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More than just a welcome

Published on Friday, 06 Aug 2010
Illustration: Bay Leung
Waiters from a Beijing hotel (below) practise marching as part of training. Experts say that onboarding processes should be interactive and constantly revised.
Photo: Reuters

Welcoming new employees is about more than just being hospitable. It involves staff integration, developing camaraderie and, if done properly, it can prevent workplace conflicts and inspire loyalty among new hires.

Human resources professionals believe a well-structured employee orientation programme is crucial to talent management. 

Albert Chau, a senior consultant at risk and management consulting firm Towers Watson, stresses that employee onboarding should go beyond making a positive first impression.

"It's not just the first day or first week, it should be an ongoing thing," Chau says. "Effective employee onboarding continues to engage staff, and explores opportunities for feedback to enhance the onboarding process. The company should stay mindful of opportunities to integrate new hires into the organisation as a whole."

Chau suggests conducting an assessment after an employee has been with the organisation for a longer period.

"Wouldn't it be better to do an assessment six months later? The new employee has already gone through the process, and has a brief understanding of the company. With fresh eyes, new staff may now feel more comfortable sharing their views," Chau says.

He says onboarding should be an interactive process. "A meaningful onboarding process should allow staff to be fully on board and let them feed ideas back to enhance the system. The best rule is to have no fixed rules and to let it evolve with staff and the organisation's growth."

Chau believes any company, regardless of its size, can develop an effective staff orientation process.

"Multinational companies usually have staff policies on a much bigger scale, and the onboarding process will normally take up two or three days. Smaller companies would have a simpler approach - it all depends on the nature of the business. Companies must design a process that suits their individual needs."

Matthew Hill, managing director of Ambition (Hong Kong), agrees that employee onboarding is a key part of an organisation's talent management plan.

"In the current job market, employers have devoted a lot of time and resources to compete for talent, so quick turnover will be costly to organisations. Employees are most [likely] to leave an organisation in the first 12 months after [joining]," he says. "A well-designed onboarding programme can improve staff retention, but it is successful only when HR and line managers are involved. Multiple approaches should be adopted to address the varying levels, responsibilities and expectations of employees."

Susana Ng, a senior associate at law firm Allen and Overy, says having a systematic employee onboarding process, especially for middle and senior-level staff, can prevent workplace conflicts. "If you have a systematic and comprehensive onboarding approach, it will help the new hire to better understand what his or her role is. This will certainly help prevent future misunderstandings, staff disputes and unnecessary conflicts," Ng says.

Onboarding goals  

  • Ease new employees' anxieties with a strong welcome
  • Go through the basics about the business, such as products and services, and organisational structure
  • Explain the company's values and business objectives
  • Understand staff expectations
  • Affirm that the employee has chosen the right job
  • Help the new hire fit into the organisation
  • Build long-term relationships with staff 

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