Originally published in November 2021 by Ragan Consulting Group.

As the economy rebounds, it’s time to rethink employee onboarding.

As the U.S. unemployment rate steadily decreases, declining by .2% in October to 4.6%, human resources and communications professionals are finding themselves extra-busy. They’re the ones, for example, to welcome the 531,000 people recruited for jobs last month at restaurants, hotels, factories, warehouses, and professional services firms.

Add to the job growth The Great Resignation – some 4.4 million Americans quit their jobs in September – and another factor multiples: the conversations that communicators and HR pros are having about corporate culture, employee engagement, or the lack thereof, nearly two years into the pandemic.

“Culture is now a living, breathing organism,” says Kristin Graham, employee culture and communications consultant at Ragan Consulting Group. Amidst momentum, and tumult, in the workforce, now is the time to consider the “3 E’s” of culture, specifically in the context of the employee-onboarding process, she says.

The 3 E’s of C.C.

Graham says corporate culture has three primary elements:

  1. Expectations: what employees are told to expect
  2. Experience: the bad behaviors a company tolerates and the good behaviors leaders demonstrate
  3. Effort (discretionary): what employees will do or give, beyond the time it takes to earn a paycheck

With this as context, HR and comms pros have myriad opportunities to energize new employees, those hired during the pandemic, and teams that are particularly over-stressed or disengaged, Graham says.

She breaks down such efforts into four phases:

1. Preboarding, which captures attention early and makes the culture promise. At this stage, employees have signed their respective offer letters but haven’t started yet. It’s the honeymoon stage; all parties want to get together – and hope to stay together. This period provides an opportunity to share a few minutes of essential culture-validating content: a CEO message, short video about the company’s history, or background on affinity groups. You might consider sending the info via a bespoke URL to the employee’s personal email address; or, budget permitting, you could send a welcome kit to their home.

“I’m not saying to send them lots of videos to watch,” Graham says. “I’m talking about engaging hearts and minds. Never are employees more engaged than when they start. Within this space, this is when they’re most willing to give you their discretionary effort.”

2. Reboarding, which resets the experience for people who joined the company during the pandemic.

People who were hired during the pandemic may have missed traditional, in-person onboarding events. If they are remote workers, they know their peers exclusively via screens.

As companies reopen their offices, now is the time to reboard such employees. Host networking events, facility tours, and leadership luncheons; create mentoring pairings to build a sense of connection and purpose.

“It doesn’t have to be a big lift or be that organized,” Graham says. “The simple message is, ‘We are investing in our reboarding processes. Your input will help us ensure that we right the ship. I see that your experience was different and I’d like to hear you as well.”

3. Onboarding, which sets the expectations for how the company supports and communicates to employees.

With a new year upon us, now is the time to review onboarding materials in the general sense. Is your pre-pandemic marketing collateral outdated? Is what you promised back then still true? Perhaps you’ve refreshed your corporate mission statement to reflect the changing needs of your customers. Whatever your particular circumstance, it’s time to jettison those dusty corporate files.

“Instead of giving new hires something that was ghost-written by one of us, let’s hear from our leader quickly,” Graham suggests. “Where can we update something? Can we have employees do a quick video?”

Companies operating across multiple time zones, cannot expect all employees to attend a live town hall. Ergo, create short articles and five-minute videos excerpted from the event; post on the intranet so that people can watch at their convenience. As communicators craft the message and the medium, an inclusive lens is crucial.  Think: transcripts offered in different languages accompanying English-language, closed-captioned videos.

“Choice is the new economic trade in culture,” Graham says. “Giving people the ampersand changes the game.”

4. Spot-boarding, which invests in particular groups or teams and empowers them to be culture carriers.

In the best of times, line managers are a communicator’s best friend; they’re the ones cascading a corporate message to their teams at a shift change or on the factory floor.

Nearly two years into a pandemic, this group of employees might be feeling particularly pinched as they’ve been absorbing the stress of their direct reports while trying to be effective brand ambassadors. People managers hired during the pandemic might be feeling even more overwhelmed than their more tenured peers, who benefit from institutional knowledge and relationships.

“They could probably use reboarding or spot-boarding,” Graham says. “What about a micro-mentorship program, asynchronous or not, that brings other people together for conversation?”

Candor is the right tone for this group. Acknowledging questions, even when you don’t have answers, may assuage concerns.

“People managers are always going to be the frontline ambassador for your culture,” Graham says. “When you invest in your people managers, you are investing in your culture, full stop.”

Kristin Graham is a culture and employee engagement consultant at Ragan Consulting Group. RCG specializes in corporate communications training, consulting and strategic counsel. Schedule a call with Tom Corfman to learn how we can help you improve your communications efforts. Follow RCG on LinkedIn here and subscribe to our weekly newsletter here.