I hear people describing their workplace as their ‘other family’ all the time.  Considering how much time many of us spend at work, there’s a nugget of truth to that.  Families, however, can be dysfunctional.  That’s when folks in my occupation tend to get involved.  What if, instead, we view a new job as the beginning of a life-long love affair?  The goal is to grow old together and retire after a long, fulfilling relationship.  Without a successful onboarding process, how can you make that first impression develop into a lasting “romance?” 

Onboarding is essentially the process you use to acclimate new employees into the culture and operation of your business.  In the old days, the process was called “orientation” and was a dreadful event full of benefits paperwork, long-winded PowerPoint presentations, and folks reading from scripts to welcome you to the company.  It was the equivalent of that first date where, five minutes in, you order the salad and tell the waiter you won’t be needing the dessert menu.  Orientation doesn’t have to be a bad word, though, and proper onboarding can provide the same content of a traditional orientation in a more inviting way.

A lot of employers use a 90-day probationary period to assess whether an employee is a good fit with their company.  A good onboarding process can make the most of this trial run.  One of my dating views is that you can only hide the crazy for so long.  That’s a less-than-artful way of saying that people can stay on their best behavior until they feel like they’re ‘in,’ and that philosophy has some application in the workplace.  But how do we combat that trend at work?

Well, making sure your employee hits the ground on day one with a mentor is one way to indoctrinate them into the corporate culture and find out whether the employee is a true fit or just behaving himself.  Consider networking events during the onboarding process, too.  I’ve read about companies that even use scavenger hunts which can only be completed by meeting other folks in the office and learning how things are done in their new workplace to break the ice.

Remember that your “date” is sizing you up too during these early months.  Research shows that employers with weak onboarding processes have higher rates of employee turnover, particularly in the first six months.  Letting your employees sink or swim after their initiation is not going to instill loyalty.  Follow up with them to make sure they are adjusting well and don’t have questions they are afraid to answer, either.  Make sure their mentor is actually mentoring them.  Show them that you are as excited for them to come work for you as they are to work for you.  The new employee’s office should be ready and waiting for them.  Perhaps you can even have a project for that first day so the employee feels like they are contributing right off the bat.

Another way to make that first day less trying is to send out forms and information ahead of time.  That way, you can dedicate some time to answering questions rather than reciting benefits information from your plan.  You can also avoid overload by breaking up the onboarding process into sessions that end in the early afternoon.  Scheduling casual meet and greets or facility tours for later in the day is another idea.    

The whole point of the onboarding process is to create loyal, happy employees.  It’s much less likely that those folks will give you trouble requiring my services.  On the other hand, a more formalized process is likely to identify the employees with whom you don’t want to get into a committed relationship.  Sometimes, it’s better you know if you’re going to be ordering dessert sooner than later.  In the end, each employer has to decide if one approach is better than the other, or if perhaps blending them is best.  I welcome any of your ideas on onboarding, so please feel free to share them.

Vanessa Towarnicky's primary focus is in the area of labor and employment law. She has been involved in representing clients in various employment cases, including sexual harassment; deliberate intent; age, race, and disability discrimination; wrongful discharge; and various other employment-related torts. She is admitted to various state and federal courts as well as the Third Circuit Court of Appeals and Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.
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