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Taking time to design a proper onboarding experience will do wonders for employee engagement and retention. It just makes everything smoother for the new hire and you.

One of the most important stages of onboarding begins well before the new hire’s first day. We call this the preboarding phase. 

Sadly, it's common for organizations to not have a preboarding plan. This essentially leaves new hires sitting in the dark, and does nothing to alleviate those typical days one jitter.

In this article, we'll look at what preboarding is, why it should be part of your onboarding process, and how to create a preboarding process that makes sense for your organization.

What is preboarding?

The preboarding timeframe covers when a new hire accepts the job offer and they step into the office (actual or otherwise!) on their first day.

What your organization does, or doesn’t, do during this time can make all the difference in regards to productivity, business risk (think contracts), employee experience, and retention. 

Yet, when it comes to preboarding, 64% of new hires receive no preboarding experience. When it comes to turnover, 20 percent of turnover takes place in the first 45 days.

With this in mind, you'll be leaving a lot on the table if you are not creating an onboarding program that includes preboarding. 

It’s an easy win at the end of the day.

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What should be in your preboarding process? 

Before we get into the specifics, here are some goals that your preboarding process should be aiming to achieve:

  • Give the new hire enough information on everything they want to know, but were afraid or forgot to ask. This could include what their first week on the job will look like, or logistics like parking and what to wear in the office.
  • Help alleviate the first day nerves as much as possible.
  • Show them that before their first day even begins, they've made the right choice in accepting your job offer and agreeing to join your organization. 

It's highly likely your offer wasn't the one they received. It’s common for them to be wondering if they should've accepted that other offer, or responded to that recruiter who reached out to them on Linkedin. 

Almost everyone I know, and me included, has accepted a job offer and was told "see you Monday morning at 9 am at this address”—end of comms. Some of the things running your mind at this point are:

  • Who will my fellow team members be?
  • Is there anything I should bring in for that first day?
  • What is the company culture actually like vs what’s stated on their website?  
  • Oh boy, I'm having a hard time trying to get to sleep. I don't really have any clue of what to expect for day one, or the first week. 

With a proper preboarding process, you can help answer these questions early and greatly alleviate the nerves we all feel before starting a new job.  

Send through a welcome package 

To get the ball rolling, you'll want to have a well-crafted welcome email that helps cover the pressing concerns. 

Whether they're starting the following Monday or several weeks in the future, a check-in will help get them started off on the right foot. One idea I’ve seen, that’s a nice touch, is to loop in their future team members so that they can welcome their new colleagues. 

Included in this should be a welcome package that gives them an idea of what to expect prior to their start date

One of the best things that you can include in this is an employee handbook.

Now, to be clear, I'm not saying you send them your full employee handbook—instead, have an abridged version as more of a smiley welcome guide. 

Here are some ideas for what you can include in this:

  • A list of acronyms. Every organization has their fair share. I remember in one of my worst day ones I was in a meeting where someone dropped four acronyms in a single sentence. I wasn't sure if they were even speaking English. They might not memorize all of them prior to day one, but have them available for them to get familiar.
  • A layout of what their first week will look like. This can include a schedule and who they will be meeting.
  • The values of your organization. Sure it's easy for them to look it up on your website, but here you can go deeper into your company's culture and how you work together. This can include the reasoning behind these values, some examples of them in action, and how a new hire can demonstrate these values from day one.  
  • Some basic logistics. If they're coming into the office, give them an idea about parking, what to wear, places nearby they can get lunch etc. 
  • Include a benefits guide. This doesn't have to be super thorough at this point (since for most organizations perks take a few months before being accessible), but give them the 30,000 foot view of what benefits and perks they'll be receiving. 

You will also want them to do a few basic administrative tasks on their end prior to starting. Keep these simple—such as getting their profile set up (email and Slack accounts, accepting some calendar invites for the first week), and giving them some tax forms to fill out. 

Depending on whether they're coming into the office or working remotely, giving them some equipment or ‘swag’ is sure to leave them feeling all warm and fuzzy inside. This can include a laptop or monitor, or something softer like a bundle of goodies with t-shirts, a water bottle, and chocolate—you have many choices here. 

As you refine your welcome kit over time you can work off a template that covers the essentials, and tweak as needed depending on whether they'll be working fully remote, what department they're working in, and what level they’re coming in at.

Beware too much preboarding

As mentioned earlier, 64% of new hires receive no preboarding experience.

However, it is possible to go overboard with your preboarding process and create issues before an employee's first day even begins. 

I once had a conversation with someone who was on their way out of their people and culture role. 

One of the issues he mentioned was that his soon-to-be ex-employer had a preboarding program that was essentially unpaid work. 

Prior to his first day, they’d expected him to go through a whole batch of material so that, instead of being eased in, when he arrived on day one he could get started on work right away.

This is an example of preboarding overload. My friend mentioned that this was a part of a larger issue with their company culture that leadership wasn't addressing and was leading to employee retention issues with many hires gone within the first year. 

You also have to be conscious of the fact that, depending on how much time occurs between when the paperwork is signed and day one begins, the new hire may be focusing on other things.

Remember, the key is to give them everything they should know but are afraid or forget to ask, and help ease them in and alleviate those anxieties. Too much and you create extra concerns because of too much preboarding. 

Next steps

Now that we've gone through what your preboarding process should look like, it's time to either look at what you currently have and spice up as needed, or start building one out altogether.

This article has given you a good idea of where you need to get started, and what to focus on and.

For further assistance, hit me up in the comments or the People Managing People forum—a supportive community of HR experts sharing knowledge and solving problems.

Leave no new hire sitting in the dark again!