You’ve just hired a Pharmacovigilance Officer or finally filled all your open QC positions. You’re ecstatic! It wasn’t easy to find these talented people, so you want to make sure that you don’t lose them. What’s one of the best predictors of retention success?

The employee’s onboarding experience. Companies that excel here retain 91 percent of new employees.

Onboarding can include any activity that happens from the moment an employee accepts your offer through their first year of employment. But one size doesn’t fit all. You define what onboarding includes for your company.

You need an onboarding plan that makes your new employee feel welcome and excited and shows you support them and are preparing them for success. A plan that does more than simply get them in the door and on the books, although those things matter too. Whether it’s a new lab technician for your genome project or the head of R&D, the onboarding experience significantly influences a new employee’s overall long-term success. It’s important to get it right.

Defining the stages and steps of the process is the first part of designing a good plan.

Before the Employee Starts

  • Make them feel welcome
  • Automate as much as possible
  • Complete “paperwork”
  • Prepare for them (computer, workstation, ID cards, etc.)
  • Clear all security hurdles
  • Communicate clearly
  • Involve more than HR

It is critical that you communicate with your new employee during this time. They are starved for information! They are also excited. Build quickly on this excitement. Arrange for welcome emails or calls from more than just their HR contact. Involve their manager and team members. Even simple contact can go a long way. Make sure you let them know what to expect in as much detail as possible and as soon as possible. Especially their first-day schedule. They want to be prepared.

There’s always paperwork and forms to complete, especially in the highly regulated healthcare industry. Are there trainings or specific protocols that they need to learn and/or be certified in? In GxP environments there almost always is. Now’s the time to do these kinds of things as much as possible. Bringing it all online will help too. Make sure you offer live support and a responsive HR contact during this time. There will be questions and hiccups. Don’t frustrate your new hire trying to get answers.

On your end, there are all sorts of tasks that you should ensure are completed before Day One. Nothing is more embarrassing and frustrating than finding that they don’t have a computer, their new key card doesn’t work, or they can’t get into the system. Prepare carefully for your new employee so that Day One goes smoothly.

Day One

  • Make them feel welcome
  • Plan a formal agenda
  • Assign a peer mentor/onboarding guide
  • Give both professional and personal “tours”
  • Plan interaction with the team or other colleagues
  • Set expectations for the first few weeks

Day One should, along with the practical things that need to happen, continue your efforts to make your new employee feel welcome and supported. Don’t leave things to chance. Make sure team leadership and their new colleagues are part of their first day. It can be very helpful to assign an official peer mentor or “buddy” who can be part of their first day welcome and continue to serve as a sounding board and information source. People are generally more willing to ask questions of a peer and every new hire will have questions, from where to get coffee or how to work the copier, to the nuances of your most important client or project.

Week One

  • Make them feel welcome
  • Assign meaningful work/training as soon as possible
  • Create opportunities for and recognize early successes
  • Ensure exposure to senior leadership in some way
  • Champion your company and team culture
  • Try not to overload them!

Yes, we’re mentioning that welcome thing again because it’s important. It’s not a one-and-done thing; it has to be a continuous team effort. HR should take the lead in executing, but ensure that everyone knows their role and activities. Checking in with a new hire, introducing them to key colleagues, giving them exposure to leadership, ensuring that their questions are being answered – none of it has to be time-consuming or difficult for any one person, but it does have to happen on schedule and early.

Don’t wait to introduce the culture and tenor of your company. Start right away and continue throughout the onboarding process. Understanding the company’s values is just as critical as understanding FDA Good Laboratory Practices. Formal orientation and training programs should include it, and it should be reinforced in conversations and informal “training” with managers and colleagues.

After Week One

  • Check in, informally and formally
  • Continue mentoring with formal frequency
  • Encourage team engagement and relationship development
  • Reinforce company culture and expectations

After week one is when the tailoring of your program will come into play. Some programs continue activities under the onboarding umbrella for up to six months or even a year. But many recognize the first one to three months as the critical time. Training, formal or otherwise, will likely continue and on-the-job performance will obviously be monitored. But it’s just as important to ensure that your new employee is fitting in culturally and feeling comfortable. The frequency of manager and peer check-ins will certainly diminish after the first week, but they shouldn’t disappear. Don’t assume that everything is going well. When you keep tabs on things, you can address issues before they become problems.

Onboarding in Healthcare

Eventually, the activities of onboarding morph into the activities of ongoing employee engagement programs. Employee development and satisfaction should be short- and long-term goals. Don’t lose that amazing new chemist or the top engineers you just hired from your preferred school. A good onboarding program sets everyone up for success and can help avoid common first-year pitfalls that can be the difference between success and another job posting.

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