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4 Strategies for Onboarding and Offboarding

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HR experts and Talent acquisition specialists attending Xref's seminar on Effecting Onboarding and Offboarding of Employees

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Effective onboarding and offboarding are critical for organisations that value employee retention and want to maintain a strong employer brand. 

A thorough onboarding experience sets employees up for long-term success, and a positive offboarding leaves the door open for alumni to return. 

Xref recently held a seminar in Melbourne on the topic of Effective Onboarding and Offboarding. 

At the event, HR experts shared their insights and strategies for creating effective onboarding and offboarding programs.

Xref branded graphic with photographs of Xref's Melbourne event panel members Cathy, Paula and Stephen

In an earlier blog also covering the breakfast panel discussion, we recap a panel discussion about the general state of onboarding and offboarding. In a world where hybrid work has become the norm for many, employees expect more personalised, and digitised onboarding and offboarding experiences.  

In this blog, we’ll discuss the key takeaways from the panel session dedicated to discussing best-practice strategies for onboarding and offboarding. 

The panel featured three speakers: Cathy Portelli, Director of People Experience at Eastern Health, Stephen Fitzgerald, Director: People Culture and Technology at Hudson RPO and Paula Kilby, HR and Talent Acquisition Consultant with Charlie Manyweathers, Xref’s Director of Client Development moderating. 

Read on to learn the insights shared by these experts during the breakfast panel in Melbourne. 

What does an effective onboarding program look like? 

Onboarding starts before an employee accepts a job offer. It starts from the time people start applying for a role with your organisation. 

“If candidates have to wait too long for a response after applying for a role, or they receive confusing emails, it leaves a bad impression,” explained Paula, a HR and Talent Acquisition Consultant with many years of professional experience. “A good impression matters from start to finish and if you don’t get it right, it can destroy your employer brand.” 

Building an effective onboarding program starts with putting yourself in a candidate’s shoes. How would you like to be treated? What information would you need to do your job well? 

“Our people should be our top priority," Paula expanded.  

Once you start putting the candidate experience first, an effective employee onboarding process begins to take shape. 

Every onboarding program will look different - it all depends on the role, the seniority level of the new hire and your organisation's goals and objectives. 

Xref branded graphic with a quote (above) from Paula Kilby, HR and Talent Acquisition Consultant

Tips for designing a five-star onboarding program 

While every onboarding process is different, there are best practices every organisation can observe. 

Here are four tips shared by our expert speakers during the Melbourne breakfast panel. 

1. Have an onboarding process 

Outline exactly what onboarding looks like for your organisation. 

Determine how long your program will be, plan check-ins and performance reviews, key learning milestones and so on. 

Be sure to focus on the candidate experience while planning your process. “Spending the time on the design process and focusing on experience over administration is critical,” said Stephen from Hudson RPO. Once your process is planned, break everything into chunks and assign tasks to the right team members. 

Xref branded graphic with a quote (above) from Stephen Fitzgerald, Director, People Culture and Technology, Hudson RPO

2. Get pre-boarding right 

Paula’s consulting experience has led her to believe that small issues like not having the technology ready on day one can leave a poor impression on new employees. “It’s important for employees to have access to the tools they were hired to use,” she said during the panel discussion. 

Having your employees set up correctly from day one feeds into the concept of pre-boarding, the period between a job offer acceptance and an employee's first day. 

During pre-boarding it’s best to: 

  • Provide clarity around salary, benefits, leave procedures and paydays. 
  • Offer access to contracts, company policies and procedures. 
  • Prepare essential equipment and technology access so employees can start their first day without delays. 
  • Equip employees with relevant contact details.
  • Ask employees about their onboarding preferences and find out what they are looking for in a work environment so you can add personal touches to your program. 

If work is remote or hybrid, explain your tech ecosystem to employees and set your people up on the right digital communication channels before day one. With this approach, your new hires can feel right at home from the start.

3. Outline expectations with candidates 

Let candidates know what they can expect from their onboarding experience. Provide a schedule and define clear learning outcomes to help your new employees feel comfortable. 

Allow candidates to understand how their performance will be measured and indicate when expectations may change. For example, after a candidate’s first 30 days, they may be expected to take on more complex work. 

4. Put yourself in an employee’s shoes 

Be mindful of overloading a new starter with information. Drip feed information and don’t forget about how important human connection can be, especially for remote teams! Remember that if your new employee is working in a hybrid or remote role, this way of working is part of your company culture and going that extra mile can make a significant impact.

Make sure your new starter has an assigned buddy and a few coffee dates (even if they are virtual) on their calendar. 

“Think of how you would like to be treated as an employee joining a new company. What would you like to experience the month before starting a job, what would your first month in the role look like? Create a journey employees will enjoy.”  Paula Kilby, HR and Talent Acquisition Consultant

At the other end of the talent journey is employee offboarding. Just like onboarding, clear processes need to be in place to maximise the chances of positive employee sentiment to help retain employees in the long run. 

Effective offboarding starts before an employee quits 

Like onboarding, your offboarding program should put the employee experience first. 

Offboarding consists of formalities like employees returning company equipment and receiving their final paycheck. It can also include exit surveys, invitations to join talent pools, alumni networks and general farewells. 

