Onboarding 101, or What NOT to Do When a New Employee Starts Work

My good friend — let’s call him “Herb” — started a brand new job yesterday.

Herb was very excited because it’s an opportunity with a particular financial institution that he had been coveting for some time. Rewinding two weeks, the submission and recruitment process went fantastic as Herb actually located the position online, submitted his resume, and was contacted immediately.

His initial interview was via phone on a Friday, and he did so well that he was invited in for second-round interviews that very next Monday. On Monday, Herb once again wowed the hiring managers and the very next day (Tuesday) he received an offer of employment which he readily accepted with great enthusiasm.

Herb kept me up to date through his interview process with this financial institution, and even I was amazed how quick this large giant seemed to move. He told me how everything was great, the people were awesome, and how he was looking forward to day one to get going on his new role.

As I anticipated, last evening I received a phone call from Herb. I was anxious to catch up and hear about his first day in the new position. To my surprise, the tone of Herb’s voice was not that of excitement, rather that of disappointment.

A first day of work disappointment

After spending several minutes listening to the events of Herb’s day, I too was very disappointed for him. Now he was wondering if he had made the right decision by accepting the position.

Herb’s disappointment revolved around one topic: onboarding. In going back to the recruitment process and how everything seemed to flow seamlessly, I was sure that a company of this size and stature had to have some type of onboarding program in place. Sure enough, on Herb’s first day he found out that they didn’t. What a disappointment it made his first day.

Let’s revisit some of Herb’s events on his first day:

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  • Upon arrival, no one to properly greet him or know that he was starting.
  • No agenda, materials, or training schedule.
  • Building security credentials missing and sent to wrong location.
  • Lunch: everyone was too busy, no time for lunch.
  • Co-workers wished him good luck and welcomed him to a life of non-stop work.
  • The on-site manager didn’t know what to do with him or where to place him.

This is a great example for companies of what not to do on an individual’s first day of work. Herb was, and is definitely, disappointed in the way things transpired on his first day. The day’s events have set a negative tone for him, and it was day and night from the interactions he witnessed during the recruiting, interview, and offer stage.

When the term “recruiting process” is used, most people take that to mean, “Locate, identify, interview, hire” and end it there. In fact, the term “recruiting process” should never end, and should be a continuous ongoing activity each and every day. The critical step that was missed in Herb’s situation was the onboarding step.

Keys to a successful onboarding program

It is of utmost importance to not only create but use a successful onboarding program. The pieces of an onboarding program are very simple and will help to set the tone on the individual’s first day and hopefully for years to come. A successful onboarding program will have three basic elements: participants, material, and time frame.

  • Participants: identify who is going to be part of the process and who will be participating in the onboarding program. Each participant should have a full understanding of the program in order to deliver a productive and consistent message.
  • Material: have a defined plan of action and itinerary. Topics may include: welcome message, company history, products/services, competition, policies/procedures, department briefings, etc.
  • Time frame: as mentioned above, the recruiting process should be ongoing and never stop. This will enhance employee engagement and communication which may help to reduce turnover and keep employees happy over the long run.

Furthermore, there are some even more basic tasks that can be accomplished so new employees don’t have the same bad experience that Herb did:

  • Designate an individual to meet and greet a new employee upon arrival and show him/her around.
  • Send out a welcome letter or email to make existing employees aware of the new hire.
  • Have the work station set up and properly functioning complete with computer, email address, supplies, training materials, etc.
  • Have business cards pre-ordered with name, direct dial, and email address complete and spelled correctly
  • Have lunch pre-arranged with co-workers and peers.
  • Schedule a drop-by or meeting with senior management if available.

Remember, it’s the little things that count and first impressions are everything. I felt for Herb, as it is disappointing to start a new job feeling like you are more of a problem than a solution on Day 1.

Morgan Hoogvelt currently serves as director, global talent acquisition for ESAB, a leading engineering company. Drawing on his expertise in human capital strategy, executive search, RPO, essential hiring practices, candidate sourcing, Internet recruiting, and social networking, he provides organizations targeted, best-of-class solutions, and employment branding strategies that help his clients meet the challenges of recruiting, technology, and retaining and rewarding top talent. He is also passionate about delivering excellent customer service and building positive, productive relationships. He can be contacted at morgan.hoogvelt@esab.com


21 Comments on “Onboarding 101, or What NOT to Do When a New Employee Starts Work

  1. Talk about disappointing first impressions! It makes such a difference how you are welcomed to a new company, and it’s unfortunate that Herb didn’t feel supported or valued on his first day. These are good concrete reminders of what to do when bringing a new employee on board.

    1. Exactly, these are some great places to start for onboarding. Hopefully some companies will realize their shortfalls within onboarding and what a very important topic it is and do something to fix it – Especially Herb’s new company.

  2. What a disappointing experience! Sounds to me like the employer had a great chance to capitalize on Herb’s excitement and engage him immediately, and failed to do so. Thanks for the best practices for a successful onboarding program. I’d also recommend infusing the company’s values into all these interactions and written materials to get the employee bought in immediately, and establishing performance expectations up front as well. http://blog.yoh.com/2011/02/employee-engagement-begins-with-onboarding-6-best-practices.html

  3. Research shows that new hires make a “stay/go” decision within the first 30 days. If “Herb” had a competing offer and things didn’t radically change, do you think “Herb” entertained that counter-offer?

    1. Amy, thanks for the comment. In this case, yes, if Herb’s former company had provided a counter offer, he did mention he would take it and go back as this has been an aweful experience for him. However, his former company does not make offers on people when they leave.

  4. As a recent hire to a new company I completely agree that the first day experience can make a world of difference for a new employee (especially eager employees). When a candidate agrees to begin at a company it is because of the pre-screening process and how the experience was for them. That is the tasting that initially draws them to the company.

