Being the new hire in the office, much like being the new kid on the block, isn’t easy. Put yourself in their shoes and empathize with the stress of walking into a new environment where everyone already knows each other and shares a common bond. Simple tasks like finding the restroom or coffee maker can suddenly become uncomfortable.
As HR professionals, we dutifully onboard new employees to grow into their role in the organization. We prepare them for what their job title entails, who they’ll be working with, what we expect from them, and what they can expect from us. But what we tend to neglect in the onboarding process is how we plan to integrate the new hire into the social fibers and culture of our company.
According to SHRM, there are four elements that go into a great onboarding experience: self-confidence, role clarity, social integration, and knowledge of culture. And when executed effectively, these four elements result in onboarding that is 69 percent more likely to retain employees for three or more years.
Today we’ll look at two elements in particular that tend to get overlooked: social integration and knowledge of culture. I’ll explain why HR professionals should never make the mistake of assuming new hires will just figure it out—and why they need to work with managers to start designing an effective onboarding strategy.
Here are five ways you can improve your onboarding experience today.
1. Start onboarding before the official start date.
One way to give your new hires a taste of your culture and to ease their first-day-of-work anxiety is to start the onboarding process before they actually set foot in the office.
First, find a way to cleverly infuse your unique voice into the interview process, especially through the job offer letter. Think of what’s typically a boring letter as an opportunity to further communicate your company’s culture. Customize it to make it feel authentic with language that represents your values and gives new hires a taste of what’s to come.
Second, allow them to complete paperwork ahead of time; that way, they won’t face the pressure of you staring at them as they sign their I-9 form and forget their Social Security number. It’s less awkward for them and more efficient for you.
The third part of prepping involves relieving some of their anxiety by answering any questions they may have, such as:
- Should I pack my lunch on the first day, or is there a team lunch scheduled?
- What time should I arrive at the office?
- Where do I park?
- Which floor is the office on?
- Who should I ask for when I arrive?
- Where are the restrooms?
- What will I be doing on the first day?
- Do I need to bring my computer?
- What should I wear?
- Does the office have coffee?
- Where do I sit?
- Who do I ask if I have questions?
- Which door do I go through?
It’s easy to assume that new employees will be able to find the answers to these questions on their own, but you want them to feel welcome and confident on their first day—not socially exhausted, bewildered, or embarrassed. Make it easier on them by eliminating the logistical questions they likely have, but may be reluctant to ask.
2. Introduce new people to the company in clever ways.
Adding someone to your team is exciting and a little awkward. To ease tensions and break the ice, consider asking a few fun questions prior to their start date about who they are outside the office. Then, with your new teammate’s permission, share the results with the company, department, or team on their first day.
This is effective for a couple of reasons. First, it helps your team start conversations and connect with the new face in the office. It also gives new hires social permission to share their hobbies and interests without feeling like they’re talking about themselves.
Another way to ease a new employee’s anxiety is to assign someone to take them around the office and meet people. It’s nothing revolutionary, but a guided tour and some introductions to people in other departments can help make random break room encounters a lot less uncomfortable.
3. Brand the experience.
While most companies discuss their core values and culture on a new hire’s first day, few treat the entire employee onboarding experience as a part of their employer brand. Effective branding is all about consistency, and simply mentioning that you have values without any follow-up is ineffective. Plus, infusing your employer branding into everything from introduction letters to company swag helps new hires better understand the tone and voice of the culture—and can help them engage faster.
If you have an onboarding box or a few welcome gifts, think about how to make it reflect your brand. We know not everyone can be Disney or Google, but even including some inside jokes in a welcome letter can help new hires start to understand the office jargon, humor, and culture. It doesn’t have to be fancy; it just has to be thoughtful.
4. Spread out the onboarding responsibilities.
There’s a common misconception that just because an employee goes through orientation means they’ve been successfully onboarded. So, let’s clear this up.
Orientation delivers information all new hires need to know, including things like your company policies, benefits options, and a tour of the office. It tends to be a one-time thing, lasting anywhere from a few hours to a full day during which new hires learn critical things about your company.
Onboarding, on the other hand, begins when the job offer is extended and ends when the new hire is determined to be a fully-functioning employee. When all is said and done, onboarding could last weeks or even months. Onboarding isn’t a single event, it’s a process—a series of events, one of which is employee orientation, leading to an outcome.
Since onboarding is a series of events, it’s important to ensure that the events are thoughtfully spread out and that some of them are geared toward integrating new hires into the social and cultural fibers of your company. For example, you might consider having a checklist for new hires to complete, with things like “take someone to lunch on the company’s dime” one week, then “schedule a time to chat with a neighbor” the next week. You can bring in your core values through this process as well, assigning specific tasks that are associated with learning the values of your organization.
The important thing to remember is that it takes some time to ramp someone up. Don’t think that because you’ve spent a few days or a week on orientation and introductions that a new hire is integrated and running at full speed. The reality is, it takes more time for people to acclimate to a new working environment, and providing support along the way should be part of your onboarding process.
5. Give new hires permission to ask questions.
The last tip for helping new hires to engage with your company’s culture is to give them permission, and even encourage them, to ask questions. It’s one thing to point someone in the direction of who they can reach out to for help; it’s another thing to provide them with a dedicated mentor who can proactively answer questions. Although this might seem a bit formal for some organizations, the principle behind the idea is what matters.
You need to demonstrate to your new hires that questions are encouraged in your company culture, whether that’s by setting up a formal mentoring system or by checking in with them consistently to see how they’re adjusting. If new hires feel comfortable asking questions in your organization, they can get up to speed and integrate with their teams much more easily.
Don’t assume they’ll figure it out. Instead, help them engage faster.
There are a ton of tips and tricks to onboarding, but when it comes to the social aspect of an organization, HR and new hires alike tend to get uncomfortable. Tackle this discomfort by designing the onboarding experience to represent your culture and employer brand and by giving new hires permission to reach out to others in your company. After all, the more comfortable your new hires feel, the more likely they are to stay with you and bring valuable new ideas to your organization.
About the Author
Karen Seketa is the VP of Talent at Element Three, an award-winning full-service marketing firm in Indianapolis. Karen helped grow the four-time Inc. 5000 company from 6 employees to 72 employees, hiring 100+ employees as a department of one.