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All Onboard! How to Get New Employees to Settle In - And Stay

People often call new-employee orientation onboarding.

When you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Starting at a company is a lot like getting on a ship or plane - without a smooth ramp in place, it could be tricky, and make you second-guess the whole journey. The same holds true for workplaces: According a 2013 report by the Aberdeen Group, a research firm, companies with poor onboarding strategies retain just 30% of their first-year employees, while firms with a comprehensive plan hold onto 91% of these hard-won hires. Good onboarding will also boost your bottom line, Aberdeen Group found. Companies that do it well improve their revenue per full-time employee by 17 percent, and their customer retention by 15 percent.

Luckily, onboarding doesn't have to be expensive, or even especially complicated. We consulted top studies and leading experts to find best advice around - read on and put it to work for you.

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When you touch base, consider adding a useful gift that could help them feel more at ease. Are they feeling short on time? Daily planner. Overwhelmed? Desk organizer. Just wanting more fun? Bluetooth speaker. Get creative; you'd be surprised how far a small gesture can take you.

Begin the process before your employee reports to work.

One study found it's a rule among 83% of top-performing firms. "Send the employee any new-hire forms that can be completed offsite, so that his first hours in the building aren't spent on paperwork," suggests Bill Sanders, managing director of Roebling Strauss Inc., a firm that helps businesses improve their management strategies. Make sure things are squared away on your end too. Is the employee's workspace fully stocked, for instance? (Nothing's drearier than hunting for a pen when you don't even know where the supply cabinet is.)

Give a heads-up about what will happen the first week.

Your new hire will appreciate any preview, says leadership coach Andrew Wittman, Ph.D., author of Ground Zero Leadership: The CEO of You. Will the team be taking her to lunch? Are there meetings she'll be expected to attend? What's the dress code? Cluing her in to the company culture will help her feel she belongs.

Encourage dreams from day one.

Wittman, who conducts onboarding seminars at corporations, often leads participants through an exercise: He has them write a letter to themselves, dated 2 years in the future, listing the contributions they imagine they'll have made to the company by then. "It gets new employees mission-oriented," he explains. "And it's useful for leadership too - your new hires might have ideas you haven't thought of." Also take time to set realistic goals for the employee; write down an overview what you'd like to see him learn and master in the first few months. Give your new recruits something branded with the company name too, to help them build a bond. An umbrella, for instance, will be used often, and shows you care about your employees' comfort.

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Giving your new employee a welcome gift makes them feel valued right away. A branded pen and notebook, a flash drive and a mug, make for a super gift-pack and will get used day one. It's a great way to make them feel like a part of your team and build company pride.

Build patience into the process.

New employees take at least 3 months to get up to speed, says Sanders. This means they need special hand-holding long after the welcome memos get recycled. "Whoever is in charge of the employee's onboarding should touch base with them weekly for the first thirty days, then biweekly for the next sixty days," says Sanders. "It can be a quick, semi-formal conversation, but it should be separate from talking about projects. The conversation should include questions like 'How's communication on your team' and 'How's the stress?', as well as 'Do you feel you've met everyone you need to yet?'," he explains. "You should also ask if the employee has encountered any stumbling blocks and offer your help with them." Explain the structure and schedule for future check-ins too, says Lorraine Moore, president of Accelerate Success Group, which assists companies with talent development. It will help newbies prepare their feedback and questions - and keep their goals in sight.

Make onboarding more than just HR's responsibility.

Research shows that best-in-class organizations are assigning mentors, peers, and business-unit leaders to head up the effort. Since onboarding takes longer than many companies realize, it's a great strategy - after all, most employees spend more time with their peers and superiors than they do in the human resources department. And having someone close by to rely on for support and encouragement can be a make-or-break benefit, too. According to one survey of roughly 1,000 people who left a job within 6 months, 17 percent said that "a friendly smile or helpful co-worker would have made all the difference."

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