Cross the engagement chasm

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Onboard your new employees so they bond with the organisation from the start. By Mishanth Ardithpersad

You have successfully managed to recruit that perfect candidate with the war for talent raging in the background. With the signing of the acceptance letter, you thought your biggest hurdle was overcome. Reading the latest statistics, you realise just how sorely wrong you are.

While the majority of new hires consider leaving in the first year, on average 25% of them will make the move. A recent survey conducted by Dale Carnegie Training1 found that employees that are not engaged were the cause of companies losing millions through employee turnover. The survey also found that companies with engaged employees outperform their counterparts by up to 202 percent. According to Gallup2 on average 70 percent of employees are disengaged, which translates into less than 30 percent of employees caring about your customers and your business.

So, what is employee engagement? Well, It can be defined as the degree of an employee’s emotional attachment to their company, job and colleagues. The key to having an engaged employee is to create emotional connections. The benefits are both common sense and science, as it reduces staff turnover, improves employee productivity and creates a happier workforce who improves customer sales and profitability.

Cost of getting it wrong

The Towers Watson 2012 Global Workforce Study3 which measured 32,000 people in 29 global markets revealed that companies with disengaged employees faced losing 40% of their staff every two years vs a significantly lower figure of 18 percent of those companies with engaged employees. While recruitment teams spend money and time in getting the best candidate, these efforts are undone by staff turnover and disengaged employees. The real cost of turnover is estimated to be up to 250% of the annual salary per exiting employee, according to the American Management Association and others.
When workers are engaged, they have a 64 percent higher retention rate. It costs a lot to lose a hire, but retaining employees who are not engaged can have a serious impact on your organisation as they erode your bottom line and infect your company culture.

Engagement chasm

The key is to engage employees from day one and make it last for at least the first 90 days. Hewitt and Associates identified a correlation between companies that spent the most money on onboarding and employee engagement. Companies that focused on onboarding had higher engagement levels. A deeper understanding of this crucial time can be developed by realising that 86 percent of new hires make an engagement decision within the first six months.

The employee lifecycle starts with recruitment and onboarding which are both crucial to engaging your employees. Onboarding needs to follow best practice and last 90 days as this is when employees are making their decision on whether they are engaged. When onboarding programmes stop after onboarding week, the engagement chasm is created. Your company’s onboarding workshop should form the beginning of the onboarding process and should not be seen as the final step. The first three to six months of an employee’s time should be when companies have maximum touch, in order to build the emotional connections needed.

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Onboarding determines whether an employee will be one with the company, their job and their colleagues. Get this right and the benefits hit your bottom line by increasing productivity, reducing staff turnover and driving customer sales. Get it wrong and you will go through the difficult challenge of converting a disengaged employee as opposed to engaging employees from day one when they are enthusiastic and receptive.

So what does it take to cross the chasm? It starts with looking at onboarding as a strategic priority as opposed to an HR event. The problem with current onboarding programmes is that they rarely last for longer than a week and, if they do, it’s boring and benefits are hard to track.

Traditionally, onboarding solutions have not been developed to focus on employee engagement but rather on creating efficiencies through administrative costs. Companies need to take a fresh look at onboarding employees and realise that it could be affecting their performance.

Using new design concepts like “Human-focused design” which have been recognised by companies like Gartner and Deloitte will engage, motivate and drive the desired behaviours of new hires. “Human-focused design” inherently makes boring systems and processes fun and engaging.

Using onboarding to cross the employee engagement chasm seems obvious yet is often marginalised or overlooked by companies. It is the “low hanging fruit” that can boost employee engagement to reduce staff turnover and increase shareholder value. While companies often see employee engagement as a yearly survey to better understand their employees’ pain points, it is much easier to start with an engaged employee in the first place.

Mishanth Ardithpersad is a Director at Strata Game Changers, www.stratagc.co.za.


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