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Opportunities for PR in new staff recruitment and onboarding

01 Jun, 2020 Annual communication plans, Employee engagement, experience, satisfaction, PR planning, strategy, budgeting

I once started a new contract position with an engineering company employing 2,000 people, and as a new arrival I looked with great interest at the recruitment and onboarding process. It was terrible! Communication with me as a new arrival should have been much better – before and after joining them. This experience reinforced to me the importance of internal communication for onboarding new employees, which is the process of integrating new arrivals into an organization and its culture. Insperity more specifically defines onboarding as a series of events, including orientation, that help new employees understand how to be successful in their day-to-day job and how their work contributes to the overall business. (For new hires, orientation is a one-time event welcoming them to the organization.)

My experience over the years is that around 60% of public relations work is internal, and communication during recruitment and onboarding should be an important part of these activities.

Complicating the recruiting and onboarding picture is the worldwide impact of the coronavirus pandemic, as some new employees work from home almost from their starting day. That’s the subject of another article.

Onboarding is a key investment of time and resources

Investment of resources during the onboarding process should be a high priority due to the sharp loss in productivity and engagement when new employees resign, and also the cost of replacing them. Apart from losing the valuable contribution of good employees so quickly, employers are faced with the heavy costs of replacing them, estimated to range between 90% and 200% of each departed employee’s annual salary. Yet little seems to have changed in the past decade. A 2013 survey found that up to 20% of staff turnover occurred within the first 45 days of employment. And similar results were recorded in a survey of 1,500 US workers in 2018 that found 33% of surveyed employees had quit a job within their first 90 days of employment. Their reasons for quitting included feeling that they were “neglected, overwhelmed, under-appreciated, and under-qualified.” No wonder Gallup studies found that “only 12% of employees strongly agreed their organization does a great job of onboarding new employees”! So, what can be done? Here are some initiatives:

Create a strong employer brand

It is vital to create an authentic ‘employer brand’ to recruit the best people. And it is vital to impress these people in the period between their acceptance of the employment offer and actually starting. This interim period is a time when the recruit may get cold feet; they may be persuaded by their current employer not to leave or they may receive a competing offer from another employer.

Wouldn’t it be logical to communicate with your new recruits even before they start, to demonstrate by your actions that you value them? Yet most employers do nothing. My new employer did nothing to make me feel special. They should have a skillful process leading to the new job.

Isn’t this an HR role? Well, yes, it is…but there is a powerful communication component. If the HR people are asleep, you can take the initiative and earn the respect of senior management by driving a project to increase the chances of recruits starting their new job. (But first you should seek to make it a joint initiative with the HR manager, or you may make a needless enemy there.)

You can read more about how PR can add value to the employer brand in my articles, “How to create a better employer brand” and “Use PR to help build your employer brand.”

By the way, it is a fundamental mistake to put the internal communication (IC) function under the HR umbrella. By definition, HR largely faces internally, while internal communication needs to also take into account issues in both the internal and external environment as well as work closely with the external comms staff. Some of these issues may require different strategies from those focusing on an HR-only perspective.

Communicators can play an integral role in recruitment

Communicators should play a significant role in the various parts of the process and should monitor the actions of the other staff involved in the process because the staff actions are a powerful influence on perceptions and therefore upon the employer brand.

This active process depends on good HR and PR staff – no stuff ups! Although this type of program involves extra work, employers who have gone the ‘extra mile’ have found minimal numbers of appointees accepting counter-offers from elsewhere, and they also believe lower staff turnover has resulted, with significant cost savings. In effect, this becomes an employee retention strategy.

More orientation ideas with a communication component:

  • Give the recruit access to relevant aspects of your organization’s orientation process before their first day to they can learn about the organization and its benefits at their own pace.
  • Arrange a telephone call or email from the CEO, chief operating officer or general manager to welcome the new arrival on their first day.
  • Take a team photograph with a digital camera on the person’s first day and have it signed by all the team members.
  • Provide them with a glossary of their employer’s frequently used acronyms, which will help them acclimatize faster.
  • Give them a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) sheet for newcomers.
  • Give them ‘Silly Questions’ currency. They can give it to people any time they have a question they feel is silly or dumb. This helps ease the fear of asking questions. The person who receives the currency provides it to HR or PR to be in the draw for a reward. This encourages existing employees to take time to answer the questions, and it rewards them for their efforts.

Results are easily measurable. Assuming there are no other major changes in the industry environment or with external perceptions of the employer, you can simply measure the proportion of recruits who actually start work compared with those who drop out of the process before start day – and compare with past proportions.

