Employee onboarding for small businesses: a guide for start-ups

A business owner training his new employee.

When you’ve spent precious time recruiting the right people for your small business, you’ll want to keep them for as long as possible.

To give your business the best chance of holding onto good staff, you should have a strong employee retention plan in place. In today’s landscape, an important part of this is employee onboarding.

In this blog post, we’ll take a look at what employee onboarding involves. We’ll also examine why it’s important and explore what a good onboarding process looks like.

What is employee onboarding?

The term employee onboarding refers to the process of helping new employees to integrate into a business. It can involve a range of activities, including:

  • giving new employees guided office tours
  • holding introductions and icebreaker sessions to facilitate team-building
  • providing training on roles and responsibilities
  • introducing new staff to your company values.

The overall goal of employee onboarding is to help new employees to acclimatise to the company culture and settle into their new roles.

Why is employee onboarding important?

A good employee onboarding strategy can help businesses and their employees in a number of ways. For example, it can:

● Reduce staff turnover rates

In the interest of time, it may be tempting to cut corners once you’ve hired new staff. After all, you and the rest of your colleagues are no doubt busy. But it’s important to recognise that onboarding is a crucial part of the employee lifecycle and should be given due care and attention. This is true now more than ever as employees expect increasingly more of employers when it comes to working culture, wellbeing, training and development.

In fact, businesses that underestimate the importance of creating a positive onboarding experience risk losing out. According to research by HR platform Hibob, 64% of workers are likely to leave a new job within the first year after a bad onboarding experience.

● Increase engagement levels

If you want new employees to buy into your vision for your small business and work in alignment with your company goals, a successful onboarding experience is key. By helping employees to understand your culture, their role and the part they play in helping to achieve business objectives, you can inspire employees to feel more emotionally committed to your business. This, in turn, can increase motivation and productivity levels.

● Improve time-to-productivity

Time-to-productivity refers to the time it takes for new employees to become fully productive in their roles. While you may want your new hires to hit the ground running, taking the time to onboard employees can improve time-to-productivity rates in the long run by ensuring they’re properly trained up and able to add value to your business. 

● Improve retention

Providing new starters with a good onboarding experience can make them feel valued and respected. This can have a positive impact on morale, which is an important factor in promoting loyalty and retention. By starting off on the right foot with a high quality onboarding plan, you stand a better chance of having committed long-term employees.

● Ensure compliance

Giving new workers adequate training in order to carry out their role isn’t just a nice-to-have. It can be pivotal in order to prevent accidents and ensure their safety and the safety of clients, other staff members and members of the public. However, it’s important to note that training isn’t a failsafe against accidents and illnesses at work.

As an employer, you are required by law to have employers’ liability insurance in place in case of work-related injuries or illnesses. And if you work directly with members of the public, it’s a good idea to have public liability insurance. It’s also important to understand the concept of vicarious liability and the potential consequences of inadequate training.

How to properly onboard a new employee

So it’s clear that onboarding serves a purpose but how do you do it? If you’re thinking about creating an onboarding programme for your new employees, you should take the following points into consideration.

Don’t wait until their first day 

A successful onboarding process starts with pre-boarding. This may involve actions such as:

  • emailing forms and other documentation to reduce admin tasks on the first day
  • sending a training schedule
  • sharing login information
  • informing them about where to park, if they should bring lunch, what the dress code is and who will greet them, etc.

This kind of information can be drip-fed to new recruits to help you to stay connected in the time between them accepting the job offer and their first day without overwhelming them. It can help to ease new job jitters and show new employees that you’re a supportive and considerate employer.

You can also help them to feel part of the team before they even start by:

  • arranging a team get-together ahead of their first day
  • encouraging team members to connect with new starters on LinkedIn
  • providing team profiles to new starters so they have an idea of who everyone is.

Create an employee handbook

As part of your onboarding process, you should share your employee handbook with new staff members. If you don’t have one of these, now is the time to create one.

A good employee handbook should provide employees with important information and can be a valuable resource for employees throughout their time at your business. For example, it may contain:

  • an introduction to your small business’ culture, vision and values
  • an organisational chart showing the internal structure of your business
  • sick pay and holiday entitlement details
  • behavioural policies and expectations
  • details of disciplinary and grievance procedures
  • diversity and dignity at work policies
  • health and safety guidance
  • flexible working policies
  • parental leave policies.

By providing new employees with a comprehensive staff handbook, you can ensure that they have important information from the beginning of their employment. This can help to avoid miscommunications and misunderstandings later down the line.

Set up orientation meetings in week one

Even in a small business, it can take time for new employees to get to know who is who and understand the roles of different teams and individuals. To speed up the process, it’s a good idea to set up orientation meetings in week one of their employment.

Not only can this help new starters to get an idea of what it is that different teams and workers do and how their roles contribute to the business, it can also help them to socially integrate into the company.

Hold training sessions 

Learning and development is highly important to the majority of employees in today’s workforce. As an employer, you should start as you mean to go on by creating a thorough training map for each new employee that is designed to help them to reach their full potential.

As well as equipping new team members with the skills and knowledge they need to perform their own role, it’s a good idea to provide training in other areas of the business so they have a greater sense of how the business operates as a whole.

Many employers think that a two-week or one-month training plan is sufficient. However, a good onboarding training programme can take as long as three months. It’s also important to view training as an ongoing process that continues for the whole duration of an employee’s time with you.

Organise regular one-to-one check-in meetings

Managers play a critical role in the successful onboarding of new employees. A survey of 14,000 global professionals by LinkedIn revealed that getting one-to-one time with their line manager was the most important aspect of onboarding. A significant 72% of those surveyed said one-to-one sessions were very useful and 96% said they were somewhat useful.

Having regular one-to-one check-in meetings allows managers to monitor progress, ensure the training plan is going smoothly and find out if new employees have any questions, issues or concerns. They can also help to establish positive working relationships from the beginning and better enable new employees to reach their full potential in your business.

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