The big picture
The high cost of high employee turnover
With unemployment levels now below 5%, be aware that your employees will jump ship if they find a better position–unless they are especially happy working for your company. In fact, about 33% of your new hires will leave voluntarily or involuntarily before the end of their first year. This can create an enormous potential financial drain on your company resulting from things like management costs of hiring replacements, and lost ROI on training, compensation, and benefits paid to the departing employee. The only way to prevent such losses is a well-designed structured onboarding policy for new hires.
Onboarding includes orienting, assimilating, coaching and retraining employees. It isn’t realistic to assume that new hires should be able to hit the ground running, because no matter how effective your onboarding practices, employee productivity the first year is usually limited. PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates that the costs of bringing a new employee up to speed can range from 50 to 150% of their salary during the first year.
As discussed before, candidates are likely to accept your offer of employment without considering the potential downside–so be sure to give them an easy way to ‘bail’ if they have second thoughts during their orientation. Zappos, for example, offers up to $4K to new hires who feel this way. That sounds like a lot, but is a significant cost savings over the irretrievable investment resulting from unhappy employees quitting after several months to a year.
Successful onboarding increases employee retention and builds your brand
‘One-day-only onboarding‘ orientation is nothing more than a band-aid since employees rarely decide whether to stay with a company after the first day. By contrast, those companies investing in a carefully structured, longer orientation period are rewarded with a three plus year 66% retention rate, according to the Department of Labor. Also, extending the length of onboarding/orientation provides new hires with valuable additional time for coaching and specialized training.
Successful programs share a predictable structure, consistent communication and, above all, management patience. A fourth critical element of success is leveraging new employee strengths before requiring they acquire new competencies. This approach results in a 32% reduction in employee attrition after six months of employment.
Other benefits of onboarding
- New hires happy with their onboarding experience will share their positive experience with others, including previous co-workers, boosting your recruiting efforts. It’s a wise strategy to ask new hires to make referrals from among their high performing former colleagues.
- Research shows that effective onboarding programs improve initial new hire performance by over 11%.
Beginning onboarding before the first day with e-packages loaded with valuable employee information significantly boosts first-year employee retention. Consider including things like a welcoming email, company videos, virtual tours of your facility, answers to FAQs, and information about your company’s history, vision/mission, and core values. Also, provide them with a description of the hardware and software that will be waiting for them on their first day.
During their first week, give them ample time to complete their benefits enrollment, taxes, and direct deposit information, especially if the volume of paperwork is too great to handle within a reasonable amount of time.
Share onboarding responsibilities
Again, before the first day, send the new hire a schedule for the first few days, with meetings scheduled not only with their reporting manager, but also their team members, higher-level managers, and with representatives from other departments with whom they’ll be coordinating future work. In fact, 43% of companies make onboarding a team effort, something I believe is the best approach even for corporations where HR often wants exclusive control of the process.
If you have been keeping things loose and informal, with no established onboarding structure, consider the confusion and anxiety that can trigger for a new employee on their first day. For starters–if the hiring manager is going to be out of town, consider changing the first employee’s start date so that he or she can meet with her or him without delay. If a new employee doesn’t even know where the lunchroom or restrooms are located, you have a problem.
Most importantly, the reporting manager needs to set aside time right away to discuss day-to-day responsibilities, goals, performance expectations and how to prepare for their first 90 days–including initial project assignments. Make them aware of the importance of their work and its impact not only on other team members but also on those working in other areas.
Select veteran employees to help the new hires
It’s highly advisable that you structure time for your new employees to shadow veteran employees during the first weeks or longer. This is another of those factors that correlate with motivation, productivity, and retention. Whom you select to provide that mentoring is based not only overlapping responsibilities but, also, on the personality of the veteran employee. Some of your most competent employees may not have the personability or patience required for this kind of assignment. The resulting lack of rapport can significantly undermine the morale of new hires. Be careful to avoid that mistake.
- Make sure your new hire has a comfortable, clean, fully stocked workstation with computer and other digital devices ready to go. Place important documents such as the employee handbook, phone directory, organizational chart and enrollment paperwork on their desk. Also, make sure to stock their station with all the necessary office supplies.
- Provide staff members with information about the new employee, including such things as their job description and resume. Also, give them a schedule with times to meet the new hire and with a description of how they will be working together once the employee is up to speed.
- Welcoming gifts are not a gimmick. Having a custom t-shirt, workbag, pens, etc., all help to make the employee feel welcome while building brand loyalty.
- Ensure a supportive probationary period for new hires
An Academy of Management study shows that the first 90 days on the job are critical for establishing rapport between a new hire and her co-workers. Without consistent support and clear direction, new employees will be unhappy and not perform to expectation. Research shows that unhappy employees who are not terminated at the end of their probationary period are unlikely to make even through the fourth month.
