A wise person once said, “Every saga has a beginning.”
Wait, that’s from the trailer of The Phantom Menace. Let’s try this again.
A wise person once said, “Every new employee gets onboarded.”
It seems pretty innocuous, right? It’s basically how you introduce new employees to your company. It can’t be that hard.
Except it can. Onboarding is, in fact, the official beginning of an employee’s saga with your company. And a poor onboarding can lead to long-lasting repercussions, ranging from turning to the Dark Side and destroying the galaxy to (more realistically) complete disinterest in your company and what it does.
Yes, there’s a lot at stake. Maybe more than you imagined, even if you cut the whole galaxy destruction out of it.
But while poorly planned onboarding can lead to all sorts of problems, a thorough and thoughtful onboarding can help your new employee and your company be their best selves. Going about onboarding the right way can lead to:
Better on-the-job performance: One study found that a solid onboarding program results in “54% greater new hire productivity.”
Longer retention: That same study revealed that a good onboarding program means employees are 50% likelier to stick around.
Stronger company culture: What is your company built on? Introducing your new hire(s) to your values and goals is a gentle way to ensure they’re a good fit early on. Comprehensive onboarding programs make you dig into your company’s values and figure out new ways to communicate them – which in turn helps you build on them further.
We’d suggest any onboarding program is better than none, but why do something so important halfway? Boring Powerpoints and videos are so last century. Put some imagination into your onboarding – it’ll be more enjoyable to put together, and more engaging and memorable to the employees participating in it. To help you out, we’ve put together some of our favorite creative ways to onboard new employees here.
Psst - you’ll notice some of these play together quite nicely and even borrow from each other at times. There’s no one way to onboard someone. If you find something that works for your company and your colleagues, please accept from us the highest of fives.
1. Gap weekend
This is a newer tactic we’ve seen, and we like it. It’s basically a gap year for new employees – er, we don’t mean a full year, of course. Typically, companies that do this offer their new employee either a flat sum or a portion of their salary not to come in.
Transitioning to a new job is stressful even in the best cases. And if you’re going straight from, say, a highly stressful job into another one, you may bring old, bad feelings with you. Giving newbies even a couple of days to decompress and really let things go can work wonders for their mindset – and lead to stronger performance when they do start working for you.
So, what does a Gap Weekend look like?
Budget-minded: Give your employee a few extra days between stopping at their last job and starting at your place. They can spend those days where they like: their couch, a park, a pub. We aren’t judging.
Working retreat: If budget is no consideration, pack them off to a nice hotel for a couple of days to properly decompress. Fluffy pillows and room service? They’ll be completely relaxed on their first day with you.
2. Get the ball rolling early
We hit on this in our previous blog about onboarding remote employees, but you don’t have to start onboarding on Day One. Why not start getting them the information they need on Day Zero? Email is a thing. You can send over documentation they’ll need to read at some point anyway. Your company’s history, their health insurance papers, and so on.
Bonus points if you can give them a Gap Weekend that includes them getting rolling. Two birds, one newbie and all that.
3. Swag bag
People like getting stuff. They like people who give them that stuff. Thus, if you give them stuff, they will probably like you.
There’s some psychology behind this suggestion: The newbie isn’t just thinking, “Aw, the company gave me cool gear!” They’re also feeling valued. A lot of employees don’t think about the costs of onboarding, or that even bringing them aboard can demonstrate a company’s trust and belief in them. While they may consciously be thinking “How cool!” they will subconsciously be understanding that you like them. You really like them!
What can you put in your swag bag?
T-shirts, beanies, or other items of clothing
Don’t limit yourself to company-branded stuff, either. It’s likely people will spend a lot of time at their desks. What can you give them to brighten their surroundings up? Plants, posters, picture frames? How about the latest novel the company book club is reading, or a mixtape of everyone’s favorite songs?
4. Welcome meal
Welcoming a newcomer with food goes way, way back – but you can always put a creative spin on it! Look into the following:
Department outing: Gather the entire team together, take them out for some amazing grub, and put it on the company credit card.
Catered meal: Keep everyone in the building, but let the department choose a restaurant to order from. The team can take a long lunch and get to know each other while they nosh.
Potluck: Our only caution here is to exempt the newbie from bringing anything – they’re likely stressed enough as it is without worrying about cooking or picking something up at the store. Instead, make it clear that this is a celebration for the newbie, and everyone else will bring a dish. All your newcomer has to do is eat!
Newbie party: Do you have a big group of incoming freshman employees? Odds are they’ll befriend each other anyway, but seal the deal by letting them have a little bash. You can get it catered or just send them out to a restaurant.
Voucher: Is a full outing or catered meal not in the cards? A voucher to a local restaurant or a service like GrubHub, DoorDash, or Postmates will still give your newbies the snacks of their dreams. BONUS – they can order exactly what they like.
By the way, you’re not beholden to a particular meal. Breakfast of Champions, Power Lunch, Dinner for Winners – it’s all food, and we don’t discriminate against meals here. Pick what works out best for your team and company.
5. Department activity
Want to see your team working together and solving problems right away? An out-of-office activity might be just the thing. The cool part: They’ll be focusing on something besides work! It’s an informal way to introduce a newbie to a team, and lets them get to know each other and “gel” in a more informal way.
If, like Mr. Hammond, you’ll spare no expense:
Escape room: You aren’t just colleagues – you’re adventurers, and you need to get out of this tomb/prison cell/vampire’s lair. The catch: You have to use your brains to do it. (In the Covid-era there are even virtual escape rooms you can do together through Zoom or Google Meet.)
