Employee onboarding is the process of integrating new talent with a company’s culture and providing them the tools they need to become a productive, successful member of the team. It is also the most important recruitment tool a company has — a prime opportunity for employers to engage employees and keep them in the business for years to come. And yet, according to the Harvard Business Review, 22% of companies have no onboarding program at all, while 49% only have a “somewhat successful” process.

It’s obvious why onboarding is important — turnover is expensive, and incredibly so. New hires with a negative onboarding experience are likely to seek a different job opportunity in the immediate future. And according to Glassdoor, the average employer spends about 24 days and $4,000 on a new hire. But even when new employees stay with a company that did not provide adequate training and support during the onboarding process, the end result is a negative one, as disengaged employees actually undermine the productivity of otherwise productive team members, and by extension, your entire organization.

Making a good first impression on your new employees is important.
Making a good first impression on your new employees is important.

There is enough evidence showing that a positive and inclusive onboarding program leads to productive and contented workers that stay loyal to their companies. So, how can you improve your onboarding program and employee retention? 

The answer: Make the whole experience as engaging as possible.

Onboarding is the first impression for your new hires, and first impressions are crucial. How employers handle the first few days and weeks of a new hire’s experience is essential to ensuring high employee retention and engagement. In other words, onboarding is what sets the stage for the rest of a new hire’s employment life. For those wondering how to engage employees during the hiring process, consider incorporating these five employee engagement practices into your onboarding program:

By letting your employees be themselves at work, you encourage them to engage.
By letting your employees be themselves at work, you encourage them to engage.

1. Encourage Authentic Expression

One of the best and easiest ways to engage employees is encouraging them to be themselves. Yes, it sounds like a cliché, but it’s true: when you encourage people to be who they are instead of what you want them to be, they will feel welcomed and at ease in their work environments. As a result, they start embracing and showing entrepreneurial talents that weren’t previously leveraged.

By encouraging authentic expression, you foster a healthier work atmosphere and culture that allows people to discover what they’re naturally good at. The sooner your onboarding program incorporates this attitude, the better it will be. But why? Research shows that businesses with more engaged workers:

  1. Are more positive
  2. Have higher shareholder returns
  3. Outperform businesses with disengaged employees
  4. Achieve higher annual net income than businesses with disengaged employees

Design and create onboarding programs that encourage employees to be who they are so you can enable their full potential. Do this by training your managers to be as helpful, motivating, and inclusive as they can be. To go a step further, you can also encourage employee personal development. Learning about people’s hobbies and things they care about shows that you care, which only elevates how you can engage employees.

2. Focus on the Employees

To create a positive onboarding program, it’s crucial to focus on the people you’re hiring. Some questions you should ask include:

  • What do new employees want and need?
  • How can I help them feel prepared?
  • What should they know about the company’s culture and work environment?
  • How can I effectively communicate with new hires?
  • What goals should they reach at the end of the program?

To put it simply, new hires want to feel prepared, motivated, and welcomed to their new work environment. You should help with all of these by devising a plan of action that effectively helps them understand company policies while getting acquainted with their co-workers and work culture. To create a plan like this, it’s important to observe the people you’re hiring: their age, personality, previous experience, and so on.

Millennials prefer texting and chat applications to communicate within their work environments.
Millennials prefer texting and chat applications to communicate within their work environments.

For instance, if you’re hiring people from different generations, including baby boomers and millennials, you’ll likely need multiple means of communication so you can foster a healthy and inclusive work environment. While most baby boomers understand modern technology very well, it’s not wise to assume they all have excellent tech skills. And even if they do, many people from this generation prefer face-to-face communication, unlike millennials, who almost always prefer text messaging apps, emails, and video chat tools.

Get to know the people you are hiring and give them exactly what they need to feel prepared and confident during the onboarding process.

3. Set Clear Expectations

To effectively onboard newly hired talent, you need to set clear expectations from day one. You can do this by outlining everyone’s job duties, responsibilities, and boundaries. Give your employees all the information and tools they need to reach their goals, including the right technologies, organizational tools, training courses, and quizzes. It’s also a good idea to create a timeline with a 30, 60 or 90-day plan, so you can track progress and introduce course corrections if needed.

Give your employees a clear understanding of the company’s expectations to encourage engagement.
Give your employees a clear understanding of the company’s expectations to encourage engagement.

Having a detailed roadmap with key milestones is also helpful because it gives your employees a clear understanding of the company’s expectations. You have the opportunity to measure employee engagement when it matters the most — during the onboarding process. 

