Employee engagement

Welcome on board

Onboarding is a crucial part of the recruitment process and companies that neglect to offer this service may find themselves at a disadvantage

Employees in the UK stay at a company for around five years on average, research from life insurance firm LV= claims, but that period is likely to be a lot shorter if a company does not have a good onboarding process. And with replacing employees costing UK businesses around £4 billion a year, according to data from Oxford Economics and income protection providers Unum, it seems that, when it comes to recruiting, there is a business case for making a good first impression.

Caroline Bolam, course leader for the human resource management BA at the University of Westminster, says the process of Britain leaving the European Union has only made the consistency of onboarding more urgent. She explains: ‘For some companies, onboarding hasn’t changed at all. But with Brexit, there is more of an emphasis on getting people to join and stay. Countless studies have shown that there will be a shortage of key skills and it will be harder getting people to stay on.’

Employee retention is important for the entire company, not only for new hires but for existing, and even future, employees as well, says Gemma McGrattan, director at internal communications agency Synergy Creative. ‘If a new starter has a bad experience and leaves, the employer suffers both in the short-term financially with the cost of churn and rehire, and longer-term with its impact on existing staff morale,’ she explains.

Employees are at their most engaged when they receive an offer and during the initial days and weeks on board

‘And, with platforms like Glassdoor showing potential candidates what it’s really like to work at the company, a bad onboarding experience impacts the employer brand and increases the difficulty in hiring new talent.’

‘Companies are much more aware of their brand and with sites like Glassdoor, if someone has a bad experience with you, they can share that,’ adds Bolam. ‘People are much more informed of whether they want to work for a company. The more you communicate with them at the start, the more committed they will be.’

Someone who understands the challenges of employee onboarding from the front line is Jonny Briggs, group head of talent acquisition at insurance company Aviva. ‘One of the biggest problems in recruiting is that you only have one chance to make an impression,’ he says. ‘There’s often a lull between resigning and notice period and joining an organisation; engagement at that point is typically quite poor.’

But companies who fail to engage with new hires at this point are wasting a valuable opportunity to maximise on employees’ goodwill. ‘Employees are at their most engaged when they receive an offer and during the initial days and weeks on board,’ says Lee Smith, managing director at agency Gatehouse. ‘And yet so many organisations fail to take advantage of this positivity and, instead, let it fade as reality takes over. We hear this time and time again when we run research focus groups with employees – many of them complain about the induction process and feel short changed once they are onboard.’

Transparency, at this stage, between employee and employer is vital. A study by bambooHR found that 23 per cent of employees who left a company within six months said ‘not receiving clear guidelines as to what my responsibilities were’ contributed to their decision.

‘Having transparency between the new starter and the business is essential for both parties to understand what is expected of them from the other,’ says McGrattan. Bolam describes the mutual exchange between an organisation and an employee as a ‘psychological contract’. ‘It’s a mutual adjustment between that person and the company, to learn behaviours and learn how to be that brand,’ she explains.

Communicating a company’s culture plays a big part in this. ‘Notice periods can be three months so it’s a nice touch to drip feed information about the company and team they’ll be joining,’ says McGrattan. ‘Other bits of info that new starters might find interesting in the lead up to their start date would be more detail on the vision, values and strategy as well as softer Ten things you didn’t know about us style content. Welcome cards, a checklist for joiners, jargon busters and ‘buddy’ systems all do well to help new starters create internal relationships, networks and a sense of belonging, quickly.’

Notice periods can be three months so it’s a nice touch to drip feed information about the company and team they’ll be joining

To communicate its culture, Aviva uses software from employer communication specialists CA3, who have created a specialist onboarding platform called Eli. Eli allows companies to personalise their onboarding process, sharing content that communicates their values as well as giving employees support as they join the organisation.

‘Eli is constantly adding new functions, keeping ahead of that curve,’ says Briggs. ‘You can constantly update it with content. Each market has content tailored for their market.’ This content can include visions and values as well as department-specific information.

Educating employees about issues such as compliance often plays a large part in the onboarding process. But while governance and education are important, and in some industries a legal requirement, Bolam warns that a purely administrative approach to onboarding will not yield the same results as those organisations who ‘have a level of socialisation and a values-led approach’.

‘In all honesty, money [is what stops companies doing enough],’ says Bolam. Companies may justify their information-led approach by saying that they can’t spare their current employees to spend time with new recruits. ‘It depends whether the psychological contract matters. If you do care, then companies will put money into that.’ The ‘buddy’ is one of the most important assets when it comes to onboarding, as well as putting new starters in touch with their line managers.

Aviva uses Eli to give each new employee a buddy contact who they can get in touch with before they start, as well as to provide useful information on topics such as employee benefits. ‘It’s useful and warm and informative,’ says Briggs. ‘It makes day one less and less daunting.’

‘The relationship between manager and new starter is key for that new starter to feel comfortable,’ adds McGrattan.  ‘Open managers must make themselves available to check in with the new employee on progress and be a good point of contact for any questions they may have.’

You can’t have a second first day

‘We push that a buddy is allocated as early as possible,’ continues Briggs. ‘If you enter the portal and the buddy section is blank, that can lead to a bad experience.’

Onboarding specialist Eloomi found that more than three quarters of new recruits feel socialisation is most important and more than half want a buddy or a mentor. ‘While software isn’t the be all and end all, it can help ease the transition process. We’ve created recruiting and onboarding portals where new starters can access all the information they need, from their contract and benefits to vision, values, and job related information,’ says McGrattan.

‘Digital hubs like the company Intranet often help provide a much needed resource for new employees to get the information they need. Similarly enterprise social networks like Yammer and Workplace bridge information gaps, allow new starters to build relationships with colleagues and provide insight into company culture. ‘ Likewise, for Aviva, Eli means that contact between buddies, line managers and new starters is easier but ultimately, the experience is dependent on the line managers themselves, just as it ever was. Briggs agrees.

‘The feedback is very good, but it is dependent on the hiring line manager,’ he says. ‘You can’t have a second first day. It’s a great platform but doesn’t take any importance away from the line manager.’ ‘You can’t take away that human element,’ adds Bolam. The lesson to be learnt, then, is that companies shouldn’t use onboarding platforms for the sake of it. ‘The tool is for the users, and not for the administrations,’ says Claus Johansen, chief executive and founder of Eloomi.

‘User-friendliness and engagement is key for success.’ And with 82 per cent of new starters entering and using the Eli portal, it’s not as if Aviva’s use of software is unwarranted. ‘What Eli has done is make onboarding more consistent in all markets – the experience should be consistent globally,’ says Briggs. ‘It has given us confidence [in that].’

Ultimately, this confidence and continued investment in a good onboarding process is a selffulfilling prophecy as it leads to employees who are engaged and focused on the values and vision of a company right from the off. ‘Google research found that new employees with prior research experience and a better understanding of the culture of an organisation were still productive, engaged, and committed some five and a half years later,’ asserts McGrattan. And with Brexit now just around the corner, there’s never been a better time to get on board with onboarding.