While the Singapore government’s announcement around the relaxation of workplace restrictions may come as a welcomed change for some, not all companies have jumped onto the office-reopening bandwagon – opting to ease their way back in through incremental steps instead, in order to safeguard their employees’ health and wellbeing. Such a move is also in line with the expectations of their staff, as a recent EngageRocket study reported that over 80 percent of local employees wished to continue working from home for at least 50 percent of the time, even after the pandemic is over.
Companies have thus been looking to implement hybrid working arrangements to achieve the perfect balance between the traditional office set-up and continued remote working, in order to meet evolving employee needs and preferences. Notably, one aspect that they are increasingly paying attention to is the onboarding process – an often-overlooked aspect of the company experience that is actually a key driver of overall employee engagement. In fact, research has shown that one-fifth of new employees leave their jobs within their first 45 days, due to reasons such as ineffective onboarding protocols. This represents a potentially huge loss to employers in terms of both money and time spent on the recruitment process, as it only leads them back to searching for new hires once again.
Given how an ineffective employee onboarding process may cause significant repercussions to the business in the long run, companies must therefore give serious thought to how they can best bring on new employees in a hybrid working environment, and look to set them up for success in their roles from the get-go.
Overcoming the challenges
As digitalisation became the name of the game following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, employee onboarding joined a long list of company processes that had to be pivoted towards a virtual setting. HR teams soon realised, however, that problems would arise if they fast-tracked the transition of traditional protocols to digital platforms. From difficulties in integrating new hires with the company culture, to communication gaps with colleagues and managers, HR teams that failed to rethink their existing onboarding protocols continued to be plagued with the same problems online.
On the other hand, companies that were able to tweak their processes appropriately found themselves reaping the benefits instead. Following adjustments to their onboarding process to better accommodate virtual hires, an internal study conducted by PwC last year found that new joiners at the firm who were onboarded online were more likely to report a positive onboarding experience by the end of their first week, as a result of them developing a stronger sense of connection with the company. This may seem counterintuitive at first, given the fact that these new hires had only been interacting with their colleagues via video calls and online chats, and were thus lacking the typical social environment that a physical workplace brings. Nevertheless, it goes to show that the challenges of virtual onboarding can be overcome, and that the process, if done well, may even surpass traditional in-person practices in terms of its effectiveness.
What is in it for businesses?
To some employers, going the extra mile to tailor existing processes may seem like a waste of resources, especially considering the number of companies that are also struggling to sustain business continuity in a time of economic uncertainty. However, there are numerous benefits to an effective onboarding process that make it a worthwhile expenditure – some of which include increases to employee satisfaction and productivity, as well as reductions to the time needed for new hire proficiency.
Beyond these, an effective onboarding program can also lead to a significant boost in staff retention, with studies indicating that employees are more likely to stay with a company for at least three years if they had a good onboarding phase. With some reports estimating that staff turnovers can cost companies at least a third of that employees’ annual salary, funnelling a relatively small amount of additional resources towards the initial phase of an employee’s life-cycle would be an extremely cost-effective solution to such a pressing issue.
The golden rules
While different companies are likely to have their own unique list of processes and items to check off, there are a few general guidelines that they should comply with in order to deliver an effective onboarding process.
To begin with, companies should avoid overloading employees with information right off the bat. Studies have found that on average, new hires are typically presented with a whopping 54 activities to complete during their onboarding phase, spanning from the signing of documents to the setting up of email accounts. Employers should thus take a long-term view on the whole process and spread out these administrative items over a longer period, while still maintaining high levels of contact and guidance throughout.
New employees also typically require some time to familiarise themselves with company protocols, but this problem can be accentuated when they are not even able to see what they are dealing with.
In times like this, having a buddy in the company who can help them with any problems that they may encounter in the initial phases will go a long way in boosting employee productivity by as much as 97 percent, and job satisfaction by 36 percent according to research done by the Harvard Business Review.
In addition to workplace guidance, advisory put out by Singapore’s tripartite partners also highlights how a buddy system can serve as an informal support network at work, which can help to alleviate any stress that fresh hires may face from being in a new and unfamiliar environment.
Finally, companies can make use of the onboarding process to set the tone on employee recognition right from the start.
According to Achievers’ latest Culture Continuity Report, a strong company culture of both manager and peer recognition can improve employee retention by up to 41 percent. This is extremely significant, especially given how the report also found that 40 percent of respondents felt unappreciated for the work that they did during the remote working phase of the pandemic. By focusing on employee recognition right from the beginning, employers would be able to pre-emptively avoid such problems, and instead build a culture where all employees are acknowledged for their actions, efforts, and contributions to the company’s goals and values.
In fact, in line with recent trends towards digitalisation, companies can turn towards employee recognition platforms to drive real-time employee engagement and brand advocacy by building a culture of recognition across the organisation. One such organisation that was able to set themselves up for success by embracing a recognition-led culture was Ericsson, who launched a single-brand, single-destination recognition for employees across multiple Asia Pacific locations under tight timeframes and challenging workforce dynamics. Despite many of the countries being new to the concept of employee engagement platforms, they were able to generate 40,000 recognition moments in under two years, with 17 percent of those being sent to an employee in a different country. Thus, as employees continue to split their time between home and the office for the time being, such platforms will not only allow companies to diversify their recognition and reward initiatives in new and unique ways, but also ensure team members can be reached regardless of their work locations.
Putting it all together
As long as companies are hiring new personnel, the employee onboarding process will continue to be a critical aspect that has wide-reaching implications on a company’s bottom-line and growth. While the COVID-19 pandemic has made it necessary for adjustments to be made to several aspects of it, properly designed onboarding protocols will be essential in smoothing out any initial bumps that a new employee may encounter in their early days and position them for long-term success moving forward.