at the Office

First impressions are important; they can shape how an employee views the organization for the foreseeable future. Michael Thiemann of Strategy-Lab recommends that all technical work equipment should already be installed before the new hire comes into work. It’s equally important to have technology pre-tested and meetings with team members scheduled. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the employee needs to feel included. Thiemann recommends inviting new hires to lunch or coffee chats within their first week at the new job.

The social Q&A platform, Quora, simplifies first weeks for new hires. They focus on “onboarding talks” to help recruits learn the ropes and only assign “one manageable project” at the end of the week. Following suit will ensure that employees have all the resources, tools, and knowledge required before they can get started.

Design a Structured 30 60 90 Day New Hire Plan

The new hire process shouldn’t end when all paperwork is signed. Instead, a strategic course of action outlining expectations for the first three months, should be set in place. According to Glassdoor, “By setting concrete goals and a vision for one’s abilities at each stage of the plan, you can make the transition into a new organization smooth and empowering.”

When you break down your new hiring training plan into three months, you can carve time for three distinct phases: learning, contributing, and leading.

During the first 30 days, or the “learning phase,” managers should focus on one-on-one coaching sessions with the new hire. The second month, or the “contributing” phase, should see that the new employee’s skill set is being integrated into team operations. Use this opportunity to track the onboarding process with 60 day new hire check in questions.

Lastly, managers should use the final 30 days of the plan to determine what strategies work best for the new hire, and how to use them best going forward.

Remember: companies are built through onboarding. The philosophy of your training program actively shapes the future of your company. While the process might be time-intensive, and require resources, it’s important to invest fully in this new hire experience to prevent greater turnover losses and poor productivity rates down the line.

For more team engagement tools, visit our Team Engagement Series.

SmartGift’s Team Engagement Series aims to spotlight how small interactions can have big impacts on company culture. Over the course of the forthcoming weeks, our Team Engagement Series will define challenges and pain points for employees while offering solutions for different work environments.