6 ways to boost engagement during onboarding

You spent all that time searching for those ideal employees. Are you putting any effort into making their first day memorable?

Most organizations these days have moved beyond the old we-pay-’em-to-work-so-who-cares-if-they’re-happy attitude.

Few, however, start thinking about employee engagement—and retention—the day a new staffer shows up.

At Radio Flyer, the iconic little red wagon company, engagement starts on day one, says Amy Bastuga, vice president of human resources. This, she adds, is the key to keeping the talent you worked so hard to recruit.

In a Ragan Training talk titled “Ready for takeoff: New ‘Flyer’ orientation lifts engagement at Radio Flyer,” she explains how the century-old Chicago company makes connecting with employees a process that starts before the job interview ends.

Engagement is a part of onboarding.

Statistics show that as many as 70 percent of workers are disengaged. Are you treating engagement with due seriousness when you bring on new hires?

After all, you probably went through a job search to find them, particularly in competitive industries. Just look at the new guys, in their business suits and freshly polished shoes. They’re excited. In an environment where businesses fail every day, begin working on engagement when is at an all-time high.

“Working with others to overcome challenges is hard enough,” Bastuga says. “It is really, really hard to do that when you have people that are actively disengaged or working against the cause or the direction that you’re going in.”

First impressions matter.

Yes, of course; you’re good at this. You give a friendly office tour to all your new hires—just as soon as you’re out of that two-hour meeting you scheduled for 8 a.m. the first day they show up.

New employees, however, will find their enthusiasm flagging if they are abandoned to read about the organization online because nobody was ready for them, Bastuga says. Similarly, it’s a day-one engagement killer when people show up for work and the receptionist says in surprise, “Oh, you’re starting today? I thought that was next week.”

Look, says Bastuga, you wouldn’t do that to guests you invited for dinner, would you? Oh, you’re here? I forgot it was at 6. Would you mind sitting on my front porch and looking through my Facebook account to learn a little bit about me? When dinner’s ready, I’ll call you.

“You can’t undo a first impression,” Bastuga says, “so why not make it great?”

Start engagement during the interview process.

Radio Flyer is aware that even for a beloved brand, nothing is static. Children’s play has undergone a revolution in recent decades, as digital games and robotic toys crowd in. A company that produces wagons, tricycles and other playthings has to stay on top of its game.

Thus, the job interviews blend into the orientation, Bastuga says. When the company is 95 percent sure it wants to hire a candidate, the prospects meet Robert Pasin, the Chief Wagon Officer (a.k.a. CEO) to talk about their potential role in Radio Flyer.

“We’re communicating with them before they even set foot on our campus,” Bastuga says.

Hook them at home.

Every new hire is mailed a letter from Pasin, describing the heritage behind the red wagon company started by his grandfather in 1917. The package also contains a tiny red wagon, suitable for children to drive around on the dinner table, upsetting salt shakers and juice cups.

New employees are told, “This is a symbol of what they’re joining,” Bastuga says. “This is a symbol of who we are.”

Radio Flyer exists in a highly competitive market, and even when you make a job offer, your new recruit might be considering other opportunities. “We start touching base with them before they’re on campus with us,” Bastuga says.

Be ready.

When that overdressed newcomer starts work, how about making sure managers treat it as seriously as they would a customer appointment? Radio Flyer leaves a welcome wagon on new staffers’ desks. Inside are things such as a water bottle and a book with stories from customers.

Radio Flyer also sends an organization-wide announcement that includes not only the newcomer’s job details, but a few fun facts gleaned from a form applicants have filled out. (“She’s a huge Cubs fan.”)

That way, when the new kid on the block is shown around, fellow Cubs fans can commiserate over a team that hasn’t won the World Series since 1908.

Make the first day interesting.

Don’t make them spend the day filling out forms and waiting for people to get out of meetings. Introduce new employees to your organization in a creative way.

“We’ve got to start work on keeping them right now,” Bastuga says.

Spending anywhere from one to 20 hours in orientation right away saves many hours of wasted time by disengaged employees later on, Bastuga says. Invest early so that you don’t have to spend money later.

Or as Bastuga keeps repeating around Radio Flyer: “We found them. Now let’s keep them.”


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