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Welcoming Millennials Onboard

Wednesday, January 13, 2016
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Companies have been pulling out all the stops to wel­come new hires to the workplace. As Millennials make up a larger share of the workforce, these proce­dures will likely be in place for many years to come.

  • Small companies can use size to their advantage. While large corporations and Silicon Valley startups are known for their Millennial-friendly onboarding pro­cedures, many small businesses may feel they don’t need them—and besides, can’t afford them. But onboarding doesn’t have to be all pomp and circum­stance. Although lunch with the CEO of a company with fewer than 10 employees may not be a big deal, small businesses can make employees feel special in other ways, such as a card filled with advice for the first year. And thanks to software from onboarding startups like Workday and Yoi, small businesses can easily create month-to-month goals for new employees.
  • Millennials’ parents should be included in the onboarding process. From the first day of preschool to college orien­tation, Boomers and Xers are used to being involved in the big milestones in their children’s lives—and their first job is no exception. Employers like the NYSE invite the parents of new employees to orienta­tion. Enter­prise provides information packets for the par­ents of interns and new employees. Northwestern Mutual sends e-newsletters to parents that share updates on their kids’ work. And, after the onboarding process is complete, companies like Google, LinkedIn, and British Airways host “Bring In Your Parent” Day and open house events.
  • Successful onboarding can cut employee turnover costs. Employers often justify skip­ping formal onboard­ing based on the persistent myth that Millennials are job hoppers. Research shows, how­ever, that Millennial retention rates aren’t any diff­erent from that of previous generations in their youth. (See: “Did You Know? Don’t Fall for the Job-Hopping Hype.”) This could be an expensive misconcep­tion, con­si­dering employee turn­over costs U.S. business­es roughly $11 billion a year—withsome estimates showing that replacing one em­ployee can cost anywhere from half to double an employee’s salary. Given these numbers, onboarding not only helps keep Millennials around, but it also saves time and money.

Some employees can go their entire careers without meeting a C-suite executive. For employees of the Union Square Hospitality Group, this is not an option. CEO Danny Meyer welcomes every incoming employee—a grand gesture that some consider a necessary on boarding strategy. While companies of decades past would give the nickel tour to welcome newcomers to the office, today’s companies are handing out personalized gift baskets and career roadmaps. These over-the-top offerings represent a generational shift in recruiting and onboarding. Today’s practices, which are tailored to fit Millennials’ needs, are nothing like the ones in place when Generation X first entered the workplace. In the coming years, these policies will set the stage for a greater emphasis on corporate culture as Millennials become a larger share of the labor force.

Over the past 15 years, “onboarding” has grown from a little-known term to a corporate buzzword. Defined as the process of integrating new employees into an organi­za­tion, onboarding once comprised short presentations on company values and piles of paperwork. Today, onboarding consists of week-long immersive experiences that more closely resemble summer camp activities than those seen in an office environment. These carefully choreographed programs include introductions to top officials, mentorship programs, total peer immersion, and roadmaps that explain how to reach certain career milestones. In short, the entire onboarding and recruitment process has been tailored to match the Millennial mindset.

Many employers are going the extra mile to make Millennials feel special. LinkedIn, for example, welcomes employees with a swag bag suited to their personal interests. Birchbox places candy and a handmade welcome flag on their desk. Other employers have a more shock-and-awe approach. ZocDoc invites new employees to dine out with the executive team for lunch. According to author and Forbes contributor Micah Solomon, C-suite participation is a crucial component of the onboarding process, saying that CEOs should “get [their] assets out of [their] climate-controlled office and go talk to [their] new employees. They will only be new once.” And he’s right. These gestures (both large and small) help Millennials form personal attach­ments to their new workplace that have been shown to boost retention rates.

