What priority do small business owners place on the employee onboarding process? The answer varies from one business to another, but a strong case can be made that new hire onboarding has a crucial impact on company culture, employee productivity, and long-term employee retention.
Today's HR managers certainly see the value of employee onboarding. In the 2018 Paychex Pulse of HR Survey, these professionals placed the following items at the top of their priority list:
- Evaluating workplace productivity and efficiency (90 percent)
- Having staff training and development programs (88 percent)
- Focusing on company culture to drive results (85 percent)
A solid employee onboarding process can favorably impact workplace efficiency, accelerate training and development, and help drive results in a healthier, more collaborative company culture.
Onboarding starts before day one
Much of the onboarding process can (and should) be done before a new employee's first day on the job. Send company welcome materials and an onboarding schedule before the employee first shows up for work. Have a future manager or another senior company representative reach out to the new hire to welcome them to the team. That way, when they get to the office on day one, they'll feel ready to get started.
A new employee may be better equipped to get started if some of the introductory paperwork is immediately available at their desk. The same can be said of the tools and resources the employee needs such as a computer and telephone. Both HR teams and the new hire will likely appreciate not having to use the first day on administrative chores or hunting for a spare laptop.
Required and optional onboarding forms
Though required onboarding forms may vary from company to company due to regulations, industry and company benefits, and policies, certain documents must be filled out by new hires in nearly all circumstances. These include:
- W-4 federal withholding form. This outlines the amount of taxes to be withheld from wages. Find the most recent version of this form on the IRS website.
- Form I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification. This establishes the employee's eligibility to work in the U.S. To make sure you use the most current I-9, visit the USCIS website.
- State tax withholding form. These may also need to be completed, depending on the state. Check your state government website to find the correct versions of tax forms.
Although not required by law, the following documents are ones that some employers choose to have new employees complete:
- Non-disclosure or confidentiality agreement, depending on the nature and location of the business, and the employee's position. This document should be reviewed by legal counsel and can help ensure confidentiality, as well as formally notify employees that business-related products and intellectual property belong to the company.
- Non-compete contract between an employee and an employer, where the employee agrees not to enter into competition with the employer or work for a direct competitor for a period of time after the employee leaves or is terminated. This document should also be reviewed by legal counsel.
- Emergency contact information in the event of an employee's injury, medical crisis, or some other unforeseen situation.
- Signed acknowledgment of the employee handbook and policies. This certifies that your new employee fully understands your company's policies and procedures, and agrees to abide by them.
An important note in the case of forms and documents: some states may have their own new-hire requirements including but not limited to: paid sick leave notifications, wage-theft prevention and unemployment notices, sexual harassment and workers’ compensation pamphlets.
Training and onboarding
As noted, the new employee onboarding experience is a key element in the ability to retain a new hire. What's critical is identifying and implementing training and onboarding techniques that result in new employees who are eager to invest their skills and enthusiasm into your venture.
Here are some techniques for training new employees to bolster your onboarding program:
Clarify the underlying purpose. Effective onboarding involves much more than simply outlining the responsibilities and job duties of a new hire's position. The broader purpose is to instill an in-depth understanding of your company's history, culture, and mission. Presented in a positive, all-inclusive manner, this approach can result in a burgeoning sense of pride on the new employee's part, and a willingness to hit the ground running.
Present resources available to new employees. While a certain amount of knowledge must be conveyed at the outset of the training process, too much information all at once can be self-defeating. Instead, provide all the materials a new hire needs to learn independently, during the onboarding process — handouts, newsletters, and links embedded in your online training program. This way, new employees can easily locate and refer to this information. Self-starters will be happy to explore these resources on their own.
Incorporate key goals and content in each training session. If you use an online learning management system, set up individual sessions or modules, each with its own objective, and the tools needed to work through that session. As for the content of these modules, simple is often more effective than complicated. Where possible, avoid lengthy blocks of text and in-house jargon that a new employee can't be expected to understand. Opt instead for easy-to-grasp bullet points and graphics that convey the essence of your message as clearly as possible.
