Onboarding 101: 3 Companies That Roll Out the Red Carpet for New Employees

Jul 11, 2014

Under chief executive Tony Hsieh, Zappos has become an industry leader in onboarding. Photo credit: Patrick Fallon/Bloomberg

At this point, there’s a good chance you’ve heard stories of how intensely competitive it is to get a job offer from a hot startup. You’re also probably very well aware of the amazing perks and benefits that tenured employees of more established companies like Facebook are treated to. But what happens in between?

A lot, it turns out.

The first few weeks at a new job are a critically important indicator of whether new employees will successfully adapt and ultimately contribute to the workplace. With startups leading the way, the business world has now started to take notice, and a growing number of companies are investing in orientation and training to overhaul this previously overlooked aspect of hiring. Underscoring its enhanced clout, the process has even earned its own moniker in corporate nomenclature: onboarding.

Unquestionably, enduring multiple rounds of grueling interviews and reading extensively about a company’s culture will give you a snapshot of what it’s like to work in any given corporate environment. Yet an ever-expanding body of research suggests that an effective onboarding strategy can boost morale and enhance worker satisfaction. What’s more, these sorts of programs can even improve employee efficiency and productivity, according to studies conducted by Robert Half, a staffing and consultancy firm.

Which businesses are onboarding leaders? Well, the playing field is mixed, as everyone from multinational corporations to newly minted startups are recognizing the potential payoff. Still, we’ve identified three companies that make it a point to ensure their newest employees aren’t left to fend for themselves after they’ve been handed their laptops and directed to their desks.

3 Companies that Make New Employees Feel Right at Home

1. Zappos: Though it may be best known for its customer service, online retailer Zappos is also an onboarding industry leader. Under chief executive Tony Hsieh—who’s also spearheading the Downtown Project, which aims to revitalize downtown Las Vegas—the eCommerce giant has made maintaining its famously friendly and collaborative culture a priority, even since 2009, when Amazon acquired it. At Zappos, every new employee—regardless of rank or department—goes through the same four-week program that teaches technical and customer service skills through team-building exercises. A graduation ceremony is held at the conclusion of the course, which also serves as a way for Zappos to immerse new hires in its corporate ethos. As a means of maintaining its vaunted culture, the company presents all such graduates with a notable incentive: Zappos actually pays them to quit, offering $3,000, along with compensation for time worked. How’s that for a novel approach?

2. Cisco Systems: Headquartered in San Jose, California, Cisco Systems ranks as one of the world’s largest corporations thanks to the success of the networking equipment it designs, manufactures, and sells. It also takes onboarding seriously, employing a variety of innovative methods aimed at promoting worker engagement. Among the concepts Cisco trumpets is the idea of “emotional onboarding.” Aside from extensive training and introductory programs, the tech giant works to assure its new hires that they’ve made the right decision leaving their prior employer. Cisco’s hiring managers continue to play a major role in their employees’ work lives even after they’ve signed their offer letters, and they are urged to give new employees enough work so that they feel engaged—but not too much to overwhelm them. Taking these kinds of steps has helped Cisco cut the number of new hires who abruptly leave during their first 45 days

3. Birchbox: New York City-based Birchbox, whose subscribers receive monthly shipments of a mix of beauty and grooming products, has been on a hiring spree since it was founded in the fall of 2010. However, that hasn’t prevented the startup from developing a first-rate onboarding process, something that’s particularly important to co-founders Hayley Barna and Katia Beauchamp. The two entrepreneurs have publicly discussed how their own less-than-stellar experiences starting as new employees have influenced the approach they’ve taken at their own company. When new hires arrive at their desks at Birchbox, their computers are already setup and they’re greeted with a handwritten welcome note and a candy bowl, reports the You're the Boss blog. These sorts of personal touches make employees feel at ease, proponents say, and they help calm any first day jitters. Plus, who doesn’t love candy? 

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