Get on board

Onboarding and offboarding: what you need to know.

Having worked in the human resources sector for over 30 years, I’ve noticed a lot of change in the last decade, the most notable being the increasingly competitive nature of attracting employees, or “talent management” as it’s sometimes referred to. So, how do you attract the right people? And how do you retain them? That has also changed.

People are becoming much more educated nowadays about the business or company they are looking to join – this is more apparent with millennials who are glued to the internet. Try doing a quick Google search on your name or business and see what pops up. Now ask yourself if this is the kind of employer you would want to work for? If it’s a no, then what can you do to change this image? First impressions are everything – from the initial Google search to the interview and then the first day. What is your new recruit going to think about you upon joining the team?

Think back to when you started your first job, or first started in the company you’re with now. Did you feel nervous or anxious, or were you welcomed and made to feel at home?

Onboarding is much more than the stock standard orientation and induction of “here’s your desk, here’s your team, here’s the lunch room”. It extends much deeper into how an employer can get an employee to be much more productive within a quicker timeframe. It is also about how the employee is able to fit in to the business.

So, what’s the most effective onboarding strategy?

Onboarding should start before the employee sets a foot in the door – when going over the compliance rituals, express how excited you are for them to join the team. Upon their arrival, plan a fun outing like a team lunch for them to bond with co-workers in a social environment, make them familiar with colleagues’ first names and try not to give them a discouraging task in their first week. After all, first impressions matter and we want our employees to feel happy to tell their partner “I had a great first week”.

If it starts off really well, then it’s on an upward trajectory; if it doesn’t, it’s going to take a bit of effort to bring it back up. Now there is a little bit of slack allowed, but at the end of the day both sides are evaluating after that first day or week – is this a good choice?

“Onboarding is much more than the stock standard orientation and induction of ‘here’s your desk, here’s your team, here’s the lunch room’.”

Statistics show almost 25 per cent of all employees will turn over within the first 90 days. Let’s just repeat that – almost a quarter of all employees don’t make it past their three-month probation period. Furthermore, millennials are turning over about one in three. Having to repeat the process of recruitment from the start can be quite costly – especially for small-business owners.

Notably, strategic advisors Korn Ferry* report that structured onboarding can reduce the chances of turnover by 69 per cent.

After roughly six months on the job, an employee should have found their feet and both parties should feel happy and comfortable with the arrangement. From here we transition from onboarding to a much deeper level of engagement and responsibility, but onboarding is the all-important precursor. If at this point the employee isn’t fitting in, it’s more than likely an issue irrelevant to the onboarding program.

It’s also important to note that an employer should care for an employee, even after they have gone. Why, you ask? My own research has found that if you offer people outplacement there is a 90 per cent chance that they are not going to post adversely or gossip online. This is relevant for both a mutual or non-mutual termination.

Genuine outplacement requires proper support, so the individual who is leaving feels better about their crappy situation. Whether it’s crappy for the employee due to termination or a well-liked team member moving onwards and upwards, you never know when this employee may make their way back to the organisation – hello “boomerang employees”. It’s important to make sure relationships do end well because in any industry, that end may only be temporary.

Investing in outplacement is also an indirect return on investment. Today, it’s so easy to build up and trash a reputation. Look at the recent downfall of iconic brands such Huawei and Volkswagen, or even individuals like Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey. It took just days for their reputations to be ruined with bad publicity.

Companies can be damaged just as quickly. One of the easiest ways damage can be done to a company is if they treat their employees badly – often feelings are amplified on the way out and almost like a bad restaurant review, this is when disgruntled former employees tend to speak negatively about employers.

As mentioned earlier, more and more employees are checking out their employer online before they go for an interview. There are sites like Seek and Glass Door that encourage rating of an employer – these are just a few examples of how a “bad review” can spread, which is especially relevant within small industries.

From a candidate’s perspective, the four foundational elements of successful onboarding are:

  1. Contextual: The context of your employment often moulds your employer’s expectations of your performance in your new role. But when you are initially employed, you are often unaware of exactly what this context is and how it translates into the reality of working in your new role. This means that once you start employment and the context becomes more evident, you must take into account what or who has come before you.
  2. Cultural: You can think about the business culture as its “personality”. This makes it harder to grasp when you enter a new workplace as it is less tangible than formal business structures. When you are secure in your position, with a good understanding of the business culture, you will be able to create more flexibility around making changes to the way things are done.
  3. Socio-political: You must develop the right relationships as soon as possible to position you for success not only during the critical onboarding period but throughout your tenure with the organisation and beyond. It might not be the people most obvious to you who you need to build working relationships with.
  4. Situational: This element of onboarding should be the easiest to master in your first three months. The situational aspects of your new employer relate to their offerings, how they communicate internally and externally, their position in the industry and their operational structure. You must understand not only where you fit as a single employee, but where your department fits and where the company sits in the market, locally and globally.

From an employer’s perspective, effective offboarding involves the following steps:

  • Establishing an exit timeframe.
  • Setting a meeting.
  • Retrieving company property.
  • Conducting an exit interview.

Greg Weiss, founder, CareerSupport365 and author of “So you got the job, WTF is next?”


This story first appeared in issue 24 of the Inside Small Business quarterly magazine.

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