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Today’s tight job market makes finding employees a tough task for most companies. And yet that hurdle is just the beginning. The real work starts once employers extend job offers to new team members. In the current employment market business owners and executives must ensure a new employee feels welcome and quickly becomes a part of the team.

The onboarding process is crucial to cultivating a strong culture and employee loyalty. Traditionally considered a brief period, onboarding should be a process that begins before a team member’s first day and continues for the next three to six months. The Society of Human Resources Management has a helpful onboarding guide that highlights the importance of a long-term onboarding process. Businesses would be wise to review their onboarding process to enhance the experience for new employees.

Even for those companies lucky enough to withstand the challenges of the pandemic and survive, many businesses now face new questions related to employee recruitment and retention. How do you build a team post-pandemic and motivate them to excel? This article is the second in a four-part series that will examine the evolution of building a team to thrive in today’s marketplace, including hiring, onboarding, maintaining the team, and continued team building. Check out the first article that covers hiring tips.

A great deal of uncertainty exists around employee retention and business leaders must adjust to meet the moment. Despite these challenges, businesses have new opportunities to identify and build exceptional teams that will power a company’s growth. After you hire employees, it’s all about a smooth transition and onboarding.

Before a New Employee Begins

The onboarding transition should begin before a new employee shows up to work on their first day, whether in person or virtually. Leaders need to connect with employees early. Make it personal by sending a welcome email. That note also can include new hire paperwork. By welcoming them and sharing this paperwork early, employees will feel like they’re already on the team. Having new hire paperwork completed before the first day also has benefits. Notably, it allows the company to onboard the employee quicker.

Don’t forget to share helpful information in advance of the new employee’s official start date. What are the most common questions you expect? Share answers to those questions proactively to reassure the employee. For example, send details about their schedule, pay periods, office dress code, and even parking.

Regardless of your company’s size and if you’re a startup or seasoned business, have a detailed checklist developed before a new hire’s first day. This checklist offers an array of advantages. First, it keeps you organized and provides an efficient process. Second, it ensures you don’t forget or overlook anything. Third, it enables you to welcome the new employee with confidence and that will show.

Developing an onboarding checklist is particularly crucial for smaller companies, especially if you don’t hire employees frequently. The checklist means that you can give the new employee the undivided attention they need when they join the company and nothing in the process slips through the cracks.

On the First Day

The first day is here, along with all the excitement and butterflies that accompany new beginnings. A good practice is to have the new employee arrive a little later than usual or have the person managing their onboarding arrive early. The goal is to ensure that their hiring manager, HR professional, or mentor, is settled in and focused on the new hire before they arrive.

From the very first day, it’s important that the hiring manager and new employee’s supervisor are clear about company policies and expectations. Don’t make assumptions. The better approach is to be direct about all policies, no matter how seemingly minor. Also, reiterate and, if needed, expand on helpful tips you shared in advance of the first day. For example, be clear about how and when the employee is paid, how they should dress, attendance policies and expectations, when benefits will begin, and their job responsibilities.

To make the first day seem less overwhelming, consider physically walking the new employee around the office to introduce them to other team members. This will provide an opportunity to meet their new co-workers and for other team members to briefly describe their roles. This walking tour is often overlooked, but vital for someone who is in an unfamiliar place. Don’t forget to also show them where common areas are located, such as a break room, kitchen, restroom, etc.

Business leaders can help create an even more welcoming environment and make the first day fun. How? The simple touches make all the difference. Have the new employee’s workstation or desk ready to go with supplies and the tools they’ll need. Consider gifting them some company swag. These gestures are meaningful and demonstrate your excitement for the new employee as well.

If possible on the first day, schedule a meeting or lunch between the new employee and one of the company’s senior leaders (i.e., president, C-suite, senior vice president, etc.). This approach shows that each team member is important and valued. Additionally, new employees can hear about a company’s vision from those leaders who are responsible for it.

After the First Day

The first day of a new job can be a whirlwind for the new employee and the company. That’s often true for the first week and first month as well. Remember that the onboarding process shouldn’t stop after one day or a few weeks. In my experience, onboarding should last between three to six months.

That’s not to say that your company should have structured training for that period of time. Rather, consider onboarding as an initial period of review and feedback. Business leaders and managers should be prepared to repeat introductions and expectations multiple times during this timeframe. You also should plan for more consistent check-in meetings. These meetings don’t have to be lengthy or formal. The priority is to ensure the new employee is settling in and performing well. These check-ins provide great insights and will help a manager identify issues early.

This onboarding period is also a good time to remind new employees about company benefits and encourage they participate in those benefits, such as retirement saving.

Finally, for the onboarding process to be successful, supervisors and other managers must be honest with their feedback. Issues both large and small should be discussed early on. For example, if a new employee is late to meetings, remind them that they’re expected to be on time. If they aren’t dressing appropriately or are socializing too much, counsel them. Constructive assessments are vital to anyone’s professional success. Onboarding is an ideal time to address any concerns because it’s a learning period.

Creating an onboarding process that begins before a new employee’s first day and lasts for a few months will ensure a smooth transition and set up employees for success. Any business would be wise to prioritize onboarding given the long-term advantages this process provides.