Image Credit: Adobe Stock / fotofabrika
By Tara Milburn
Recent changes in the labor market have given employees and business leaders alike an opportunity to reimagine the role that work plays in our lives. For an increasing proportion of people, work has become a way to express a commitment to fostering social and environmental change. A 2019 survey found that three-quarters of millennials would accept a smaller salary to work for an environmentally responsible company.
When social and environmental purpose is treated as a foundation rather than an afterthought, it creates a positive feedback loop in which employees internalize company culture and, in turn, act in ways that reinforce and promote said culture. Effective onboarding strategies are critical to beginning this process.
As the founder of a sustainable branding company that works closely with People & Culture professionals to help companies achieve their environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals, I have witnessed the profound impact effective onboarding can have on a company’s culture. I believe in the power of using business as a force for good and have seen that companies that put employees first can benefit people and the planet without sacrificing profit.
Starting At The Beginning
Employees’ onboarding experiences are reliable indicators of their long-term relationship with a company. Unfortunately, a recent Gallup study found that only 12% of employees strongly agreed that their organization did a great job of onboarding new hires.
A recent Gallup study has shown that companies whose employees feel engaged at work experience higher profitability, lower turnover rates, reduced absenteeism and increased customer satisfaction. I believe that onboarding is crucial to promoting engagement, as it performs the dual task of introducing employees to both their practical duties and the company’s general culture and values.
The best onboarding practices do not treat culture and skills training as two separate considerations but as integral parts of a single process rooted in the company’s mission. Below are some strategies for embodying your company’s vision in your onboarding practices.
Leading With Values
Unlike basic job skills, attitudes and values cannot be taught. While it is important to identify and describe company values during the onboarding process, it is more critical to embody them in your everyday practices and interactions with new hires. If your company values diversity, for example, having accessible office spaces and onboarding materials offered in a variety of formats says more than any mission statement.
Using company values as a key pillar of the onboarding process helps ensure that new employees are a good fit from the beginning. For some people, the values laid out in the onboarding process may not resonate; for others, they may be the clinching factor in deciding to stay with the company. Those who see their personal values as aligned with company ones are more likely to feel their job gives them a personal sense of accomplishment and less likely to leave.
Paving A Two-Way Street
One of the most critical factors in creating a sustainable workplace culture is ensuring that employees develop a robust sense of trust and a habit of open communication. Research from 2018 showed that employees whose managers clearly communicated their roles and responsibilities were 23% more likely to stay with an organization, while employees who felt uncomfortable giving upward feedback to managers were 16% less likely to stay. These numbers clearly indicate the importance of making corporate communication a two-way street.
Effective onboarding programs initiate a dialogue that develops throughout an employee’s tenure within a company. When employees are comfortable speaking up and asking questions from the get-go, they feel like an integral, valued part of the company and are more willing to share their ideas with others. Partnering them with a peer who exemplifies the company’s culture is a great way to initiate these conversations, as it builds bridges between new employees and management while providing new hires with a mentor and confidant who can support them throughout their onboarding journey.
Recognizing The Power Of Appreciation
Providing new hires with clear, positive feedback and recognition for proactive behaviors can build the confidence they need to quickly ease into their new roles. When it comes to showing appreciation, it’s good to take a variety of approaches. One of the simplest and most effective is just telling employees when they’ve done a good job—the more personal and specific the comment, the better. New hires can be so preoccupied with doing tasks correctly that they do not stop to think about whether they are doing them well, so verbally recognizing their good work can provide a huge confidence boost and encourage them to find more success in their role.
Gift-giving is another effective way of showing appreciation. Providing new employees with quality branded products from suppliers whose values align with the company’s mission is a wonderful way to help them feel like part of a team. Moreover, providing useful, long-lasting goods that employees can integrate into their daily lives—such as tote bags and water bottles—tangibly demonstrates the company’s investment in and appreciation of the employee as a person. (Full disclosure: My company provides promotional products for this purpose, as do many others.)
An effective onboarding strategy is one of the most powerful assets a company can have since it has positive impacts on all aspects of the business. For new hires, strong onboarding practices increase comfort and competence, demonstrate the organization's commitment to supporting them and help them begin to form relationships. For companies, effective onboarding saves time and money by reducing employee turnover, increases business stability and solidifies workplace culture. It also saves time and money, as research has shown that the average cost of replacing a new employee is around 20% of their annual salary.
For all these reasons and more, I believe that onboarding is both a reflection of and a testament to the power of purpose-driven business practices.