Maia Palma, HR Coordinator, Zendesk recently spoke at Sapling's Connect Summit on the topic of Holistic Onboarding and gave some great tips on developing your onboarding program.

What is holistic onboarding?

Maia defines it as, “creating a purposeful onboarding strategy that teaches your new hires about your company, sets them up for success but also infuses company culture and values into that experience right away from day one. It’s the whole approach, not just one aspect of hiring and bringing on a new employee.”

Why invest in new hire onboarding?

  1. Accelerate Productivity + ROI. If your onboarding program is effective, your new hire will spend less time ramping into the role and will be able to reach peak performance and effectiveness sooner.

  2. Improve employee retention. If your onboarding program is designed to set your employees up for success and ensure they know what is expected of them, they will be more likely to stick around.

  3. Increased employee engagement. New hires typically walk into a company excited about their new job. If a company shows new hires that they are committed to setting them up for success from day one, the new employees are going to commit to their new employer quickly.

    Demonstrate commitment to investing in employees from the first day. This will resonate and they will immediately feel that you will continue to support them in and set them up for success. Maia shared some interesting statistics:

The cost of losing a new hire in the first 12 months is equal to two years of salary. This includes recruiting costs, time spent recruiting, setting expectations, ramping up.

1/3 of all new hires quit within the first six months. 25% leave a company within the first 12 months. If you can keep employees past the 12-month mark, you will greatly increase the likelihood that you will have these employees for the long term.

58% were more likely to be with an organization after three years if they were part of an effective onboarding program.

Common problems in onboarding programs:

  1. Not being prepared for the new hire to start. Your new hire is excited to join you. They’ve gone through weeks of the recruiting process, interview after interview. If they arrive for their first day to find no one was expecting them, their computer isn’t ready, or their manager is on PTO for some reason – it might seem like you really didn’t need them after all.

  2. Boring onboarding process. Hours of paperwork and policy overview are difficult to get excited about.

  3. Irrelevant Information – Some companies bring in managers from every department and give a presentation on processes and procedures from each of them on the first day –that’s a lot to take in, and your new hires may not retain most of it.

    Employees leave onboarding with more questions than answers. You want to make sure that once your new hires leave orientation, they’re not coming to you with more questions than you’ve got answers for.

  4. Get organized. Set clear expectations with cross-functional teams. Have good relationships with the hiring manager, with HR, with IT, with everyone who is involved with onboarding. Make sure the greeters know to expect the new hire so they can make them feel welcome upon arrival.

  5. Use your onboarding software to streamline and automate your process. If you utilize an onboarding solution, see if you can use it to do things such as send an email to the new hire and managers, automatically create new-hire emails & accounts, and much more.

  6. Rotate your presenters to keep it fresh. It might be a lot to ask of 1-2 people. Presenters can become worn out it could show in their presentation.

  7. Keep it fun! It’s a celebration of an employee coming onboard, you should be able to show that in your program.

  8. Introduce company values. Reaffirm why they chose your company. Show that you are more than just a place to work.

  9. Get them moving – out of their chairs. Conduct icebreakers, do an office tour mid-day. Sitting for hours on end is not enjoyable and may cause them to drift off or let their minds wander elsewhere.

  10. Give them the tools for success – remember to offer information that is relevant and helps them understand how to be successful at their job. Show off your company resources. Promote a self-service culture and show them where to go when they have questions.

In her role, Maia and her team try to make onboarding a more engaging experience for their new hires. In addition to general forms and standard benefits overview, they recommend getting creative with the process:

  • They include an overview of where Zendesk started versus where they are today.
  • All new hires have lunch with their manager on the first day. The HR team makes sure every manager has this on their calendar.
  • Day one ends with the chance to volunteer for two hours at local nonprofit nearby. It’s not only a great way to get them moving, but also a way to give them a good feeling about themselves and about their new company.
  • Day two is spent hearing about employee resource groups (ERGs) from the Diversity and Inclusion team.
  • At the end of the day, they hold a “Life at Zendesk” talk, given by real employees who serve on the “culture club”. This panel rotates every session.
  • As a bonus, there are quarterly fireside chats with the CEO and Founder with the opportunity to ask him questions.

Zendesk has worked hard to create an onboarding program that works for their company. With all the things you do to make your onboarding plans successful, make sure it reflects the values and culture of your company.


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