Onboarding is critical to NFP staff retention. Are you getting it right?

Onboarding is critical to NFP staff retention.

It’s not news to the not-for-profit sector that many organisations experience a high level of staff turnover and difficulty in recruiting and retaining staff.

There are many critical aspects to creating a workplace that people not only want to become a part of, but want to stay a part of for a long time – perks & benefits, recognition, workplace culture, good communication & feedback, clear expectations and great managers are just some of the elements.

But numerous academic studies have shown that creating a good foundation in the first weeks and months of a new employee’s job is also a powerful element in retaining your people for the long term.

The difference between ‘Onboarding’ and ‘Induction’

Induction and onboarding are two key processes to kick off with when a new employee starts in your organisation – and while they often get mistaken for each other, they’re quite different.

Induction (or orientation) is a short-term process that aims to familiarise new staff or volunteers with basic information about the organisation, its policies, and its culture. It’s typically focused on providing immediate information and resources to help new employees feel comfortable and acclimated during their first few days .

Onboarding is a more comprehensive and long-term process that goes beyond the initial days or weeks of the job. It includes a broader range of activities – including induction – but it’s primarily focused on integrating new employees into the organisation and preparing them to succeed in their specific role(s).

So while you shouldn’t ignore showing your new employee where the office loos are, onboarding should focus on acclimating your new recruit to both the performance aspects of their new role and the culture of the organisation.

If you get it right, a good onboarding process will have significant short and long-term benefits to your organisation and employees, including:

  • Increased staff retention
  • Faster time to productivity
  • Improved job satisfaction
  • Better alignment to your organisation’s culture
  • More collaboration and better working relationships between employees

So whatever the state of your organisation’s current onboarding processes, if you’d like to step it up, here are 5 ideas to get your onboarding right:

1. Be prepared with clear aims and goals

It’s hard to make any process successful without a clear of idea of what the aims or goals of the process are, and onboarding shouldn’t be an exception.

For each type of role, the hiring manager/team leader and HR should be clear and in agreement on goals like:

  • How long will the onboarding period go for?
  • What impression do you want new employees to walk away with at the end of their first day?
  • What do new employees need to know about the culture and work environment?
  • What are the key processes or skills new employees need to learn by the end of their first day, first week, first month and first 6 months?
  • What role will HR play in the onboarding process?
  • What role will the manager and other co-workers in the team play in the onboarding?
  • Will the new employee(s) have goals for the onboarding period? How will they be communicated?
  • How will you gather feedback on the process to measure its success and improve it for the future?

2. Start well before their first day

Your onboarding process can begin as soon as a new employee has signed their contract. In the days or weeks before their first day, take the opportunity to communicate:

Paperwork and Documentation: Provide access to necessary forms including tax and superannuation documents, benefits or salary sacrifice enrollment, and emergency contact information, to streamline the paperwork process.

Work from home arrangements: If your new employee will be doing any of their work from home, then clarifying that their work environment is safe and healthy is one of your responsibilities as an employer. If you’re providing them with any work equipment like a desk, chair, computer etc, then this is good time to ask about their needs and preferences.

What their first day and first weeks will look like: consider sending through a summary of what their first day, week and/or month will be like, as well as general information like how to get to your office, where they can park their car or bike, any dress code, and where they can buy lunch or get a good coffee.

Introduction to your organisation: Share relevant organisational materials or policy documents so they can start to delve more deeply into your ways of working, potentially including:

  • Your employee handbook (if you have one)
  • Information about your values and mission
  • Staff entitlements and benefits
  • Staff responsibilities
  • Your org chart
  • A glossary of organisational acronyms
  • …and even annual reports.

Introduction to their new team: Consider connecting them their their new team ahead of their first day, with a friendly note from their new manager, and welcome messages from – or at least bios for – their new teammates.

3. Create a detailed plan for their first days, weeks and month

Having a detailed, written plan of your new employee’s first days, weeks and months is the best way to start an onboarding process.

To pull together a plan, don’t forget to identify and speak to key stakeholders. List out who will be involved in the onboarding process, and make sure you have their input. This may include senior leaders, managers, mentors, and other colleagues who will play a role in welcoming and training the new employee.

Then develop your timeline for their first days and weeks. Include key milestones, such as the first-day activities, meetings with people in different parts of the organisation, training sessions, and check-in/feedback meetings (see below for more on this). Ensure that the timeline aligns with the new employee’s start date – and don’t forget to check if there are any public holidays or planned annual leave for any stakeholders that you might need to plan around.

4. Assign a mentor or buddy

Consider pairing the new employee with an experienced colleague who can serve as a mentor or buddy. This person can provide guidance, answer questions, and offer support during the early days.

A buddy or mentor can also provide vital social connection that can make a new employee feel at home. The US Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) say that “a new employee who is made to feel part of the work group gains more confidence and is likely to become more productive faster.”

Make sure the mentor or buddy is fully informed and happy to be involved though! If your new starter is being supported by someone who doesn’t want to be there or doesn’t understand their role, that can have the opposite effect of making them feel unappreciated or lost.

5. Dont’ forget regular check-ins and feedback

Schedule regular check-in meetings or opportunities to gauge the new employee’s progress and address any concerns or questions.

This can help the new employee to let you know if they’re needing any extra help, information or resources, but it can also provide valuable data to let you know how you did, and what you can improve for the future.

Feedback is the breakfast of champions, and should be incredibly valuable for you to help evolve and improve your onboarding planning and processes for future new starters.

At its heart, onboarding is about creating a work environment that people feel safe in and want to come back to every day. Done right, it can create a great feeling for new staff and volunteers, and help people want to work with your organisation for longer. Because you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.

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