- Give employees a sense of purpose
Your company’s underlying vision and mission are the ‘prime directives’ of your company’s culture. If authentic and continually reinforced, they give employees a sense of purpose and forward momentum. Help your employees understand how their individual work fits into the big picture to give them a clear ‘sense of meaning,’ a factor that correlates with a 300% increase in long-term employee retention.
Agile organizations that encourage cross-silo collaboration and creativity have an innate advantage in this area. Also, be aware that Millennials value meaningful work more than any previous generation. They place the highest priority on being part of a cause that matters.
- Provide continual employee development opportunities
Orientation training for new employees needs to integrate information about the company culture, i.e., how work gets done, with basic, essential information on how to do their particular job.
Training, whether delivered by an in-house training department or proven, well-credentialed training consultants, should be provided for all levels employees to bring them up to speed on system upgrades and organizational changes. Employees also greatly benefit from professional enrichment training, including such ‘soft skill’ areas as written/verbal communication competencies and emotional intelligence.
- Invest in as many kinds of employee development as you can afford
By investing in one-on-one coaching, establishing a mentoring program, and paying for or subsidizing formal employee education, retention rises, and your company’s brand is enhanced. Your company gains a deserved industry reputation as a wonderful place to work, helping you attract the best candidates.
- Describe career advancement options
From the beginning of an employee’s tenure, clarify your expectations for promotion and map out different career paths need they may want to target. This further solidifies your commitment to the employee’s long-term professional development and work satisfaction. Have periodic one-on–one sessions with employees to set goals for advancing in your organization. You can significantly reinforce their productivity and forward momentum if you offer tuition reimbursement, pay for continuing education, certification courses, and professional memberships or conferences.
Employee retention correlates with employee satisfaction. Next, I’ll discuss how 360-degree employee feedback, promoting from within and gearing rewards to individual preferences and needs contribute to both.
Additional strategies for retaining employees
- Track employee satisfaction
Develop and distribute anonymous employee satisfaction surveys on a regular basis, periodically updated with questions to get feedback on changes in your work environment. Leveraging this bottom to top feedback allows you to uncover problems that otherwise can spin out of control. This, in turn, contributes to higher employee retention.
- Develop skilled, autonomous employees so you can promote from within
When you provide the necessary leadership, resources and training for employee development, you can delegate more work with much less oversight. This frees up your time with the still greater benefit of giving your employees a surer sense of their professional value, along with improving their collaboration, creativity, and loyalty. Of course, with independence come risks and, inevitably, some failures. Encourage your employees to learn from their mistakes to grow professionally. When you invest in your employees’ professional development, it’s easier for you (and better for morale) to promote from within.
- Provide frequent, interactive performance feedback
An effective performance evaluation system begins with creating clear, trackable metrics that both employees and managers accept and understand. However, the old model of one performance evaluation a year with the manager providing one-way feedback to the employee isn’t effective. A much better approach is to provide more frequent performance feedback with an emphasis on two-way communication between the employee and manager. Employees should always feel comfortable sharing their concerns and suggestions for improvement.
- Train managers and supervisors in effective communication and principles of leadership
When managers fail to model respectful, effective communication, employee retention drops dramatically. In fact, dissatisfaction with one’s reporting manager is the most frequently cited single reason for leaving a company. This is why it’s imperative that your managers get all the training and coaching they need to communicate effectively and behave professionally. –Too often, the technically most skilled employees are promoted to management without the requisite skills or necessary training to be good managers.
- Tailor work incentives to the individual
Individual employees are motivated by different things. Offering the same benefits and work parameters to everyone without regard for different employee needs contributes to higher turnover. It takes time to develop options for flexible working hours, work-at-home and benefits options, etc., but by doing so, you increase employee satisfaction and retention.
When you recognize employees for outstanding performance, you reinforce their loyalty. The same principle applies to recognizing and encouraging all employees whose performance has improved. While offering material incentives can also advance performance, simply thanking employees for improved performance is usually enough to reinforce their forward momentum.
- Emphasize health and wellness
When you launch a wellness program, you demonstrate support for your employees’ work/life balance and stress management. Because our digital devices give us instantaneous, 24/7 contact both with work and family/friends, employers need to recognize that cleanly separating those two domains is no longer possible. Consider offering flextime, telecommuting and other work options that make it easier for people to manage their work and personal demands. Understand that employees whose personal (and work) needs are validated by generous paid leave policies, flextime, telecommuting and other work options, etc., will also be there for you when you have a crisis at 9 pm.
- Finally, employees aren’t machines.
Employees need breaks – at least every 90 minutes. Employees who work overtime with no breaks lose focus and are much less productive and creative.