By taking this kind of initiative, which is slightly outside the traditional PR role, you will impress senior management. They will see you adding value to the organization. This makes you stand out as a valuable contributor. (But keep HR onside with you along the way.)

Retention of good employees starts with effective onboarding

From his experience as a business coach, Ron Carucci says in a 2018 Harvard Business Review article:

(Photo opposite: by sigmund-QjCNk0TxGfc-unsplash.)

If you want to retain the talent you spend good money to acquire, make sure a new hire’s first year is positive and productive. Organizations with a standardized onboarding process experience 62% greater new hire productivity, along with 50% greater new hire retention. Those that invest time and effort in their new employees reap the benefits. If you want to be an employer of choice for top talent, make sure a new hire’s organizational, technical, and social needs are well met. (

One of the biggest reasons new hires don’t work out is bad onboarding. When done well, onboarding lays the groundwork for the employee to settle in to their role and thrive over a sustained period of time – at least a year. It should start with the basics like showing them around the office and introducing them to their team members. When it comes to their job, set clear and realistic expectations. They need to know what ‘good’ looks like, both in the company and in their specific role. They should be provided with a job description that includes well-defined responsibilities and a clear explanation of what decisions, rights and resources they will have. Over the next few months, their boss should check regularly with them about their experience. A weekly meeting should be arranged by their boss to make sure they have the guidance and coaching they need. In this way, they can make a meaningful contribution as soon as possible.

Reflecting on my own experience, I started work as corporate affairs manager with a different national billion-dollar engineering company from the one mentioned above. I reported to the CEO, but my boss was hardly ever available to meet with – either too busy or away traveling on company business. No onboarding. I had no clear job description and spent my early days finding out about how the company operated. It was only after a couple of months that someone said to me, “When will your annual comms plan be ready? The executive committee is expecting it.” I was floored! No one had ever mentioned it before. My predecessor was an ex-journalist who had no idea of corporate affairs, and therefore I had no previous plan to refer to. So I had to get busy in a hurry! Over the next 6-years I was able to plan and implement a range of activities, which were diverse and quite interesting.

Three key dimensions to cover in their first year

Ron Carucci recommends employers focus on 3 key dimensions in an employee’s first year:

1. The organizational

Teaching them how things work – the information they  need to function every day. Examples include where to park their car, obtain an ID card, how to navigate the building, how to enroll in health benefits, and learn organizational regulations and policies.

2. The technical

At key intervals — 3, 6, and 9 months — Carucci  believes the boss of the new employee should formally engage them in conversations about the organization’s history and brand, how performance is measured and rewarded, and how growth opportunities arise. People such as organizational ‘heroes,’ or others considered exemplary, should be arranged to connect with new hires and share personal stories that demonstrate valued behaviors. IC can contribute to this.

Communicate clearly from day one. Ensure new hires are provided with a job description that includes well-defined accountabilities and any boundaries around authority or available resources they should be aware of. Clearly outline their decision rights to help them understand where their autonomy begins and ends. It’s also valuable to schedule weekly coaching sessions to check in and ensure they have opportunities to make meaningful contributions as soon as possible.

Unwritten Ground Rules. Newcomers may also need to be briefed in a tactful way about ‘unwritten ground rules.’ Explained in detail in my article, “Beware of your organization’s Unwritten Ground Rules.These are the behaviors and routines followed by many employees which may or may not line up with their employer’s business ‘values.’ Unwritten ground rules explain why many corporate vision, mission and values statements, policies and procedures don’t necessarily produce the desired result. Actions speak louder than words, and employees will follow unspoken, expected patterns of behavior rather than comply with words in the corporate mission statement or various documented policies.

Retention. Set up early wins. Giving a new hire early goals is a powerful strategy. A good way to start is to assign tasks for completion at the 3, 6, and 9-month marks. Targets can be set that the new hires can meet. If all goes well, the level of responsibility associated with each task can be gradually increased. This will help build trust. Through this process, their boss can discuss gaps in their skill set and work to close the gaps. During check-ins, they should be encouraged to discuss where they think they have grown in the job, and discouraged from ‘faking it.’ New hires that feel grounded in their contribution and understand how it fits into the larger organization gain confidence and feel loyal faster.

3. The social

A meta-analysis reported in the Harvard Business Review in 2017 examined the findings of 70 separate studies and found that feeling socially accepted was a key factor in newcomer success. Integrating into the social network matters, in part, because it brings greater access to information and resources.

(Photo opposite by LinkedIn Sales Navigator on Unsplash.)

Build a sense of community. Carucci quotes research revealing that 40% of adults report feeling lonely. This sense of isolation is amplified for new hires — who often feel like a stranger in a foreign land — and can increase their chances of leaving a job.

