Onboarding new hires can be complicated. But onboarding new hires shortly after many team members have left can be seriously challenging. Not to mention overwhelming, confusing, and worrying for the new recruits themselves. However, this is the unfortunate recruitment reality for the many businesses hit hard by the “Great Reshuffle.”
While the US has been hit hardest by employee turnover in the wake of the pandemic, the UK isn’t far behind. Our research found that over two-thirds of UK businesses have struggled to fill existing roles, let alone hire for growth. More than one in three companies have been forced to turn down work because of talent shortages.
And, of course, the challenge doesn’t end once you’ve finally managed to find the top talent to replace exiting employees. In a recent study, we found that the majority of new employees in the UK (65% of those with 3-6 month tenures) are actively looking for a new job.
So, how do we shut that revolving door? What steps can managers take to keep new hires engaged and increase their team’s retention rate? How can you keep morale high when remaining staff are stretched thin? And how can you create a positive company culture, when so many of your employees have just walked out the door?
6 Pivotal Strategies to Retain New Employees
To give your new recruits the best possible experience, encourage employee retention, and re-engage your existing teams, you may want to rethink your onboarding strategy for this new and challenging reality.
Below are several strategies that HR managers can use to support new employees and keep staff morale up during periods of high employee attrition.
1. Get involved in onboarding to improve employee experience.
The most effective way to support your incoming hires is to create a solid, consistent onboarding process. Research by management consultancy Eagle Hill found that companies are still failing to provide their new hires with a robust onboarding. More than half of the 700 respondents questioned revealed they had no clear idea of their employer’s culture or core values. Nor did they receive a solid introduction to the people, tools and technology they should use to do their job.
This is a serious problem. Gallup research found that job satisfaction and engagement levels are dramatically higher in employees who receive a strong onboarding. And the shift to hybrid working may exacerbate the damage of a poor onboarding experience. In this scenario, new remote hires are less likely to receive ad hoc training from their co-workers, or indeed learn about the company culture while socialising with colleagues over lunch.
The good news? As a manager, you can make a substantial difference to your new hires’ first months on the job. Again, research by Gallup has revealed that employees are more than 3 times more likely to consider their onboarding experience to be extremely positive if their manager plays an active role in the process.
And new hires are crying out for manager support. The Eagle Hill survey found that 63% of new hires want more guidance from their supervisor during onboarding, while only one in three wanted more help from HR.
Of course, managers today are even busier than usual, but onboarding new direct reports doesn’t have to be a major drain on your time and resources. A simple 30-60-90 day plan, coupled with regular one-to-ones, can make a big difference.
As well as more formal processes, keeping the communication channels open with both new and existing employees is critical during high turnover. Jennifer Hartman, a Human Resources specialist at leading digital publication Fit Small Business, suggests that managers can take simple measures to help new hires and existing staff feel comfortable and productive. She suggests that you:
- Make and share a list of key policies and procedures.
- Provide access and training on how to use company software and systems.
- Talk with your new recruits to evaluate where they may be lacking in knowledge.
- Assign a mentor to assist with questions and training.
Of course, Hartman acknowledges that “supporting new recruits can be difficult when there are not enough staff members to cover all tasks.” But, she adds, “with the right approach and planning, it is possible to help new recruits adjust to their new jobs.”
2. Increase engagement between new and existing employees.
More than three-quarters of employees believe that good relationships with their colleagues are essential to job satisfaction. Unfortunately, workplace connection has taken a hit over the past two years, as more companies move to flexible working. Worryingly, over 30% of HR professionals surveyed at the 2021 HR Tech Conference, reported that their new hires were struggling to form bonds with their new co-workers, especially in remote work arrangements.
While this lack of bonding can pose a problem for any company, it’s likely to be more challenging in businesses dealing with high levels of employee turnover. Remaining employees may be overwhelmed by the heavier workload left on their shoulders by exiting colleagues, and be too busy to reach out to new hires. They may also be missing their former colleagues, or even considering a leap themselves - after all, employee dissatisfaction can be contagious.
To ensure that your new hires feel welcome, despite the turbulent work environment, try setting up an onboarding buddy system. An onboarding buddy can show your new hires the ropes, but also help them navigate the company culture and connect with their teammates. Research by Microsoft found that onboarding buddies can transform new recruits’ perceptions of their own speed to productivity — by up to 97% if they met eight or more times within the first 90 days. Employee satisfaction rates for new hires with an onboarding budding were also 36% higher than their buddy-less coworkers.
Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Dawn Klinghoffer, Head of People Analytics at Microsoft, points out that “being a buddy is mutually beneficial” and that “it’s not just the new hire who can benefit from this relationship.” For existing employees whose work life has been disrupted by turnover, the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and communication skills can be motivating and rewarding.