Some employers’ new policies focus on creating professional support systems for new hires. General Electric and Caterpillar, for example, have pro­fes­sional development programs that emphasize mentorship by top executives and senior management. Airbnb’s men­tor­ship program pairs new hosts with more experienced ones who are avail­able to answer any host-related questi­ons until the first booking is made. And New York University assigns each new hire a “buddy” for the first two months on the job. These tactics appeal to Mil­len­nials because whether it’s the CEO or a co-worker, this generation respects authority figures and is willing to take notes and learn from their experience.

Other companies’ onboarding procedures focus on immersing new hires in the broader corporate commun­ity and fostering relationships between coworkers. Etsy, for example, rotates new personnel through every team in the organization to learn about the com­pany and develop strong personal ties to other staff members. Deloitte divides new hires into groups to play a board game that not only teaches newbies corporate policy, but also allows them to bond with their co-workers. Internet marketing company Bazaarvoice even sends new employees on a weeklong scavenger hunt to learn the ins and outs of the company. Although these practices are rather unconventional, they take advantage of Millennials’ team-oriented nature and facilitate stronger ties to the organization.

Many companies are now providing structured career paths for high-achieving Millennials. Amazon provides all new employees a “Launch Your Career” roadmap that outlines what to expect in the coming years. And Warby Parker sends new hires an elec­tron­ic welcome packet with a list of expectations for the first day, week, and month. These offerings are not only perfect for Millennials who want to rise to the top of the corporate ladder, but they also help managers set clear expectations and keep overzealous Millennials grounded.

Even before they start onboarding new hires, companies are incorporating Millen­nial themes into the recruitment process. The U.S. Army’s “Buddy Program” allows re­cruits to enlist with up to five friends and go through training together. Some compa­nies, like information services firm AlphaSights, hire employees in batches to ease the assimilation process and produce more effective teams. Companies are also growing their own local talent. Ford’s Next Generation Learning initiative, for example, has helped devel­op career academies in communities with Ford plants. (See: “Voc-Ed Makes a Come­back.”) This not only gives Millennials the stable career path they want, but also allows them to live close to home.

At the same time they are onboarding new employees, companies are also looking to “offboard” the ones who aren’t a perfect match. Small startups like Joor, Entelo, and Weebly hire employees on a trial basis and make a permanent offer based on performance. Most notably, Zappos weeds out the candidates who aren’t completely sold by the job by offering any new hire $2,000 to quit after they complete training.

These new Millennial-centric policies aren’t without their critics—particularly Gen-X managers. Some fear that mentorship can be a waste of time and energy for both the mentor and the mentee. Others worry that too much handholding during onboarding stifles employee independence. These procedures must also be executed with a certain level of formality and completeness that Xers aren’t accustomed to. Millennials don’t want on­board­­ing to be an afterthought—they expect detailed directions to guide them through the process.

Gen Xers are often critical of today’s onboarding policies because they never received this type of treatment nor did they ever see the need for it. When Xers first en­tered the workplace, corporate representatives simply explained the job opportunities avail­able—leaving Xers free to climb the corporate ladder through trial and error. This sink-or-swim freedom allowed Xers to forge their own personal relationship (close or distant) with the company. Most Xers say this experience was critical for their personal development. And looking at the latest policies, Xers worry that Millennials won’t develop the resilience, toughness, and leadership smarts they need to succeed. For Xers, today’s onboarding procedures look like something from the Love Boat—while for them, it was more like the Black Pearl.

Yet looking ahead, the workplace that once reshaped itself to fit the Xer persona twenty years ago is now moving in a new direction. As employers across the country welcome 3 million more Millennials every year, the workplace will increasingly become more like them and less like Xers. Accordingly, these lavish onboarding policies for Millen­nials will continue to grow and expand. As the office increasingly becomes their home away from home, Millennials will want to create a new sense of belonging. As they move up the corporate ladder, Millennials will continue to push for an all-encompassing corporate cul­ture that not only goes above and beyond to welcome new employees, but also cele­brates everyone’s personal milestones. 

Material posted on this website is for informational purposes only and does not constitute a legal opinion or medical advice. Contact your legal representative or medical professional for information specific to your legal or medical needs.

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