Employee Onboarding for Small Businesses

Managing people

1 September 2022

While having an official employee onboarding process may sound intimidating for a small business, having a set of tools and a dedicated plan will help both you and your new employee navigate things.

In fact, research by the Aberdeen Group shows that having an official onboarding process can improve employee retention by 31% year on year. It’s easy to see how having a great employee onboarding process could help your business. If you’re not sure where to start with creating one, we’ll help point you in the right direction.

What is onboarding?

Onboarding is a process that gives a new employee all the tools and connections they need to be successful in their role. While they’re still settling in, this can help them feel confident that they’re on the right track and they know what is expected of them.

But more than just review the day to day of the job, it should help the new employee to understand the company values and culture. Creating an onboarding process also gives you a chance to review your business values and strengthen them as you bring on a new team member.

An onboarding timeline

Before they start

The lead up to a first day can be especially nerve-wracking, so being in touch beforehand will help an employee understand what their first few days will be like. You should send the employee any useful documents such as the employee handbook, any login details they may need and a schedule for the first day or two.

If you don’t have a formalised employee handbook, provide them with essential information they’ll need for the first day such as the dress code, where to meet you, and what time they’re starting at. Any further information on holiday pay and sick pay and benefits should be made clear in this time as well.

On your end, you should be preparing a working area for them and securing any equipment that they will need.

By having all of this prepped and communicated ahead of time, it allows your new hire to ask any questions they have in advance and hopefully prevent them feeling overwhelmed on the first day.

First day

On day one, giving them a proper introduction to the company’s vision and culture can hep them settle in. Even if you’re a small business, creating a workplace culture starts with your first hire so be sure to do it with some intention.

If relevant, having an IT induction can really help. Usually, the first few days of a new job involve getting to grips with different softwares and working out the kinks of logging in. Whether it’s a point-of-sale system or a scheduling app that they need to learn, ensuring they can get logged in and use it correctly will help the new employee be more independent moving forward.

An extra nice touch could be to take your new hire out to lunch on their first day or to give them a small swag bag to welcome them to the business. This doesn’t have to be anything complex, just some sweets, a notebook and pen, and maybe even a gift card for a local eatery would be more than enough!

At the end of the first day, they should have a clear idea what the rest of their first week looks like and who to contact if they have any issues or run into a problem.

First week

During the first week, it’s important that you introduce them to the rest of the team and the space effectively. Act as a tour guide to show them around your office space and where different things are located, but also show your new hire the area nearby. If they’re not familiar with the area, knowing where the best coffee shops and places to grab lunch nearby can be really useful information.

Helping them understand the functions of other employees is also useful. In a small business, you may not have different departments so much as different employees who each oversee a different aspect of the business. Ensure that your new staff member knows who the point person is for different requests, whether that’s HR, accounts, or something else.

At the end of their first week, have a check-in session to see how your new employee is feeling about everything and if they have any lingering questions. At this point you may want to gather some initial feedback about your onboarding process and if there’s anything else they’d have wanted from the experience. This will allow you to add to the onboarding for the first month if you’ve missed anything out in the first week.

First month

If there are any long-term onboarding tasks, creating a checklist that will help your employee stay on track for the first month may be useful. While the first days are all about getting to know the company and other employees, the first month may include industry requirements such as health and safety training or any other mandatory learning for your field.

By creating a checklist, this allows the new hire to do these trainings independently and at their own pace but ensures that they get through all necessary tasks. As a manager, you should check in periodically to see how they’re getting on with tasks and if they bring up any concerns or questions.

Not all industries and jobs will have mandatory further training, but with any job it is helpful to be extra attentive to a new employee in their first month.

Beyond the first month

Once you’ve finished those first four weeks, hopefully your new employee is feeling settled and a bit more comfortable at your business. In order to continue a smooth transition into the role consider setting up regular check-ins. You can start with having them fortnightly and then start to space them out more as the new employee becomes more confident in their role and needs less support from you.

Finally, a more formal feedback session regarding the onboarding process is important at this phase as it allows you to improve the onboarding for future employees. If you had multiple people start at the same time, consider holding a feedback session with all of them at once.

Getting the whole team involved

If this isn’t your first employee and you’ve already got a bit of a team around you, then having your current employees help to welcome the new hire can be helpful.

On the first day, consider having a small meet and greet with some snacks or refreshments as an easy way to get people chatting and introducing themselves. If your business is desk-based, consider having name cards on everyone’s desks for the first few days to take the pressure of learning everyone’s names away.

Over the course of the first week, encourage some of your existing staff to take the new hire under their wing and ensure they have people to each lunch with each day. You might want to encourage the team to add each other on LinkedIn just to begin building those professional connections as well as social ones.

If your business has enough employees, a buddy system means that your new hire will have a designated person to go to for small questions. This takes some of the pressure off you to always be the go-to and frees up more of your time focus on the many tasks that a small business owner needs to take care of.

Onboarding checklist 

Every business and industry will have different need and processes, but if you’re stuck on where to start for an employee onboarding process, here’s a simple checklist to get you on the right track:

  1. Start early! Inevitably collecting and processing all the paperwork takes a bit of time. A good place to start is getting the new employee’s contact and payment details.
  2. If necessary, do any background checks such as DBS/PVG or the right to work.
  3. Start collecting any tools they will need from the company before their first day – computers, name tags, building keys, etc.
  4. Let anyone involved in the onboarding process know what to expect. This may include the mentor or buddy you’ve assigned to the new hire or might simply be an announcement to the rest of the team.
  5. Plan out what activities you’ll need for the new hire throughout their first week
  6. Send your new employee any relevant information on company policies such as employee handbooks, disciplinary processes, whistleblowing, as well as benefits and dress code.
  7. When the employee finally starts, introduce them to the rest of the team and any relevant stakeholders that they may interact with.
  8. Give them an induction which covers the company culture and values.
  9. If relevant, provide them with a list of any mandatory training they need to complete and the timeframe in which it must be completed.
  10. Have a team lunch or welcome activity within their first week.
  11. Set up a regular check in with either their manager or their buddy.
  12. Hold feedback sessions to improve the employee onboarding process for the future.

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