Keeping Great Employees Starts with Onboarding

Hiring New People Takes Work

You already know that hiring new employees takes a great deal of time and money. These kinds of reasons are why Heather Eck at Epic Games takes great care so that the employee, and their future success, does not fall flat once they’re onboarded. Providing excellent company culture and putting their best foot forward helps build trust and loyalty. We spoke to her to find out what exactly she does in order to build the new employee’s confidence in themselves as well as the company from day one.

Why is onboarding so important?

Onboarding is kind of like going on a first date; first impressions really count. For example, if you show up for a date dressed to the nines and your date strolls in 20 minutes late wearing a tracksuit, you might have already decided that person’s not worth your time. Nothing against tracksuits, I’m just sayin’.

Just like a first date, new hires show up on their first day eager to impress; and some have expectations that the ‘date’ will turn into a long term relationship. When they get to their desks and their equipment isn’t set up, or they’re not sure who their Manager is, or what they should be doing, it immediately knocks their confidence down a peg or two and they start to question whether or not they’ve made the right decision. A good onboarding program eliminates that doubt and confidently allows the new hire to start off on the right foot and
then keep building on that. Second date, guaranteed.

What’s the goal of onboarding?

Just like when you’re starting a new relationship, there’s a honeymoon period. I liken that honeymoon period to a new job’s learning curve. Depending on the job this can take anywhere from 3 – 6 months. But over the course of the new hire’s first day, they’re a little bit like a deer in headlights trying to navigate both the office politics and how to use the coffee machine. Their internal struggle is tied to their desire to immediately add value to the organization while feeling a little bit like the new kid on the first day of high school. The goal of
onboarding is to not only help a new hire be as successful as possible as early as possible but to help them feel like a valued member of the company too. This includes designing activities that showcase the company’s culture, beliefs, values and goals.

Where does onboarding start and end?

Going back to the relationship metaphor, let’s say for the sake of argument that the relationship cycle is one year. Throughout that year you’re going to experience the honeymoon period, your first fight, meeting the parents and ultimately deciding if you want to continue on in the relationship or jump ship. Onboarding is kind of the same! It starts from the moment the new hire accepts the offer and continues throughout a new hire’s first year.

Think about it; in that first year of a new job, you’ll likely fall in love with the company you’ve joined, noticing all of it’s attractive perks and benefits. The free coffee and Kind Bars. The gym discount and the slide connecting the second floor to the first…what? Doesn’t everyone have one of those? A couple of months later though, you might find yourself sitting across from your boss wondering where it all started to unravel. You might have a misunderstanding about why you made decision A when your boss thinks you should have made decision B. You might have your first performance review and find out you hadn’t done as well as you’d thought you did on that killer project you believed you nailed last Fall. And finally, that awesome slide? It’s really loud and it actually hurts your butt.

A good onboarding program is like having a how-to-manual for that first year of your relationship with the company. It’s a go-to guide for how to navigate the inner workings of the company, a cliffs-notes version for quickly understanding the culture. It extends far beyond that first day and leaves a lasting impression.

What do new hires want to know?

Sample Schedule for a New Hire
Sample Schedule for a New Hire

New Hires want to know what they’re getting themselves into when they join the company. But first, they want to know where to go on Day One. They want to know what to bring, who to meet, where to go and some of them want to know what to wear. It’s pretty simple to start. Once they get settled in, they want to know who they’re reporting to, the folks on the team they’ll be working with and in general, what they’ll be working on.

There are other intangibles that they want to know too, like what time do most folks show up in the morning? What time do they leave? Is it cool to schedule a meeting at lunch time? Do people actually use the slide? Onboarding programs should start by addressing those questions by connecting the new hire to their go-to person at the company when they accept the offer. It doesn’t have to be an HR person; it could be the Hiring Manager or their HR partner. Once that connection is made, the new hire has a solid bridge that links them
from their previous job to their new job. From there, it’s important to make sure that there are communication touch points along the way which help lay the foundation of their new job. Onboarding then continues with the Manager establishing expectations about their first 90 days and beyond.

What specific tactics have you implemented to make new employees feel welcome, and ramp up in their new jobs?

Welcome pack

At Epic, we start by connecting the new hire to HR as soon as they accept the offer. From there, we kick off a series of onboarding tactics that begin preparing the company, key stakeholders, Manager and HR of the new hire’s upcoming start date which goes like this:

  • We reply to the recruiter’s email introducing them to their Manager and the onboarding team which consists of an HR/Recruiting coordinator and M.o.M. (Mistress of Morale). The M.o.M gets the new hire’s t-shirt size and address and mails them a box of swag including a t-shirt, mug and a handwritten note.
  • We then separately email the Manager a few key things to remember about a new hire’s first week. It includes a link to a Google Sheet to capture the names of folks they’ll want the new hire to meet with in their first week.
  • The onboarding team begins scheduling the new hire for their first week activities including Orientation, a tour, product overviews and a 401(k) enrollment meeting.
  • A few days before the new hire’s start date, we email them instructions for where to go and when, a copy of their schedule and a list of folks they’ll be having lunch with when they start.
  • When the new hire arrives on Monday, we meet them in the lobby and walk them to Orientation where we review company culture, benefits, IT and facilities information.
  • Once that’s over, the M.o.M takes them on a tour and then drops them off at their desk to leave for lunch with their Manager.

Our onboarding program is ever-evolving based on feedback, size and scalability. We like it that way.

What are the biggest pitfalls that employees face when starting a new job?

I think the biggest pitfalls facing employees these days is not knowing who to talk to when they encounter something they’re not sure about. One of the best parts of our program, in my opinion, is that it bridges the gap between employee and HR. The new hire gets to experience HR folks in a positive light. They know our names and they know where our offices are located. In this way, they start to get more comfortable dropping in to ask questions and they know we’re always available to answer their questions and help them out.

The simple email that we send syncing the new hire with their Manager also gives them an opportunity to begin developing a positive relationship with them before they start. This also bridges the gap between old job and new job and creates a feeling of comfort throughout that exciting, but sometimes nerve-wracking, experience.

What’s next for your onboarding process?

We think we’ve done a pretty good job with getting folks up to speed on the company, our products and the people they’ll be working with. As a next step, we’ll look to partner with discipline teams to help establish more formal team onboarding. In this way we’re continuing to help the Managers build a specific onboarding curriculum and timeline for folks who join their teams.

Not only will this help the new hire get up to speed more quickly, but taking it a step further and documenting key information for new hires also helps cut down on the amount of time a team and Manager need to spend digging up information and pointing folks to an old dusty intranet site. It’s something that will benefit everyone in the long run. And honestly, we’re just hoping that our onboarding program invites employees to commit to our company for the long haul; at least for longer than most Hollywood marriages last.

Full Circle

When it comes to hiring, companies are seeing that their onboarding process can always improve. From their first day to their first year, there are many ways to ensure both parties have a mutual respect and appreciation. People like Heather are helping ensure that the effort and money spent on a new hire aren’t for not and that everyone gets the win-win. Once a new hire is settled in and happy with their company since you’ve done such a great job onboarding, they can start being an employee advocate too!

About the Interviewee:

Heather Eck Epic Games

Heather Eck is a Sr. HR Generalist and Authentic Leadership Coach at Epic Games, Inc., in Raleigh, NC. A few years ago left the Big Apple and Advertising behind in favor of wide open spaces and the exciting world of gaming. She’s often over caffeinated and spends her days brainstorming creative ways to help new hires feel at home when they join Epic. And yes, she has ridden the slide. Even though it hurts her butt.