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11 things we learned at Rewarding Onboarding

Hiring tips
Helen Gilroy-Powell

Helen Gilroy-Powell

7th August 2019

Last week we hosted our latest Occupation: People event, Rewarding Onboarding. We brought  talent-leaders together to discuss how to create lasting onboarding experiences (and what practices we all need to avoid). 

Speakers at Occupation: People Rewarding Onboarding

Speakers, left-to-right: Chloe Bartle, Trouva; Chris Jones, Enboarder; Anthony McCabe, GoCardless; Holiday Phillips, Monzo; and Alan Walker; Udder & ChatTalent.

Getting onboarding right is something that needs good planning, preparation and a little creativity. The event was packed full of interesting ideas and experiences (as well as delicious pizza and beer), so we’ve put together a round-up of our top 11 tips we learned to help you create more rewarding onboarding experiences.

1. The first six months are crucial

As Luke Shipley pointed out, not only do new hires decide if they’re going to stay in their role within the first six months, it also takes on average 6.2 months for a new employee to break even in the value they are giving back to the company vs. the cost of hiring them. Taking this into account, hiring managers should have onboarding touchstones throughout these important first six months and beyond. Remember good onboarding feeds into higher levels of staff retention.

Watch the whole of Luke’s talk here.

Luke Shipley speaks at occupation people rewarding onboarding

2. Recognise that onboarding is a long process.

All too often, onboarding schemes are crammed into one week or even a couple of days. Anthony McCabe from GoCardless said that he often sees companies trying to organise sessions in the first week about strategy, company values and the overall vision. In reality, it takes a lot longer for new employees to grasp these concepts and meeting with multiple leaders in the first week doesn’t help. Instead of overloading new hires with information, he says the first few weeks should be about empowering the employee to do their new job to the best of their ability and having regular check-ins to see how they’re doing.

Listen to the whole panel discussion here.

3. You have one chance to make a good first impression

Chris Jones from Enboarder shared a good example of how a company he consulted for made a good first impression by asking new hires what their favourite 3pm snack was and then buying it for their first day. He showed us that no matter what the snack is, this can be a great way to make a new employee feel welcome and appreciated from the offset. 

Sometimes going the extra mile is worth it, as Chris explained one person said their favourite snack was barbecue lamb chops. This wasn’t necessarily what they were expecting, but seeing as they were based in Australia and they had access to an outdoor space, they made it happen. Not only was this the best welcome their new team member could have expected, but the managers felt good about the work environment they were creating.  It was also brilliant PR as their recruitment team took loads of great photos to share on social media. This was certainly a first impression that lasted.

Watch the rest of Chris’s talk here.

Chris Jones Enboarder speaks at Rewarding Onboarding

4. Psychological safety is a key metric for onboarding success

Groups thrive when people feel like they belong. With a background in sociology and anthropology, this point was incredibly clear to Holiday Phillips, leadership coach at Monzo. Initially, the onboarding process at Monzo involved giving new starters all the information they needed to do their jobs like: What do they need to know about risk? What are our company values? What do they need to know about working at a bank? Etc.

After conducting onboarding feedback surveys, they realised that what the new people found most useful was not all the information they were given about the company and their role, but that they got to connect with other employees and they felt a sense of belonging and that they were part of a company, so that sense of belonging became a key metric for measuring onboarding success. 

Holiday Phillips Monzo, Alan Walker, Udder & ChatTalent, Anthony Mccabe Go Cardless

5. Show your new hires you value their personal strengths

On a similar note, Chris Jones told us of a study where employers added in different sessions to their onboarding to see if there was any effect. They split new hires into three groups: The first group took the normal onboarding programme. The second group, in addition to the onboarding programme had a session reflecting on the organisation’s values. The third group discussed their personal identities, envisaged their best selves and how they can apply their personal strengths in their role at the organisation.

The results were incredible—the group that discussed their personal identities had the best retention rates, with a 57% reduction of staff turnover after six months. Not only that, they also did better work than the other groups and on average they scored 11% better on customer satisfaction surveys. Feeling as though their personal qualities were valued helped create a sense of belonging, psychological safety and allowed them to do their best work.

6. The holiday test

Chloe Bartle from Trouva shared a very honest story of how scaling can quickly go wrong. Their onboarding process included Google Forms, a welcome email from the whole company and even a nice bottle of champagne. It was working nicely until she went from onboarding one to two employees a month to up to seven new people starting in one day. Problems occurred when one person in HR went on holiday. This came to a head when she had new starters arriving, but couldn’t find the key to the cupboard where the laptops she had ordered were stored. On top of that, there were forms she couldn’t access and she’d also realised that she needed to order two additional screens, this was just half an hour before the CTO was about to welcome a new starter. 