Unfortunately, unlike onboarding, many organisations have not innovated their offboarding process. 

“A lot of organisations are still sending exit surveys as a document attached to an email,” said Paula. Tactics like this don’t create space for transparent discussions and the data received is hard to manage. 

The most important takeaway from the expert panel during the event was that, like onboarding, offboarding starts well before an employee resigns. 

Creating a system of regular feedback allows you to gauge employee happiness and spot problems earlier. 

“Ask yourself. Are you regularly conducting surveys with your employees and asking questions about their experience with your organisation?” said Paula. 

Perhaps more important than surveys are one-on-one conversations with managers. 

According to Cathy, Eastern Health’s Director of People Experience, managers should regularly check in with their team to understand their job satisfaction and daily experiences while collecting feedback on these areas. “Regular check-ins with managers should happen at every stage of an employee's life cycle, not just during offboarding,” Cathy explained. 

By gathering data while an employee is still with an organisation, management has the chance to rectify issues, thus increasing employee engagement and improving employee retention. 

“Don’t just rely on surveys to tell you critical information. Ensure managers are having regular conversations about key pain points and are working to solve them.” Cathy Portelli, Director of People Experience at Eastern Health. 
Xref branded graphic with a quote (above) from Cathy Portelli, Director of People Experience at Eastern Health

Tips for creating a robust offboarding program 

Offboarding can be a very positive and productive experience. As with onboarding, our expert speakers suggested making life easy for the employee by considering their needs and listening to their feedback. 

A strong offboarding experience should include: 

  • Open communication. Agree on an end date with the departing employee and discuss expectations leading up to that time. 
  • Transfer knowledge. Document and store important information so an efficient handover can take place. Ask the departing employee for clarity on their day-to-day tasks and priorities. Consider an offboarding checklist here to make sure none of the steps in the departure process are missed. 
  • Ask for feedback. Organise an exit survey or interview to gain insight into an employee’s experience with your company and their reasons for leaving. Use this time as an opportunity to add employees to future talent pools and alumni networks. 
  • Act on feedback. It’s one thing to ask for feedback and another thing to act on it. If an exit survey raises areas for improvement, escalate the issues and take action to strengthen retention. 

The panel emphasised the importance of collecting data through exit surveys and then using that data effectively. 

“The collection of data is without question a key process that ensures these processes are the best they can be,” said Paula. “If you maintain good data you’ll be able to demonstrate trends and analysis to the leaders in the business and spot areas for greater efficiencies and investment.” 

Stephen and Cathy both agreed, stating feedback needs to be collected in a way that allows easy reporting to senior leaders. It’s also important a system is in place to escalate certain types of feedback. 

“Set up escalation paths,” advises Stephen. “Certain types of feedback can go straight to senior leaders for remedying.” 

For example, if poor reviews of managers come through exit surveys these can be immediately sent to the people who can assess the situation more thoroughly. 

Spotlight: Xref Exit Surveys 

Exit surveys are a key part of the offboarding process but they aren’t always managed well. 

It’s important to make sure exit surveys are comfortable for departing employees and that the right questions are asked. Some people prefer face-to-face feedback methods, whereas others may wish to give feedback without the pressure of having a direct conversation. 

“We give people the choice,” says Stephen, “they can complete an exit survey or engage in an interview with us.” 

Xref recently launched our Exit Surveys solution. Users can choose a template or customise the survey to fit their needs. 

Ideally, exit surveys ask six to ten questions and focus on topics that matter most to your organisation. For example, you could ask about an employee's onboarding experience and whether or not they felt supported during their probation period. 

To use exit surveys to their full advantage, employers should ask if employees would be willing to return to their organisation and if they’d like to be added to future talent pools. If you use digital exit survey platforms, these questions can be embedded into your forms. 

Effective exit surveys are about more than the feedback you collect. What matters more is what you do with what you gather. “It's really about how you utilise the data,” explained Cathy. 

The panel suggested utilising data by: 

  • Tracking common themes in feedback and creating plans to rectify common issues. 
  • Escalating certain types of feedback, like issues with managers.  
  • Creating an exit score based on feedback and reporting this to senior leadership. 
  • Tracking how many departing employees opt-in to your alumni network. 

Overall, when offboarding employees, exit surveys are wonderful opportunities to gather feedback from the people who know your organisation best. 

Each panel member shared a story about misconceptions of employees leaving. By conducting an exit survey they were able to uncover the real reason for the employees departure.

For example, one panellist shared a story of how a previous organisation they worked for thought employees were leaving a team due to remuneration, but the issue ended up centring on access to technology. 

Breakout quote: “If you are prepared to ask questions in an exit interview then you need to be prepared to listen, act and report on the feedback you gather.” Cathy Portelli, Director of People Experience at Eastern Health. 

Final thoughts 

Onboarding and offboarding are two sides of the same coin. First impressions count as much as last impressions. 

During the panel discussion, many tips were shared for creating effective onboarding and offboarding experiences. At the centre of all the learnings shared is this: experience matters. Put yourself in an employee’s shoes and design your onboarding and offboarding process with empathy. 

Regularly collect feedback about an employee's time with your organisation and utilise the data you gather. Do this, and you'll continue to run effective onboarding and offboarding programs even if the technology you use changes over time.

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