Businessmen shaking hands

Hiring and retaining staff is a huge expense for businesses and particularly at this time of year. Frances Jackson, CEO at OPX, explains how an effective approach to onboarding can calm first day nerves, making a difference to staff retention and a businesses’ bottom line.

Mass exodus, loss of profit

Our research shows new employees are expensive to recruit and take a long time to get up to speed and become profitable contributors. A substantial number of new hires move on within the first six months of a new role affecting retention rates and increasing recruiting budgets. Internal customers (like hiring managers, HR and team members) find recruiting tiresome, and un-engaging, especially if the roles are high turnover.

Businesses are also facing a new challenge with the enormous loss of critical knowledge as the baby boomers begin to retire en-masse.

I’d rather have my teeth pulled than have a first day

We've all been there. Starting a new job is daunting. We almost never know who we're meeting, what to expect, what to wear and have a general feeling of uselessness for at least the first week. In our work, we see some recurring themes for 'quick quits' - those who leave soon after joining. The most frequent are not having enough guidance to understand the role, stress, not understanding what's required, and critically, not feeling like they can make a difference (e.g., continuation of feeling useless). All of these reasons are triggers for leaving caused by dissatisfaction.

Not the silver bullet

Onboarding tools designed to introduce new hires to an organisation have become popular, and are made available to new hires from the moment they accept an offer of work. While some organisations have done a great job, we see that most fail to reduce first day nerves, prepare users for productivity, and improve retention rates.

"I felt like I was obliged to use the tool, like it was a test. I would have preferred it to be more welcoming"

An onboarding tool is the first opportunity for an organisation to have an impact with a new hire. It should engage, empower, and connect a new hire to the organisation before they start.

More science than art

The businesses that we engage with all show that early career support can have a huge impact on the brand. Engaged employees constantly show us that they are the most valuable brand ambassadors.

However, we see that new hires often have high levels of anxiety and adrenaline when they engage with a new organisation. This can make retention of information less effective than at other times during their careers. Understanding the context of the experience for a new hire, and using content strategy coupled with technology can reduce anxiety to improve retention of information, but also empower, inspire and ultimately build confidence so the new hire is contributing from the get-go.

Crafting ‘people-centric’ content

From past projects, we see that as business needs vary and technology evolves, there are common themes that need exploring prior to building the tool.

In our experience, one tool cannot say it all. We choose two or three important messages to be retained by new hires when they use the tool. This helps to avoid information overload, which will create low engagement rates and impact the ROI on the project.

Our onboarding project process is focussed on the people involved. We start by talking to those in the organisation that will work directly with the new hires, and we don't mean HR. We talk to potential managers and peers. This helps us understand the culture and the potential for a bond between new hires and the team. This then informs how to build a connection between the organisation and new hires in an authentic way.

We've learnt that the language and the content used on the tool can break down the anxiety barrier, making for better information retention. It also can be the difference between the tool feeling like an obligation, and being something of real value. A large amount of what we do is craft the content to the individual business and types of new hires they recruit.

The bottom line

Still need convincing? Some last thoughts to leave you with.

A study completed by KPMG revealed that 50% of all hourly workers leave new jobs within the first four months of employment, and that 50% of external senior hires fail within the first 18 months. The study also revealed the turnover to cost as much as 150% of a salary. That's really expensive.

KPMG have proven that new employees who go through a structured onboarding program are 58% more likely to be with the organisation after three years, we think that is success.

Frances Jackson is CEO of OPX, a design consultancy that helps a wide range of organisations to effectively manage change by designing brands and experiences that make a difference, with clients including Unilever, Arup, and Network Rail.