Why is this important? How employees react during the first few weeks and months in a new company is an accurate representation of their future performance. With the right tools and information in hand, new hires should have no problem reaching expectations. Here’s eight ways you can not only be prepared, but also make your employees feel prepared:

1. Send an Email to New Hires

Send a detailed email to your new hires where you highlight everything they need to know about their job responsibilities, the company’s culture, and the onboarding checklist. Furthermore, point out the contact person in case they need help with anything.

2. Send an Email to Existing Employees

Send an email to your existing employees where you explain the duties of the new hires and how they can help them get settled.

3. Prepare New Hires’ Workspaces

Prepare new hires’ workspaces, equipment, and documentation, including relevant HR forms, new email accounts, and welcome packages.

4. Make Introductions

Welcome them to the team and introduce them to your existing employees. Help them set up their desks and get settled while engaging others around them.

5. Educate New Hires on Company History and Culture

Introduce the company’s history, mission, vision, and values on their first day and highlight company-wide initiatives. Explain their job description and how they fit into the team.

6. Set Goals

Set goals for each new hire’s first few months and explain how they can reach them. Explain your expectations for employees and ask them about their expectations as well.

7. Check In Daily

Check in with your new workers every day in the first few weeks, then every week. Schedule regular one-on-one meetings where you can discuss their progress, and later, their career development plan.

8. Stay Organized

Organize all relevant training, including software training and recommend useful reading. Also, put together social activities to keep your employees engaged and motivated during the entire onboarding experience.

It’s also a good idea to conduct progress reviews every three to six months so both you and your employees can see whether your expectations are being met.

4. Have Effective Two-Way Feedback

To be truly effective at engaging employees, an onboarding program has to allow for proper two-way communication. This should include more formal one-on-one sessions, which should be scheduled in advance, as well as instant feedback given spontaneously every day.

Two-way feedback between managers and employees is a key way to keep employees engaged during the onboarding process.
Two-way feedback between managers and employees is a key way to keep employees engaged during the onboarding process.

Besides one-on-one sessions, it’s a good idea that an onboarding program includes quantitative and qualitative surveys as well, as these allow for easy gathering of information about employee experiences and opinions during the process itself.

Effective two-way communication is important because it introduces new employees to your company’s cultural values in a natural and friendly way, and your existing team members can get to know the new hires. There are other benefits of getting feedback from new employees too, including the fact that new hires like to be heard. When people feel like their opinions are valued, they feel more engaged and motivated, which is crucial during the onboarding process. Also, many workers thrive on instant, spontaneous feedback as it allows them to better direct and/or correct their everyday efforts.

5. Hold Supervisors Accountable for Employee Engagement

It’s no secret that managers and supervisors play a key role in driving employee engagement. You cannot expect highly engaged employees if your managers themselves are disengaged from their work and colleagues.

One of the easiest yet most effective strategies for improving employee engagement is to:

  1. Coach your managers to take active roles in creating effective engagement plans with their team members.
  2. Track their progress, help if necessary, and hold them accountable for the overall employee engagement level.
When it comes to how to engage employees, managers should ultimately be held accountable.
When it comes to how to engage employees, managers should ultimately be held accountable.

Naturally, high performing and motivating managers will help build high performing teams of people, whereas indifferent managers cannot help but create disengaged teams. What does this mean for companies?

They should choose their leaders carefully and require regular reports for both teams and individual members’ engagement levels.

Practically speaking, managers and supervisors need to define engagement goals in pragmatic, everyday terms. This means that goals and expectations need to be presented in meaningful ways to employees and their day-to-day experiences. To do this, managers should combine emotive language with powerful descriptions regularly. They should also schedule periodic one-on-one sessions where they can discuss employee engagement and how they can improve it during the onboarding process. In essence, they need to use every opportunity they have to transform their new employees’ onboarding process into a fulfilling and motivating experience.

To engage employees during the onboarding process and beyond, companies need to give their workers all the information, tools, and processes necessary to be successful at their jobs. There are many ways businesses can go about this, but ultimately, what really matters is offering both practical and emotional support and recognizing employee efforts.

Jennifer Houghton, Head Writer at TextMagicJennifer Houghton is a head writer at TextMagic. She writes about the latest marketing trends and shares useful tips for practical mobile marketing and building customer relationships.

The Insider's Guide to Employee Recognition - Download now!