Productivity: Onboarding and beyond

    We’re working more hours and more flexibly – but productivity is declining. It’s time for employers to take a fresh look at how they get the best from their people right from the start, says Emma O’Connor.

    UK plc has a problem. On the one hand, the TUC says that people in the UK work longer hours than anywhere else in the EU. Set against that, productivity is in decline with no sign of it increasing in the near future.

    It’s a far from perfect scenario. We have mobile devices and new technology at our fingertips everywhere we turn. Employers offer their people more and more family-friendly, agile working patterns and promote work-life balance.

    Yet despite all this, what we actually achieve at work collectively is on a downward trend and the number of people saying that work is affecting their health is on the rise. It’s unsustainable – but the good news is that businesses and managers can help reverse that trend if they prioritise productivity.


    And it’s not something they should delay. The talent pool is shrinking and, with Brexit on the horizon, could be about to shrink further. If our people are our best asset, then we need to make sure they’re happy, productive and effective in their work.

    Get it right from the start – and don’t rush it

    It starts, as a famous song once said, at the very beginning. Most employee onboarding programmes aim to get new hires up to speed as soon as possible so they can begin to contribute.

    Done well, onboarding engages with new recruits before they’ve even started – and that applies to internal appointments as well as external ones. Put simply, to retain new hires, spend more time onboarding them. It will not only improve productivity but also retention.

    Ask yourself how long your onboarding process is and whether it is long enough for someone to feel integrated within the business. Certain commentators are suggesting that a 12-month onboarding process is now regarded as ‘best practice’.

    Keep it simple, make it clear

    Effective onboarding programmes should contain these elements:

    • Expectations – Ensure there is a clear job description so the new recruit, existing team members and leaders are clear on the expectations and elements of the role. This is true of internal appointments too.
    • Organisation – Explain how things work in your business. This isn’t just about logistical information but about your organisation’s language, culture and values.
    • Technical – Don’t just focus on paperwork; set clear, achievable goals, and keep performance under review – a few early wins can help someone bed into a role more quickly.
    • Community – give the new hire a champion to assimilate them into the organisation. Isolation and loneliness are factors in why new hires don’t work.

    Collaboration from different parts of the business all working together will ensure the new hire or appointment is a successful one. Also consider the importance of training for managers on how to effectively manage both the recruitment process and also the subsequent probation and onboarding periods. We train our people on products and services, but when was the last time we focused on people training programmes for managers? 

    The Boomerang effect

    Retention is always a core focus but, ultimately, whatever you do, some people will leave. Our best people will look for new opportunities or may be poached.

    Many managers take resignation as a personal insult and, in most cases; we go into a functional mode with leavers, focusing on making sure their IT account is closed down, their passes revoked.

    It shouldn’t be like that though. If you are worried that a leaver will poach clients, then that is what a well drafted set of business restriction clauses are designed to prevent.

    Ensure departing employees continue to be productive and help the team be productive by:

    • Celebrating leavers’ contribution and knowledge, helping to build skills in the team. It also prevents a poor leaving experience for the team too.
    • Communicating with the team and customers as early as possible. This allows the business to focus on making sure there is an effective handover period which maintains customer service and helps onboard the replacement effectively.
    • Hold an exit interview and use it as an opportunity to learn.

    How people leave is also increasingly an opportunity for future recruitment. Former employees can be your greatest asset in recruitment as many will now post employer reviews on websites such as Glassdoor.

    More former employees are ‘boomeranging’ back into their previous companies, bringing additional skills, contacts and renewed energy which will, in turn, energise the team and drive greater productivity. Help them leave well and you increase the chance of your best people coming back.

    Leave a positive impression

    From the day people start to the day they say goodbye, how we treat our teams will increasingly affect how our business performs.

    As the ‘war on talent’ intensifies for the best people, that reputation for engagement – the employer brand – will become more important. The best performing businesses will be those which prioritise it now. Productivity will continue to suffer until they do.

                Emma O’Connor is a senior associate and head of training in                    the employment group at law firm Boyes Turner.