Employee Engagement Starts with Better Onboarding

by Kevin Schneider

When the subject of onboarding comes up, I’m reminded of a friend’s recent experience starting fresh at a new company. Let’s call him Steve. On his first day, he attended an all hands meeting where staff were expressing concerns about heavy workloads across various initiatives to upper management.

Throughout the meeting, there was a recurring response: “Steve, the new guy will handle that.” It got to the point where someone asked, “How many Steve’s did we hire exactly?”

Humor aside, this type of situation isn’t uncommon. A hiring decision is made, but there isn’t much planning done in the interim before their start date. They show up on their first day to either be bombarded with tasks, or left without much to do.

Having spent so much of my career in small businesses, I’ll approach the onboarding quandary through that lens. In my experience, onboarding will typically amount to high level company and project overviews on the first day, followed by putting the employee directly on a project.

When this approach is questioned, the most common reasoning upper management will provide is, “there aren’t enough resources” to do a comprehensive onboarding process, and new hires need to get to work ASAP.

Can’t an onboarding program be comprehensive and light on resources, though? I believe the answer is yes. A small amount of resources can be invested up front that will save your project teams and your new hires time and energy in the long run.

Employee Engagement Starts with Onboarding

Employee engagement begins with onboarding, and shouldn’t start with technical tasking. By putting your employees immediately to work, you risk subjecting them to unnecessary stress and anxiety given they won’t have any understanding around company protocol and expectations. Not to mention that a mismatch of expectations right off the bat could cause a new hire to feel ostracized, and their coworkers to wonder if the right hiring decision was made.

A strong onboarding program should have everyone start off on the right foot. Show employees how company values come to life, and how your company culture plays into the way you do business every day.

You Aren’t in This Alone!

“Buddy” programs or simply having colleagues take the new hire out to lunch goes a long way towards forging bonds and acclimating to their new place of work. The more comfortable a new hire is, the more productive they will be. Encourage staff to reach out to the new employee, either in person or by email, to make them feel welcomed. Gallup research shows that the most engaged employees are the ones who have strong connections to their colleagues and supervisors.

Provide a Space for Feedback

Especially in the first few months, it’s important to provide a space for employees to provide feedback on and ask questions about their work experience free of judgment and pressure. This is also a great opportunity to gather feedback on your onboarding program, and what can be adjusted moving forward to better benefit new staff.

Don’t let what happened to Steve happen to your employees. Taking the time to walk new hires through how you do business from day one is in your best interest. They will be more engaged from the outset, be better prepared to adapt to the way your organization does business, and feel comfortable adding their own insight and experience to the team.


Originally published at gothamculture.com on June 23, 2016.

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