Use an array of learning tools. Not everyone learns at the same pace or by the same methods. Successful onboarding programs embrace a variety of learning resources (video, interactive games, webinars, apps, animation, etc.) that promotes greater interest and engagement. It also helps to offer some "real-life" experiences, such as shadowing another employee or establishing mentoring programs. Whenever new employees can apply what they've learned online to the actual workspace, it increases their sense of comfort and builds confidence in their ability to master an unfamiliar work environment.
Use video to engage and train new hires. Training videos for new employees can be both an engaging and efficient way to communicate what a new hire can expect on the first day. Tutorial-style videos are another possibility, with useful information such as how to set up a 401(k) contribution or important phone numbers. Depending on the job, companies may also be able to create job-specific training videos for work required of new staff.
Building on the prevalence of mobile devices, consider optimizing your training program for mobile use and making it readily available. More importantly, mobile-friendly programs reinforce the idea that training is ongoing, rather than something that employees must simply start and complete during their first days on the job. Consider setting up a schedule of training sessions during the first 90 days, both to reinforce what's been taught previously and to introduce new elements. Knowing that training is part of their job makes the experience feel more consistent and relevant to an employee’s growing knowledge base.
The benefits of automating the onboarding process
While you may feel burdened by the current ways your company onboards new employees, there are options available to help improve and expedite the process. By using onboarding software, companies can save time so new hires can get to work quickly and easily.
Reinforce the decision to join your team. Starting a new job is a major adjustment for every individual. Onboarding technology shows how your business is a modern organization that offers employees the tools and support they need to develop their careers. Despite the level of apprehension or excitement they may feel about their new opportunity, a seamless onboarding experience can reassure them that they've made the right decision to join your team.
Prioritize employees' time. When using onboarding software, employees can sign important documents and review supplied resources before their first day. When they have time to complete onboarding tasks on a device that they prefer, employees can look forward to a productive first day where they can focus on beginning their job. It also can track time spent completing such tasks to enable you to comply with wage and hour laws.
An online onboarding system can offer new hires easy access to:
- Helpful information on what to expect the first day.
- Watch welcome or training videos.
- Fill out new-hire forms including the Form I-9, Form W-4, direct deposit authorization, and state withholding tax forms.
- Read and acknowledge the company handbook and other policies.
Provide a personalized experience. It's important for new hires to receive a consistent, personalized experience in those critical first few months on the job. Though training can present challenges for a company of any size, small businesses often lack the infrastructure or resources to offer formal, in-person orientation sessions for every new hire. New hire technology can provide employees with information related to specific training, policies, and procedures that they need to be successful. When the employee has a question specific to the company or its policies, they can refer to the materials housed in the program to find answers.
Other tangible benefits include:
- Costs saved by no longer printing out all documents (expenses like paper, printers, ink cartridges) and store them (folders, file cabinets, etc.)
- Improved compliance due to employee files stored in the cloud, eliminating redundant backups and protecting against unforeseen disasters
- Greater efficiency in transitioning new hires into the company's benefits programs
In addition, data can be automatically shared across various HR areas of responsibility (attendance, tracking and payroll) allows for elimination of time-consuming manual data entry. As a result, the HR staff can pay greater attention to other issues.
Features of an online employee onboarding system
With an online onboarding system, the new hire workflow is handled from start to end. New employees can complete their paperwork from any location and review useful information about what to expect on their first day. They can more easily and efficiently complete documents such as Form I-9, Form W-4, direct deposit authorization, and state-withholding tax forms.
They can also review and acknowledge the company handbook and polices. The system can track time spent completing these forms. Remember to comply with wage and hour laws; the time spent reviewing this material or completing forms may be compensable under federal, state, and/or local law.
At the same time, HR staff and the employee's manager can be kept informed of the new hire's progress through automated email notifications. They also have easy access to completed forms online.
While onboarding systems help make the process easier and more comfortable for HR staff and new employees, automating new hire paperwork with the right technology may help boost workforce performance across the board — and unlike paperwork, that is something that can inspire enthusiasm in your HR department.
It's clear that effective employee onboarding is essential to a smooth entry to your organization and a key element in employee retention. Learn more about the tools you need to help new hires complete paperwork, and introduce them to your business and culture.