Why employee experience begins before the first day

A common misunderstanding of the importance of recruitment and onboarding in cultivating engagement and nurturing employees is setting businesses up for failure


In an increasingly competitive jobs market, employee engagement is paramount, but it should extend beyond established employees to job candidates and new hires. Research has shown fostering a positive experience during the recruitment and onboarding stages is key to securing the best and brightest candidates.

“A common mistake most companies make is not understanding how competitive the labour market is. Managers wrongly assume people who accept a job are ‘lucky’, yet we see situations where new employees don’t show up to work on the first day or quit after a few days for another job because they are poorly treated during this critical time period,” says Brian Kropp, group vice president of research at Gartner’s human resources practice.

When new employees feel accepted and like they belong within an organisation, better individual and organisational outcomes follow

A recent survey by Cezanne HR of 250 senior human resources practitioners across the UK found nearly two-thirds have had new recruits quit before they even start.

But what should business leaders do to create that all-important positive first impression?

For starters, they need to think beyond the interview and job-offer stages, and look at their overall employer brand, says Beverley Nicholas, UK talent director at recruitment company PageGroup.

“Engagement starts when somebody sees a job ad and considers applying for it, therefore it’s important for a company to consider how it positions itself externally when trying to attract new talent. What is your employer brand? Are you giving candidates enough exposure to your business vision and values in an authentic way? Then it’s about being consistent from then on, with an onboarding programme that reinforces your message,” she says.

Tech can give managers more time for human side of onboarding

One of the biggest barriers to early engagement is that line managers feel they are simply too busy. To combat this problem, many human resources departments are turning to technology to automate some of the process.

Google, for example, uses an electronic checklist to remind managers to discuss things such as roles and responsibilities with new hires. Similarly, employee engagement tech firm, Reward Gateway, has a 48-hour promise of communication to all job applicants that it fulfils with the help of prompts from its smart hub technology.

Furthermore, candidates and new hires get access to the platform for pre-interview resources, videos and other materials to help them engage with the company brand. They also get access to another portal, called Smart Spending, where they can take advantage of discounts and cashback.

“By the interview and first working day, we want new employees to have a high level of brand knowledge and to be excited because they recognise the people they meet and the things they encounter; that is really, really important,” says Gemma Matthews, head of talent acquisition at Reward Gateway.

Online platforms can also be used to do much of the administration “heavy lifting” before a new starter’s first day to save managers and the human resources department’s time, says James Allen, group operations director at Airswift, a workforce solutions provider to the energy and infrastructure industries.

“Technology can help issue policies, procedures, guidelines and other information before recruits start so they are familiar with the company before they join, which can help breakdown nervousness about starting a new job, as well as taking care of all the admin,” he says.

New starters must be welcomed into work environment socially

It’s equally important, according to Talya Bauer, Cameron professor of management at Portland State University, Oregon, to integrate new employees to the social side of work right away, because onboarding “is much more than just about orientation”.

A meta-analysis conducted by Professor Bauer and a colleague examined 70 separate studies and determined that feeling socially accepted was a key factor in newcomer success.

“When new employees feel accepted and like they belong within an organisation, better individual and organisational outcomes follow; investing in this relationship early on sends a positive signal that the company cares about its employees,” she says.

In fact, the complete onboarding process shouldn’t stop when the paperwork is complete, but should take anything up to a year, depending on the complexity of the role and business, says Ms Nicholas. But the first month is critical.

“During this time, successful businesses will buddy people up, run breakfast sessions between CEOs and new starters and generally be fairly creative about the whole onboarding process,” she says.

Companies such as Google and Zappos, an online shoes retailer based in America, offer induction courses over several weeks.

Culture and engagement particularly at risk with relocation

A focus on employee engagement during onboarding is doubly important when new hires are relocating for a job; companies should consider both the financial and emotional impact of such a move.

“Forty per cent of all international assignments still fail, yet research has shown providing adequate support throughout the relocation and onboarding process is the key to better adjustment in the new environment,” says Dr Washika Haak-Saheem, associate professor in human resource management at Henley Business School.

As a minimum, companies should consider assigning a local sponsor to support the relocation and human resources managers should stay in frequent contact with employees to act quickly if any intervention is needed. They should also consider the needs of the immediate family, as maladjustment of family members is one of the major reasons for assignment failure, she adds.

For business leaders and human resources departments, installing processes and investing in technology to foster positive engagement between the company and new recruits can be overwhelming, but whatever firms do, they should aim always to reflect the mission and culture of their company.

“Start with the basic foundations and build from there,” says Ms Nicholas. This might be as simple as listing employee benefits, such as flexible working on job adverts. And the best place to seek further direction? Direct from employee feedback. “Engage with new starters and find out about their experience,” she adds. “There may be some really quick-and-easy wins you can implement right away.”