Onboarding: How to Retain Employees from the Start

How to retain employees

You've put out the right feelers, dangled the right offer, and scored that employee who qualifies as one of those elusive "top hires."

The question is, now what?

From the outside, recruitment and retention can sometimes seem like unrelated concepts, with the space between the two looking like the formless netherworld between when you capture new employees and the day somewhere in the future when the glow wears off and you start to have to worry about hanging on to them.

But Bright Horizons' Jane Weinstein says the latter (retention) starts even before the former (recruitment) ends.

How to Retain Employees? Start From Day One

How an employee starts on the job can erase the honeymoon in a hurry. Studies published by SHRM earlier this year show substantial risk of losing employees in the first year, with many of those who actually left citing faulty onboarding as the reason for their hasty exit. That the subject is top of mind can be illustrated by the fact that it was the focus of numerous questions from those at our recent IBM webinar.

"If you don't give people the opportunity to hit the ground running," says Jane, Bright Horizons' director of learning services and organizational development, "that's a missed opportunity that can lead to continued disengagement."

What a Great Onboarding Experience Looks Like

So what does a great onboarding experience look like?

First, it means having all ducks - like desks, computers - lined up the moment an employee walks in the door. It also means laying out a clear path for support throughout the first year.

At Bright Horizons, Jane says there's been a lot of investigating about how to make sure that those things take place. The soul searching led to the creation of Bright Horizons' Great First Year (GFY) program, an initiative that recognizes onboarding expands well past the first day on the job.

The vision came from CHRO Dan Henry who recommended taking all content related to the entire first 12 months - typically dispersed across Bright Horizon's vast intranet - and putting it all into a single "store." It was a seemingly simple concept that solved a monumental problem: how to find what you need. "People were constantly saying, 'I wish I had access to X tool,'" says Jane. "And I would say, 'That does exist - it's just that no one knows where it is.'"

Creating a Great Experience

All that said, what are some of the things GFY - and your program -- should take into account?

A good first impression 

An advance welcome kit is a nice perk. But more important is being sure the supervisor knows the new employee is coming and that there will be a place to sit. "We had a welcome kit for a long time," says Jane. "But this new program is another way to make a good impression."

A consistent experience

Exactly what do you want onboarding to look like at your organization? Draw yourself a map and communicate it clearly. Then provide one-stop access. To create consistency across teams, the GFY site has steps, documents, tools, information about the importance of providing a great employee experience, and videos about what it looks for a great hire. There are also pings for managers to remind new hires at key points throughout the first year about any assignments associated with training and compliance.

Nuts and bolts

Sometimes it's the simple things - like the absence of a computer or workspace - that can derail a first day. That can happen when managers erroneously assume those things will automatically appear. Make sure there's a clearly marked portal for managers to know exactly how - and what - to assign. "We had a lot of anecdotal information about employees and managers not knowing where to go," says Jane.

One-stop shopping 

First-day assignments (filling out benefits forms, designated contacts, creating direct deposit) can be overwhelming. First-year assignments (keeping up with training and compliance modules) can get completely lost. Make sure employees have clear, single-site access to all information and responsibilities, with specific roadmaps, instructions, and reminders about what they need to do and when.

Support beyond the start

To be truly successful, support needs to extend well beyond day one. Weeks and even months in, GFY continues to remind managers to check in daily with employees, make sure they've been introduced to all pertinent people, and ensure they've experienced things like welcome meals where they can meet other new hires.

Equally important, training is not a one way street. Employees need to learn they have some power in the onboarding process, while managers often need to learn how to manage.

"To make sure the first year is successful," says Jane, "You need to build awareness about what roles the new hire and manager play, and provide the tools to help both along."

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Written by: Lisa Oppenheimer

About the Author

Lisa Oppenheimer at Bright Horizons

As Director, Brand Storytelling at Bright Horizons, Lisa writes “from the trenches” about the real life challenges of people in today’s workplaces: from the tensions of being a working mother, to working with millennials in the digital age, and everything in between. With a career ranging from freelance to full-time, Lisa brings a diverse employment background to her perspective.