Building relationships during their first year can help new hires feel less isolated and more confident. New hires, in partnership with their manager, should identify 7-10 people — superiors, peers, direct reports, and internal and external customers — whose success they will contribute to, or vice versa. The new hire should then craft plans to connect with each stakeholder, one-on-one, during their first year. This can be a short meeting over coffee or lunch — an opportunity to learn and ask for guidance. In addition to stakeholder cultivation, building social capital with teammates on a daily basis helps build camaraderie and trust. When new hires feel accepted and welcomed, they are less likely to feel like the new kid on the block.

A great onboarding framework

Gallup consultants offer guidance for implementing a best-practice onboarding program for new employees. Here’s an outline of their points, which have been developed from experience with clients over many years:

1. Managers should take responsibility for onboarding their new arrivals.

A new recruit’s manager/supervisor should accept responsibility for helping them to settle in. Too often, managers leave most of this activity to HR, which is dodging their own role. When managers take an active role in onboarding, Gallup has found that employees are 3.4 times as likely to strongly agree their onboarding experience was exceptional. Managers should help new arrivals to make friends and know who to ask for help in their work. Internal communicators can help with this process.

2. The onboarding program is a journey.

Gallup has found that employees typically take around 12 months to reach their full performance potential within a role. Organizations should continue to conduct regular check-ins and developmental experiences well into the recruit’s first year  of employment. They also need to avoid comparing the performance of new employees with veteran employees too early.

3. The onboarding program should reflect your organization’s culture.

Organizations need to provide immersive experiences that let employees feel your values, not just be able to name them. For example, if safety is essential to your culture, consider bringing in executives who can tell a story about tough calls they made in the name of safety. Introduce and celebrate safety award winners in front of new employees. Or create immersive role-plays where real managers evaluate teams on their safety thinking.

4. Deliver on the promises made in recruitment activities.

Managers should talk about a new employee’s career hopes and intentions early on, and they should also introduce the newcomers to learning and development opportunities that extend training beyond formal onboarding. Gallup has found employees who strongly agree they have a clear plan for their professional development are 3.5 times more likely to strongly agree that their onboarding process was exceptional.

5. The onboarding program needs to have inspirational elements.

HR leaders need to design a consistent, creative and deeply engaging experience that wows new employees. Gallup says if your onboarding is not exceptional, it’s wasting everyone’s time. IC staff can make a valuable contribution to ideas.

6. Monitoring is essential.

Organizations should conduct regular pulse surveys throughout the onboarding process to identify when new employees are not connecting with the organization. In addition, organizations need to take their onboarding data and connect it with the rest of their organizational performance metrics – engagement, performance and exit data, for example. Greater investments in onboarding are justified when the value of onboarding programs can be proven to lead to better business outcomes. IC should ensure communication is measured along with the other components of such data regimes.

7. Good onboarding programs are worth the investment.

According to SHRM, employee turnover can be as much as 50% in the first 4 months for hourly workers and 50% in the first 18 months for senior outside hires. As noted above, the costs of finding, hiring and training employees are very high. In a competitive talent marketplace, that’s a lot of wasted time and money.

Early notification of appointment pays off, with comms participation

Astute employers realize that notifying the successful candidate of their appointment is far from the end of the recruitment process. In the post-acceptance, pre-start period, a good candidate may get ‘cold feet’, particularly if they receive a counter-offer from their current employer or even from another organization. A thoughtful program of activity will generate goodwill from potential starters and will minimize the possibility of their changing their minds about taking on the new position. This program can be conducted at virtually no cost.

Firstly, the new employer normally telephones the successful job candidate with the good news. An important action is to follow up the verbal notification promptly with the official letter of appointment. It is surprising how long it takes some organizations, especially in government, to send the official notification. This is a small act, but important psychologically because a long delay implies the organization doesn’t seem care enough about the successful candidate to attend to the follow-up. The candidate may well be prudently waiting for the official notification before they resign from their current job, so a delayed notification is a significant nuisance. Accordingly, to make a person feel important it is a small, but vital step to deal promptly with the paperwork, even sending the official letter by registered post or by courier to make it seem more important. It is, of course, hugely important to the recipient, a move that changes the course of their life. This action has a major communication component. You can involved by asking to review the text of the letter.

Other information should also be sent with the letter, such as an annual report, corporate brochures, perhaps some explanatory reports about the recruit’s forthcoming area of responsibility, copies of recent articles about the organization and a corporate videotape, DVD or CD-ROM presentation if there is a current version. Perhaps they should be given entrée to the firm’s intranet or employee portal as well. In this way the appointee can show the information to their family and friends and start to get used to the idea of working at the new organization.

