Onboarding? Who needs THAT?!?

Did you have to take swimming lessons as a kid? I did. Practiced holding my breath with my face in the suspiciously warm kiddie pool ... tried to stay alive while struggling to learn the "Dead Man's Float" ... treaded water till my lips turned blue. It was a long and tedious process.

So imagine my surprise when my uncle threw my three-year-old cousin (who'd never had a lesson) into a lake with nothing but a rope tied around her waist. Sink or swim, baby. Miraculously, she swam.

Shouldn't we take the same approach with new hires? Sink or swim. Let them show what they're made of. Can't they find their own way to the supply room? Introduce themselves to new colleagues without icebreaker games? Learn the "unwritten rules" the way the rest of us did...by trial and error? Nothing like a negative performance review to nudge a newbie in the right direction, right?

Wrong. That negative review might just nudge your newbie out the door. And if she finds herself sinking before she learns to float, she might look for another swimming pool.

If you think onboarding is a waste of time and money, take a look at these statistics:

  • One-third of employees quit in the first six months of a new job. Up to 20 percent of turnover happens in the first 45 days of employment.
  • Replacing an employee who leaves generally costs between 30 and 50 percent of her annual salary. For managers, it can be significantly more.
  • Of employees who leave within six months of starting a new job, 21 percent wish they had "more effective training." And nearly half of those who left said they'd had either no onboarding or ineffective onboarding.
  • At the same time, new employees who went through a structured onboarding program were 58 percent more likely to be with the organization after three years. And 92 percent of new hires who received operational and cultural onboarding reported they felt like productive contributors after just one month on the job.

Convinced that onboarding is worth a little more attention? Here are some tips to help you do it right.

Save a tree. Paperwork will always be with us. But it's only a small piece of the onboarding process, and it should not be overwhelming. Keep it to a minimum (some things can wait!), email it out ahead of time and allow your new hire to respond digitally.

Welcome your new colleague. Make your new hire feel wanted and valued by getting their work space ready ahead of time. Get their desk and technology set up, and throw in some branded swag to start cultivating that company loyalty.

Keep them busy. Don't leave your new hire "floating around." Offer a full schedule of tasks and assignments for the first couple of weeks, even if it's "use this hour to organize your computer desktop." The tasks you assign communicate company values, expectations and caring--and your new hire is not left wondering, "what's next?"

Help them grow. It's never too early to begin communicating the idea that personal growth can happen here. One company offers new hires a chance to overcome a fear of public speaking and address the staff -- with coaching to prepare. How empowering is that?

Reveal the big picture. By all means, assign your new hire a buddy or mentor within their department, but also schedule informal meetings with veterans in other departments. That will jumpstart their understanding of the company -- and just might spark collaboration.

Get outside help. With contingent staff comprising an increasing share of the workforce, your staffing partner can be a huge asset. They specialize in onboarding, and can bring to the task the knowledge that comes from working across your industry. They'll start the process before your temporary hire even walks in your door, and will work with you to develop an onboarding plan that's right for your company. Your new staffer will be in the swim of things before you know it!