Paintballing: This may not be your cup of tea at all – we get it – but paintballing requires a lot of strategy and teamwork. Your team will need to think fast on their feet, too!
If you’re on a budget:
Geocaching: It’s basically treasure hunting – your crew goes to a set of coordinates and then looks for a hidden object.
Volunteer: Beach cleanups, assisting local farms, and helping zoos are all possibilities. Your team can get to know each other while doing a kind thing!
And if thinking while not at work seems like a tall order, there’s always a traditional department Happy Hour to fall back on.
6. Buddy up
Every newbie deserves a BFF—someone who will be with them through thick and thin. Feeling like they have a support system as they settle in will work wonders for even the shyest of new people.
Bear in mind we’re not talking about an official mentor here, though the role may well develop into that; the senior employee’s duties are to listen to your new hire’s concerns, be their sounding board, and give advice. Bonus points if they have activities and interests in common!
Ideally, this individual is not their supervisor, as that’ll lead to way too many opportunities for things to get awkward. Set up a lunch date on their very first day, and continue to schedule things like coffee breaks or even 15-minute walks.
7. Show them their end-user
What does your company do? Who ultimately benefits – or ideally benefits – from your product or service? Often the daily grind obscures the end user. Remember that end-user, and make sure your newbies are familiar with them.
Are you a marketing firm creating campaigns for a blood bank? A poster of recipients – the people who need the blood – puts a human face on what might otherwise just be text on a computer screen.
8. Teach them with their own tools
If your newbies will be utilizing and/or selling particular tools, incorporate those tools into their onboarding. For example, if you’re working with scheduling software, set a goal for them to schedule five tasks a day for various departments until they have a firm grasp on the software and how to use it.
Here’s a real-life program we put together for Google back when they debuted their Pixel phone. They appointed ambassadors within cell phone stores to become the Pixel experts, but as the phone had just been launched, no one knew how to use it.
To help onboard these ambassadors, we created a box of goodies that included the phone, some swag, as well as a card game we invented. Each day, the newcomers would draw a challenge card that would encourage them to explore the world around them using the device (example: take a selfie with your favorite co-worker using the built-in Google Assistant). They could post their progress and adventures to a social media group we created for them.
They were learning all the things they’d need to share with potential purchasers of the phones, and having a great time doing so.
9. Friendly competition
Gamification is kind of our jam. Contrary to its name, gamification doesn’t always mean “Turn it into a game.” Sure, you can take gamification literally and make your training into games, but more broadly, the philosophy is rooted in keeping employees engaged and interested in their training by applying concepts and mechanics you might usually find in games.
Here’s an example:
The NBA and NBA Players Association came to us looking for help in refreshing a program for one of their camps. They provided several suggestions and requirements a player needed to follow to have a successful career.
We built an app around those requirements that included points, badges, and leaderboards. We then broke the newbies into teams that worked together to earn the highest number of points. As they answered questions correctly, they advanced in the leaderboards.
If you opt to gamify your training, make sure you include some sort of prize or reward that ties into what’s important to those you’re hiring. Figure out what would mean something to your new employees and reward their hard work accordingly.
Your mind might immediately turn to money, and maybe that’s the best way to reward some folks. But determine what your company can afford and what would mean the most to the people you’re onboarding. For example, the winners at the NBA camp received a basketball-related prize because basketball was immensely important to them. If you’re a software company, maybe you can reward them with coding classes, or some piece of technology.
10. Scavenger hunt
Scavenger hunts aren’t just for children’s birthday parties anymore. When properly implemented in the workplace, they can serve as both a socialization tool and a way for them to get to know the office and its values.
You can include anything you like on this hunt, but we recommend company landmarks (the coffee machine and water cooler are easy opening steps) and places they’ll go often (offices they might be expected to frequent). If you have your company’s messages and values scattered around the office, include those (and if you don’t have them...you should!). Encourage your newbies to ask more senior employees for help if they have trouble finding something—it may even turn into an office-wide effort.
For example, we had one campaign where we created posters featuring key messages regarding the company and what it stood for. We placed these posters all over the office. The newcomers were broken into teams and sent out to roam around the facility to find these posters. Once located, they scanned them with an app. The more they scanned, the more bonuses and points they could unlock and share with their team.
Yes, we gamified it. Are you really surprised?
11. Paint and sip
You can put together a painting party at any point in the onboarding, though we’ve seen the most success with companies that treat it as a “Congratulations! You made it three months!” celebration.
The execution is simple. Give your newbie a beverage and a snack of their choice. Set them up with paints and a canvas and put them to work. You can give them some guidelines if you want—”Please tie your picture to company themes” or something like that—but you’ll probably have more success if you ask them to create something they’ll like, or a something that means something to them, or makes them laugh, or...you get the idea.
Got multiple new people? Awesome. You can have them work together. And by placing snacks and drinks near your new folks, you’re enticing more senior employees to swing by and “help” (come for the wine, stay for the conversation). It can definitely turn into a social event, so maybe schedule it for a Friday at the end of the day.
Ready to level up your onboarding game?
The way we onboard new people tends to change based on shifts in technology and the way workplaces are run. But the importance of onboarding doesn’t change. Greeting your new people with enthusiasm and making them feel welcome is an awesome first step to take.
Creative, engaging onboarding practices build on that step, helping you develop a valued, happy employee who can’t wait to get to work every morning.
And hey, if you need help coming up with onboarding ideas, we happen to know some folks who are pretty great at it. Yes, it’s us. Drop us a line – we’d love to talk to you!