Gallup’s Chief Scientist Jim Harter also suggests the material sent to the successful job candidate could touch on important guidance points such as:

  • what they are expected to be doing in their new job, in broad terms
  • how they are supposed to do it
  • who they are doing it with
  • what unique gifts your employer believes they bring to the job.

(Photo opposite by Scott Graham on Unsplash.)

Framework of a good welcome letter
  1.  Welcome your employee. A couple of sentences, but it’s a genuine opportunity to show how can you are to be welcoming them as a new employee.
  2. Introduce yourself. Here’s your chance to get personal. Who are you? Can you briefly summarize your meaningful journey to your current role in the organization? It could be worthwhile to share your experience as a new hire, as it might ease your new hire’s nerves and help you appear more personable. Beware of oversharing; let them get to know you in conversation as well.
  3. Share initial need-to-knows. This part of your welcome letter to new employees is pretty straightforward. Cover a couple of simple logistics like when and where to be on the first day, what the first day will include, and any preparations that need to be made.
  4. Outline the onboarding journey. Briefly discuss what the journey from new hire to tenured employee looks like. Mention some personal qualities that got your new hire hired in the first place, then lightly outline where you see their career going.
Example of a useful welcome letter

Similarly, you can offer to draft a welcome letter to the new arrival, with relevant content. Quantum Workplace suggest the welcome letter be along similar lines to this letter below:

Craft a straightforward, authentic welcome letter. Here’s a suggested template:

Dear John

Welcome to company ABC! We’re excited to add another person to our growing team. I’m sure your determination and personality will fit in well here.

I know we’ve had some interactions in the interview process, but I’m looking forward to getting to know you better. I’ve been with this company for seven years, and each day I find myself learning more and more. I believe I have become a more complete person in this role, and as your manager, I’m excited to see you contribute to our growth. 

We’ll see you at our main office, Monday at 10 am. We’ll start with a cup of coffee and casually tour the office to meet everyone. Then, we’ll take care of some of the paperwork and get you started.

This marks the start of a memorable journey. I’m excited to see you grow as a new employee, learn from your teammates, and, ultimately, woo clients left and right.

Looking forward to day one,

Jim Blade

Manager

Involve other internal stakeholders in the welcome process

An internal email should be circulated to those people who were involved in the recruitment and interviewing process, to those who will be involved in the induction, orientation and training of the new appointee; and, of course, the new appointee’s boss. The email should confirm the appointment and provide some background information on the appointee to enable them to make small talk with the appointee before and after arrival. Also, a notification of the appointment should be promptly emailed to all staff when the newcomer takes up their position. Depending on the environment in your organization, this can be handled by HR, or by HR and PR jointly. Certainly you can write the text.

Thoughtfulness is a real plus

During the interval before the appointee arrives, send a low-cost welcome package to the appointee’s home, containing a tasteful assortment of giveaways such as a company t-shirt, ballpoint pen, notebook, more publicity material etc. The total cost of all the items would be minor, but would create a lasting impression of thoughtfulness and respect, something very important to employees. In addition, the employer can arrange for a couple of team members of the new starter to telephone to chat about a few workplace things in advance so the recruit starts to feel like one of the team.

This is further reinforced for senior appointments when a suitable manager arranges lunch with the appointee before their start date and takes along some notes and perhaps a broad schedule of the newcomer’s program for the first few weeks. They would also ask the newcomer for any questions to encourage the build-up of warm feelings about their job and their new colleagues.

And what would be the reaction of a new employee when they arrive on the first day of their job to find their name already printed on a nameplate in their office or work area? This can be rounded off with a welcoming morning tea for them with their staff and new colleagues. You can easily organize this.

Also, Quantum Workplace have compiled a list of 50 ideas to help the new arrival settle in and feel welcome. The ideas could be helpful for you to use or adapt.

Someone can be appointed to help the new recruit to settle in to their job, in the process of onboarding. It is worthwhile to help a new person overcome any perceived obstacles at the start of their job. A mentor can advise them on many aspects of the organizational culture, internal politics and executive personalities, and perhaps they may say a word in the right place to ease the way.

If you enjoyed this article, we recommend this book

Employee Recognition: The secret to great team performance Employee Recognition: The secret to great team performance

About the author Kim Harrison

Kim Harrison loves sharing actionable ideas and information about professional communication and business management. He has wide experience as a corporate affairs manager, consultant, author, lecturer, and CEO of a non-profit organization. Kim is a Fellow and former national board member of the Public Relations Institute of Australia, and he ran his State’s professional development program for 7 years, helping many practitioners to strengthen their communication skills. People from 115 countries benefit from the practical knowledge shared in his monthly newsletter and in the eBooks available from cuttingedgepr.com.

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