The lesson learned here was—take time to check in on yourself, document your processes so that you can ensure you have clear procedures in place and clear responsibilities. Do this with the aim of ensuring that if one of your team goes on holiday, you won’t be left stranded. 

Chloe Bartle from Trouva speaks at Rewarding Onboarding

7. Adapt your processes to scale

Don’t be scared to change your onboarding processes as you scale. For example, buddy systems may work for your company right now, but they may not be the best solution as your company grows. At Monzo, Holiday Phillips is currently onboarding 50 people a week(!) and for her, the buddy system was no longer something they could handle. There were many talks about how it was important to the company because it had worked well in the past, but ultimately it had to go because it was not a scalable solution. Just because one solution has worked, it doesn't mean it’s the only solution that will work, particularly as your company grows and develops. 

8. Don’t be consistent for consistency’s sake

Holiday Phillips shared how at Monzo, some of the hiring managers in Customer Success took new people out for breakfast on their first day. While this was a great experience for them, it didn’t seem fair that other new hires weren’t able to have that same experience due to remote working or other restrictions. There was a debate as to whether the breakfasts should stop so that everyone was treated equally and got the same onboarding experience. 

However, it really seemed a shame to lose the breakfasts that created such a strong impact. One piece of advice she took on board was that she shouldn’t try to give everyone an 8/10 experience when she could give some of the new starters a 10/10 experience. Rather than one homogenous onboarding programme, She decided the right thing to do was to optimise onboarding for each individual employee. As the roles in Monzo were diversified, so should the onboarding programme, and it didn’t need to be consistent for the sake of it. 

9. Humanise the process

Alan Walker recently attended a session where he found that most managers didn’t know what good onboarding looks like. This is certainly not for a lack of care or interest—they all wanted to learn—but rather it was due to inexperience and that bad onboarding practices are rife (listen to the panel discussion to hear Alan’s onboarding horror story!).

There are a few easy things that can be done to remedy this. The hiring manager can ring the new hire a week after signing the contract saying they are really pleased they will be joining them and asking if there is anything they can do. Additionally, it would be simple to send an email out a week before the start date with some extra information and offering to answer any questions. These sound like really simple actions, but they’re not always intuitive to hiring managers, especially when there are other work demands. This is where Chris suggests HR can step in with small prompts to create human connections and increase that sense of value and belonging. There are even HR Tech solutions that can automate these prompts to ensure this process works at scale.

Chris Jones Enboarder speaks at Rewarding Onboarding

10. Designate an owner for the process

In order to create these touchstones of human connection throughout onboarding, Chris Jones advises that one person takes ownership of the process, usually someone from HR or the talent team. This doesn’t mean that they have to do the whole onboarding process themselves, but they can be the ones to guide hiring managers and other key team members to ensure that the right milestones are being met. 

At GoCardless, Anthony explained how they set up bi-weekly meetings with new starters and someone from HR (ideally someone they met during the interview process) to check in to see how they’re getting along and if there’s any issues that need resolving. Having someone neutral from outside their team to talk to was useful as new team members could talk about their concerns and even ask questions they thought might be silly to ask their managers. This created a sense of happiness which, as this study from the University of Warwick shows, can lead to increased productivity.

Chris Jones Enboarder speaks at Zinc's rewarding onboarding

11. Onboarding should be inclusive and adaptable for diversity

Think about tailoring your onboarding to different personalities, cultures and learning styles. Holiday shared a recent experience where she ran an interactive onboarding session with around 26 new starters. She went in with a lot of energy, and tried to get everyone to participate in her session, but the group didn’t engage with her and she was left wondering whether this is what a failed comedian felt like after a bad show. 

However, this experience led her to think about how she can adapt these interactive sessions for more introverted people. 

Of course, this would mean you’d have to collect information about the people before they start. A simple way to do this would be to use your reference check to elicit this kind of information about candidates, focusing on work styles, management styles and culture. Zinc’s culture-add referencing tool is designed to collect this kind of qualitative colleague feedback in a couple of clicks.  Read our complete guide to reference checks for more information on the new way to conduct reference checks.


Onboarding can be as unique and creative as your company. Experience and research shows that these first impressions really do matter and can affect the retention and performance of your new hires. Why not do an audit of your onboarding with these tips in mind to see how you can optimise and humanise your processes to ensure all of your onboarding experiences reap the rewards. 

pizza rewarding onboarding


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