Does Your Onboarding Process Resemble a Party or a Hangover?

June 25, 2015

We’re all adults here, so I’m just going to assume you’re familiar (at least conceptually) with hangovers. I have a friend (wink) who tells me that the worst part of a hangover isn’t the achiness or lethargy, it’s the stark contrast between a glorious evening and bleak morning. And it’s this contrast that relates to onboarding.

Imagine you’re throwing a party; a bacchanalia of friends, food, and festiveness. You’ve had a few glasses of your favorite wine, you’re witty and charming, your outfit looks smoking, guests laugh at your jokes and hang on your every word. The night is tremendous.

Then morning hits. You awake, groggy, achy, and survey the carnage. Dirty glasses and dishes are everywhere, the kitchen smells weird, and there’s no one around to compliment your great looks and personality. Compared to the high of last night, you’ve fallen off a cliff and landed with a thud in a very low bleak place. That’s right when the hangover shows up.

How onboarding can feel like a hangover

Think about what happens when an employee quits their job to join your company. They announce their departure, give two weeks notice, and begin the “goodbye tour” with their friends and colleagues.

Those last two weeks are generally not the hardest or most productive, but they sure are fun. There are lunches and cakes frosted with ‘good luck’ wishes. Closer work colleagues buy drinks at happy hour and offer up heartfelt toasts with nostalgic memories of all the good times. It’s not unlike the ‘high’ of throwing a party.

But, then the employee leaves the happy party atmosphere and apprehensively walks into your company (assuming they can find the entrance). Are they greeted with cake, compliments and the warmth of friends? Or are they ushered into a gray orientation room with a few other strangers and an HR rep they’ve never met before? Is their new boss waiting to greet them with a laurel and hearty handshake? Or does a receptionist point them to their workstation amidst some dystopian cubicle farm (where they will undoubtedly lack a computer and other necessary office supplies)?

The point of this is quite simple: When an employee quits their old job, their last two weeks are often filled with warmth and happiness (like the ‘high’ of a great party). And if your onboarding process doesn’t offer at least a little bit of that, those first few days working for your company are going to feel less like a party and more like a hangover. And that’s going to leave a very bad first impression (that can last for a while).

How to make your onboarding process a ‘party’

The number one job of onboarding is NOT filling out paperwork. Or learning new procedures. Or getting computers, passwords and ID badges. The number one task of onboarding is easing the new employee from their old job into their new job without causing a painful hangover. Because if the new job feels terrible compared to the old job, there will be lots of buyer’s remorse. And that’s one of the big reasons why brand new hires have such a high risk of quitting.

So, how do you fix your onboarding and avoid the buyer remorse? Here are a few tips…

1. Have their new manager greet them at the door

I mean this literally. Do you want new employees greeted by receptionists and security guards, or by the one friendly face they know? When you throw a party, don’t you want your guests to get a friendly, warm reception? You won’t mitigate the emotional hangover new employees feel if you let them sit around the lobby being anxious.

2. Give them names and pictures of all their new colleagues

There are two difficult aspects of meeting lots of new people. First, there’s the trepidation that many people (especially introverts) feel when they have to introduce themselves to lots of strangers. Second, it’s really hard to remember lots of names and faces, especially when you’re already feeling overwhelmed. How much nicer would it be if your new employees didn’t have to worry about getting their colleagues’ names wrong?

3. Buy them lunch (something nice)

If your new employees spent their last few days at their old job eating nice lunches, maybe you should think about making their first few days with you just as nice.

4. Consider a muffin basket

During the last week at their old job, your new employees were coming home to their family feeling good. They probably weren’t griping about their job (because they were eating cake and not doing much real work). So if they’re now coming home overwhelmed (or emotionally hung over), their family might become suspicious or disquieted by this new job. This will only exacerbate the hangover. So send the family a muffin basket, and turn them into supporters rather than detractors.

Listen, I know these are really simple things. These are not revolutionary changes, they’re pretty intuitive, and they don’t require lots of money or effort. But that doesn’t mean they’re not hugely important. Every one of these tips is designed to narrow the gap between the party-like high of leaving the old job and the hangover-like discomfort of starting the new one.

Very few companies do any (let alone all) of these things. There are dozens of ways to narrow the emotional gap. Pick a few. Start somewhere. Ironically, the more your new hire was loved at their old job, the bigger the letdown they’ll feel with you if you don’t do something.


Mark Murphy is the founder of Leadership IQ, a NY Times bestselling author, and a sought-after speaker on leadership. Check out Mark’s latest Leadership Styles Quiz to see what kind of leader you are.

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*Image by Trouni

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