Why SMBs Fail The Onboarding Test

May 14, 2014

Why do SMBs spend thousands of dollars in time, effort, and cash to hire a great person, only to see their new hire jump ship within 6 months? I'll tell you why: because we SMBs are busy doing other important 'stuff'! Priorities around sales, marketing and cash flow already suck up all our time. Should I push out the next release on time, get the monthly financials done and respond to that customer inquiry? Or do I have to worry about whether or not the new hire has a garbage can? (True story for another time.)

Frankly, SMBs often just don't know any better. How do we change behavior when we can't see the pain? Unless a company is hiring a ton of people and growing like crazy, onboarding isn't happening frequently enough for companies tocare about researching data, learning onboarding best practices, and creating their own smooth onboarding process.

It's time to step up and recognize the mistake. Data from our recent BambooHR survey teaches us what matters most to new hires and what we can give employees for a great onboarding experience.


What do people want?

What’s interesting is that all those awesome perks — think foosball tables, free lunches and unlimited lattes — aren’t what really matters to people. All the perks in the world won’t keep your employees around if you can’t give them what they really want: the tools to be successful in their new jobs. On-the-job training outranks on-site dry-cleaning, in other words.

According to our survey of 1,005 current employees over 24 years of age in the US, your company should focus on:

  • Giving new hires “organized, relevant and well-timed content” (52%)
  • Assigning employees a “buddy” or mentor (37%)
  • Facilitating relationships with other employees (18%)

Less than 1 percent of respondents selected free food and perks as something that would have helped them stay at a job they quit after having worked there fewer than six months.

Companies need to thoughtfully provide tools for employees to engage quickly in meaningful work, with the people support to succeed. And yes, this does require your time. Other things may get pushed aside, but it's worth it!

Who do people want?

Although HR needs to be involved in the onboarding process, your new hires really want their manager to show them the ropes.

Our study confirms that this is who your new hires really want to help them:

  • Management (33%)
  • HR (28%)
  • People in the new hire’s department (26%)

Also, people want a safe and friendly place to work. They want good leaders in place. 23% of respondents who left a job in the first six months said they left because the “boss was a jerk.” And 17% of respondents who left early agreed that “a friendly smile or helpful coworker would have made all the difference.” Starting a new job can be like going to a new school or moving into a new neighborhood—it sure is nice to have a friend. So go be one.

When do people want it?

It’s crazy how many companies think onboarding is a one-day or one-week thing. For the employee, onboarding starts the moment the offer is accepted. For the company, onboarding preparation has to happen even as early as nailing the job posting.

Onboarding should last long after the first day or week – much longer. The first 90 days are crucial for long-term success as new hires are building habits, developing attitudes, and deciding if they’re going to fit in and be happy. Make sure your new hires still see the opportunity you offered them in the interview. Do it wrong, and they're gone.

One in six new employees quits or considers quitting a new job within six months due to the lack of an effective onboarding process. Put the effort to create a thorough onboarding process and you'll be amazed with the results.

Why do people want it?

Think about your onboarding experience at your current job. How was it? Could it have been better? There's about a 1 in 3 chance that it wasn't great, because our survey shows that 32% of new hires have had barely any onboarding or none at all. This is a huge mistake.

This isn't rocket science. If you just listened to them, people would quickly tell you what they want. Give me the tools I need to succeed, listen to me, teach me how things work and let me prove I can be a valuable employee and do meaningful work. If you don't care about me, then I'll know almost immediately. If you do care about me, I'll be your best employee.

And a quick note, 23% of new hires who left jobs within the first six months would have stayed if they’d received “clear guidelines on what [their] responsibilities were.” Be disciplined enough to give specific instructions and details on how a person can measure their own success. Share what’s important and how they can know they are meeting your expectations. It's easier to succeed knowing what success looks like.

In summary, get your onboarding plan done. Just take the time, pay the price, and do it now. Your new hires need it. Your company needs it. You need it.

Ben Peterson is founder and CEO of BambooHR, the leading online HR software for small and medium-sized businesses that have outgrown using spreadsheets to manage their employee information.

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