Initiation: new recruits to the Gentle Giant removals company in Massachusetts are put to the test in Harvard stadium
Initiation: new recruits to the Gentle Giant removals company in Massachusetts are put to the test in Harvard stadium

At logistics company DHL, initiating new staff starts long before they show up for work. First, they are sent their contract in an attractive folder. Next, two weeks before they are due to begin, they receive a package called DHL in a Box. This includes a video, a copy of their learning programme and a welcome card from their manager and colleagues.

“The courier, who is a DHL employee, also welcomes them to the company,” says Regine Buettner, global head of HR at DHL Express. “This has a huge impact on the new employee.” When they finally join, the new hire and their manager are given an employee journal, detailing what the manager needs to do and the company’s training programmes.

There is just one chance to make a good first impression, yet many organisations give the joining process little or no thought. New recruits often complain about being abandoned on day one with nothing to do, being given a desk or car that still has the previous user’s rubbish in it and having to wait weeks for a phone or laptop to appear.

All this matters for two reasons. The first is that large numbers of employees leave in their first year. According to a survey by the Utah-based software company Bamboo HR, 16-17 per cent of new hires leave in the first three months. The second is that replacing employees is expensive. The Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development reckons that a bad hiring decision — which brings disruption, lost productivity and the expense of finding a replacement — costs an average of £8,200, rising to £12,000 for more senior people. Topgrading, a hiring methodology company, puts this figure far higher, at more than £100,000.

“New joiners make the decision to stay within 90 days,” says Louise Brownhill, chief learning officer at PwC, the professional services firm. PwC defines the onboarding period from the moment new hires accept a job offer to the point they have worked for six months, although there are plans to extend this to a year.

Ms Brownhill says good onboarding is a combination of making new staff feel welcome and making them productive as quickly as possible. “We make sure things like their computer are in place and they know where to get coffee,” says Ms Brownhill. “They also have a mentor or a buddy. As PwC has large annual graduate intakes, many new hires often have a sense of camaraderie anyway.

“We do a lot around purpose and ensuring that people are feel like valued members of staff as soon as soon as possible.” Mr Brownhill adds that PwC is looking at bespoke onboarding, where the programme is tailored precisely to the individual. “If, for instance, you have a boomerang hire [someone who has worked at the company before] you don’t need to onboard them in the same way as a new hire.”, the Expedia-owned booking site, has an onboarding programme called All Aboard. It offers new recruits half-day sessions every three months, both in London and virtually. Johan Svanstrom, the president, “opens all of the sessions with his own philosophy and talks about our strategy,” says Claire Ainscough, head of HR at Expedia. “During the session, everyone places a real booking to get the customer experience first-hand.”

Cathay Pacific, the airline, adds a personal touch similar to DHL’s. New joiners are sent a model plane and a personalised note explaining the brand and their role in maintaining it. On their first day, new staff are welcomed by a senior director who guides them around the business. The thinking is that starting a new job is a stressful and disorientating experience and that companies can help ease it.

Others go for quirky onboarding rituals. The Massachusetts-based removals business Gentle Giant takes new hires for a demanding run around Harvard Stadium. CareerBliss, the Californian job site, has them sing their favourite song to the company and the Chicago-based consultancy Salo plays new recruits their favourite songs as they are led to a desk covered with balloons.

Ian Gooden, chief executive of the HR consultancy Chiumento, says that although these sorts of activities may seem frivolous, they serve a real purpose. “When someone first comes through the door, there’s a tremendous combination of excitement and fear. You want to ensure you keep the excitement and reduce the fear.” Doing something fun shows that a business cares enough to make an effort.

In the longer term, he says, companies need to be rather more prosaic. New hires will need a buddy or mentor and a timetable. They will also need to be taught the systems and, just as importantly, the culture. In addition, they will have to be told what is acceptable and what is not.

“You are an outsider,” says Mr Gooden. “Onboarding should make you an insider.”

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