3. Show your appreciation to encourage high performers.
Never underestimate the power of positive feedback. Research shows that employees see praise and recognition as more helpful than constructive criticism. Both your existing and your new employees will appreciate ongoing acknowledgement of their efforts.
This doesn't need to be a formal recognition program. Tristan Harris, Senior Marketing Manager at award-winning digital marketing company Thrive Agency, has found that simply sharing your appreciation is “one of the best ways to support new hires during turbulent times.” He explains that: “praising and appreciating [staff] for their work and dedication to the company sends a message that you value them and recognise their hard work.” Harris also recommends “involving new hires in decision-making, to ensure that their concerns are heard and considered, and that they are acknowledged as integral members of the organisation.”
4. Promote psychological safety to increase staff retention.
One of the most effective ways to help employees negotiate stressful times at work is to build a sense of psychological safety. This is as important for your remaining employees as it is for your new hires. Originally coined by Harvard professor Amy Edmonson, the term refers to the feeling that the workplace is a safe zone to take risks, make mistakes, and admit to vulnerabilities.
While feeling psychologically safe is key to every high-performing team, it’s especially important during times of change and turbulence. For instance, one study of healthcare facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic found that feelings of psychological safety reduced the stress levels of medical staff and also decreased their intent to leave the workplace. In this study, manager support was crucial to creating that sense of safety.
According to the researchers, managers can help employees under strain feel psychologically safe by:
- Helping employees reframe stressful experiences as opportunities for learning and professional development
- Offering additional support, mentoring and training to struggling team members
- Ensuring ongoing, open communication with every team member
- Acknowledging that the current situation may make it harder for work to carry on as usual
- Showing empathy and care towards any failures to meet goals
5. Instigate knowledge management initiatives to help recruits develop new skills.
One of the biggest challenges during periods of high turnover is the loss of internal knowledge that walks out the door with your previous employees. New hires may struggle to find the answers they need and be unsure of who they should ask or where to look for support. Jennifer Smith, the CEO of Scribe, advises managers to start by establishing internal consistency.
“In order to pass down knowledge from one employee to the next,” Smith suggests, “your processes need to live outside of someone's head. In my experience, the single most important thing you can do to train new employees (and support current ones) is to build a robust knowledge management system. If there's a ‘right’ way to do something, everyone needs access to that information.
Create and organise an internal wiki for each department. Have them identify the platforms they use and day-to-day processes. Then, they can get to the building. You'll want instructions to be as clear and specific as possible — never assume knowledge. Encourage team members to develop documents as you adopt technologies or change systems.
As part of their first few weeks of training, your new hires can get access to the guides most relevant to them. Use check-ins or short surveys to gauge if the content is helpful and identify any gaps. Use feedback to continually strengthen your system.
It's already hard losing veteran employees. Their knowledge doesn't have to leave with them!”
6. Measure onboarding successes with your new employee retention rate.
Don’t assume that your new hires are doing fine if you don’t hear any complaints. New recruits may feel that they can’t come forward with their concerns or doubts, for fear of looking unprepared. Instead, keep a close eye on their onboarding experience by conducting an onboarding survey.
A solid onboarding survey should let you:
- Spot any disengaged new joiners before they think about leaving
- Evaluate the quality and effectiveness of your overall onboarding program
- Check in with how well your new hires understand their role and their place in the team
- Gain benchmark metrics to compare with future new cohorts
- Identify any need for job-specific training or further orientation
- Inform your employee development program and provide development opportunities.
How Managers Can Support HR in Onboarding New Hires
Direct managers are a key part of every employees’ support system. In fact, weak employee-manager relationships are often cited as the reason for employee departures, so prioritising them is an effective way to ensure that new employees won’t restart their job search right away.
Managers can support HR teams and new employees by taking an active role in the onboarding experience. This can help employees feel a sense of belonging and connection, which is especially helpful in hybrid work environments. For example, managers can (and should):
- Schedule time to get involved in the onboarding of new team members, and take steps to build meaningful relationships with them
- Be proactive about communicating with both new and existing direct reports, and remember to show your appreciation
- Promote psychological safety by offering additional support and recognising the difficulties caused by a high turnover rate
- Build the systems to retain key institutional knowledge, even if multiple employees decide to leave - and make sure new hires have access to the information they need to do their jobs
Finally, instead of relying on your instincts or creating check-ins from scratch, use onboarding surveys to keep an eye on your new hires. Managers who are responsible for several direct reports can use customisable templates to scale their development plans and employee engagement. You can make the process easy by using our 30-60-90 plan template or onboarding survey template.
This may sound like a lot of work — but failing to make the effort may keep that door revolving. The bottom line? Support your new hires meaningfully, or watch them go the same way as your former employees.
Lattice helps organisations collect and measure employee feedback through our engagement tools. To learn more about using Lattice to turn insights into action, request a demo today.