As your business grows and you take on new employees, it’s important to remember that starting a new role in a new organisation can be a stressful time for anyone, no matter what their experience. Thinking about employee onboarding from the onboardee’s (new starter’s) point of view can help you develop a process that works for your organisation and helps new employees feel part of it quickly too.
In this interview, Melanie Guy, HR Manager of webexpenses, shares her experience of onboarding best practice from the onboardee’s point of view.
Key advice when looking to take on new employees:
“It’s so important to remember that there’s a person at the other end of the process. They could be nervous because this is their first job, or they’ve resigned from another role and both of those things could be big decisions for them.
“They’ll also be keen to make a good impression and feel that the decision they’ve made is the right one. The impression that your hiring organisation makes needs to be a good one too. That’s important not just at the interview stage, but throughout the process right up to and into employment.”
When does a successful candidate become an “onboardee”?
“Onboarding starts from the moment the role has been offered – that’s when they become an onboardee. It’s too late to start thinking about it on day one of their employment. How a business behaves during the time from the verbal offer to the first day of employment will demonstrate their culture and reflect on their employer brand.”
How should businesses be managing onboarding?
Melanie says: “At the offer stage, the contract, the offer letter and any supporting documentation needs to be accurate and issued in a timely fashion. No-one wants to be waiting days for this to drop through their letter box and they’re not going to resign from their existing job until they’ve had sight of those written offer details.
“The supporting documents issued need to be relevant as well. Consider if all the documents need to be issued with the contract or can they wait until the start of employment, when the employee is taken through the documents and given individual attention?
“For example, each industry and role has its own Health and Safety considerations, but do you need your new hires to read your policy and details when they receive their offer details? You may find that by the time they join it’s not so fresh in their mind. It may be more relevant and useful to brief them on their first day as part of their induction and orientation to your business.”
Is the process of offers managed well in UK business?
“We conducted some research recently and our findings were that 69 per cent of HR professionals said that issuing contracts and offer letters in a timely way had caused them problems. The most common cause was the accuracy or completeness of information provided to formulate the offer. Out of the respondents 45 per cent said that inaccuracies in the contract clauses or offer details then created problems further down the line.”
Melanie also spoke about someone she knew who had received a verbal offer, but the written offer had been delayed because it missed the last post. When they asked for it to be emailed, they received a very poor scan copy of a file document.
Melanie says: “As the first piece of written correspondence that person had received from the hiring organisation, it wasn’t a good first impression. It sends a message that they aren’t thinking about the experience for the other person.”
What impact do longer notice periods have on new hires?
“At webexpenses we run a graduate training programme and last April we made an offer to a graduate who wasn’t able to join us until August of that same year. When she joined she said she’d been fearful that with such a long lead time she’d be forgotten about.”
What did you do in those four months to stay in contact?
“It’s about setting expectations. If we’d sent the offer letter and not corresponded again until just prior to her joining date, she would have felt forgotten. So, if you send an offer stating a return by date for the signed copies, you acknowledge receipt on return and advise when they can next expect to hear from you and make relevant details and pre-reading available at the appropriate time, then you’re maintaining contact.”
“One of the things we’ve done is to invite new hires with a longer notice period to social events, so that they get to meet their future colleagues in an informal setting. Prior to joining we send a welcome email that includes details of their start time for their first day, reminders about dress code, and reminder of anything they need to bring along with them.”
How do you maintain a two-way conversation with onboardees during their notice period?
“It could be two weeks or two months since they communicated with you or met you face to face. If you’re keeping communications channels opens, you can spot potential drop outs more easily, and this helps you address any concerns the individual may have.
“In our recent survey 80 per cent of HR decision makers said they had enabled or encouraged successful candidates to engage with their organisation before their first day. That’s encouraging to hear.”
Your research also showed that 69 per cent of companies find issuing contracts problematic. Do you have trouble getting details back?
“Yes, we do sometimes need to send a gentle reminder to onboardees to return their signed and completed documents. There have been times when the onboardee has chosen to post documents back and not included the correct postage and then there’s a delay before Royal
Mail notify you that there’s a package waiting and a handling fee.”
Do many candidates still choose to return documents by post?
“Not so many choose to post documents any more. Most do it because it’s what they were required to do in their previous job. We send the documents electronically and make it clear they can return them in the same way.”
“Think about it from the onboardee’s point of view. Returning a package of documents by post can mean time out standing in a queue at the post office, and not everyone can do that.”
“Of course, even with electronic documents, you do need to check they’ve returned everything you’re expecting and remind them again if anything’s still missing.”
What’s the most commonly missed item?
“The most commonly missed detail is probable their referee details. That’s one of the areas where we typically need to chase the onboardee up.”
Do you think too much information is issued with contracts?
“Yes, I do. The documents need to be relevant and how much you send out needs to be considered too. Issuing a large pack of documents, either hard copy or electronically can not only be quite daunting, but you’re pushing the burden on the onboardee to return it. It needs to be as easy and clear as possible.”
Once the onboardee has returned all the documents, what happens next?
Melanie says: “In the intervening time, induction needs to be planned and relevant kit ordered to enable them to do their job.”
There’s a lot to think about. What different areas of business need to be involved?
“Depending on what’s provided as standard by the organisation and what’s needed for the role, there could be a number of people involved. Some roles don’t require any IT set up, but maybe a uniform needs to be ordered and issued; security might need to issue an access pass etc. ”
“First impressions are so important, as is the need for a well-structured induction plan so that an onboardee’s experience is a positive one.”