    With “Herb” the taste he received during the recruiting process molded a clear idea of why he was so excited to begin with the company and why he wanted to work with the company. However, once he arrived the candidate experience he originally had was not held through.

    I would like to present something I heard that I believe strongly. Mark Newman, CEO, HireVue believes that “it is all about the candidate experience replicating the brand experience,” and this is not often fully implemented by many companies. It is critical for companies to realize that the recruiting process is important to building a brand experience and keeping quality candidates.

    1. Leela, thanks for the comment and well said. To update everyone, I spoke with Herb last night post Day 3 and he was in the same situation as Day 1. He is contemplating already looking elsewhere as he doesn’t feel valued or wanted. It’s a real shame…I can’t believe a topic such as onboarding that we would all think is common sense is turned into such a science.

      1. Thank you Leela. I was curious if Herb has contemplated speaking with his manager in order to express his feelings? This might cause a positive action shift if the company really wants to keep him and redeem his perception of the company. I would love to know!

          1. No problem Leela 🙂 – He did contemplate speaking with his manager. The hard part was that his direct supervisor is located in another state and also to the fact that he didn’t want to sound like a complainer. It’s a hard situation to be in, I think as I know Herb he will put his head down and pencil up and work through it. But that won’t take away from the frustration of the bad experience.

  5. Hi Jill, thanks for the comment/question. I think when a relocation is involved, it takes even more detailed and organized process. Once again, I have seen some very good ones and also some very poor ones. What are your thoughts/experiences?

  6. Building on what Amy and Leela have said, Herb’s case is a great reminder that the recruiting process doesn’t stop when the candidate starts the job; it stops when the candidate truly *commits* to the job, which is probably around that first-30-days timeline.

  7. One of the worst examples of inept onboarding and bad first day experiences occurred at a former employer. I was evaluating the on-boarding experience of recent hires at the corporate headquarters before making change recommendations. I called a new employee who proceeded to tell me about her first day experience. First, the hiring manager was not there and had not notified or informed anyone else of her arrival. After a significant delay someone from the department finally came to claim her and brought her to her new office which had not been cleaned any time in the last few months. They left her in the dirty office, saying that they weren’t sure what she should do next, but that they would get her some cleaning supplies…. to this day, I don’t know why she didn’t just turn around immediately and leave .

    1. Kate – thanks for the comment and great yet poor example from this company. It blows my mind that people just do not care about this step in the process. Its almost disregarded in most sense. I just don’t get it. I am with you, if that would have been me, I would have turned back around and left.

      These examples are giving strength to the new school thought of companies who lose employees keeping a 30-90 day window of open return policy for employees who have left to come back. If one leaves and enters into a nightmare scenario like this, they may just go back to their previous company.

  8. Important post. Thank you for it, Morgan. Onboarding is such a critical step in sharing the company culture with a new hire and bringing them deeply into it. Unfortunately, too many squander that opportunity. We strongly believe in the importance of sharing programs such as the company’s values, strategic employee recognition solutions, and other critical communication mechanisms within the first few days. This establishes for the employee precisely what they’ve signed up for in terms of company culture.

  9. English isn’t my 1st language so I’m sorry if there are mistakes.

    I’m very glad I found this topic since I thought I was one of those “spoiled, expecting too much” on the first day of the job being quite a novice in the world of “real” employment. My experience differs in one thing: they had the onboarding system. So, what was wrong with it? On the first day of training/work I felt like they treated me like a very ignorant (hardly avoiding to say dumb) employee who happens to have graduated from a university. Maybe it’s part of how the capitalism works, but I felt disappointed by being taught such an elementary thing that my obligation is to keep company’s internal affairs, info, data, etc as confidential in a way that insults my intelligence (learning through a game that ends with a test to see if I have understood what I’ve been taught). Where I was born, it’s part of raising children to know what is a good/bad social, working,… etiquette. What made me feel fooled is that they started changing stuff, like payment discussed at the interview, the definition of the job itself and I realized all the previous things I did would be irrelevant and I was about to become just a trained monkey. I realized I’d be basically lying to people instead of helping them (which initially was how I understood the job position) all wrapped in little presents they gave us throughout the day. After several hours of showing us videos about company, their values and a bunch of quite irrelevant info that has nothing to do with my job, all was kinda true except their attitude about their own values. It was a great shock to discover that everything I was taught on that first training day totally vanished the moment we entered the place where our working area will be (later that same day!). It’s a young working environment, even the management is young, but it looked quite unprofessional and dismaying considering what picture I had during interviews. I felt I couldn’t trust them at all. Luckily, I’m not in a bad financial situation and, having that luxury nowadays, I quit it on the first day knowing I’d be totally underpaid 
    (even that info leaked easily among the employed, which was telling a lot about their info security), undervalued and devastated over there.

  10. What a bunch a winers. “Lunch”, he did not get his “lunch put on for him”. And you wonder why the USA struggles to be competitive. This guy sounds like a complete wuss. Now empowered by a term called onboarding he feels “Entitled” to a “Free Lunch”. Why don’t you skip the lunch and work. You are actually paid to work, that is why it is called work, not play. Use some initiative. Yes I am sure there could be a better new hire process. So create it, create change. Sounds to me like this company offers opportunity, by not having everything together.

    Herb needs to man up, stop crying and get this company in shape.

  11. Great stuff, Morgan. I also think it’s important to make the first day a mix of orientation and “real work.” The classic first day is full of paperwork, meeting new people, training but if you have them contribute something small (a line of code, website copy, etc), they’ll have a greater sense of accomplishment.

    Here are a couple other ideas: http://bit.ly/1tua8Pj

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