Catch on to the benefits of a formal onboarding process

Years ago, “onboarding” a new employee meant a quick tour of the workplace, brief introductions to a few co-workers and a stack of forms to fill out. But, today, many employers are catching on to the benefits of a well-planned and fully featured onboarding program.

Employment deliverables

Onboarding refers to “[a formal] process of helping new hires adjust to social and performance aspects of their new jobs quickly and smoothly,” according to the Society for Human Resource Management. A comprehensive onboarding program focuses on a number of employment deliverables, including:

  • Stronger performance and productivity,
  • Higher job satisfaction,
  • Deeper organizational commitment,
  • Reduced stress, and
  • An enhanced sense of career direction.

It also provides the employer with the opportunity to be crystal clear about its compliance procedures, HR policies, and compensation and benefits offerings.

3 general phases

What does a comprehensive onboarding program look like? Specifics will depend on the size, industry and nature of the employer in question. But, generally, an onboarding program can be segmented into three phases:

  1. Prestart preparation. The onboarding process should begin before a new hire starts work. This involves steps such as discussing his or her specific acclimation needs, choosing and preparing a work space, and designating a coach or mentor.
  2. Start date procedures. As the saying goes, “You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.” An onboarding program might involve an itemized start-date schedule that lays out everything from who will greet the new employee at the door to what paperwork must be completed to a detailed itinerary of meetings and one-on-ones throughout the day.
  3. Poststart coaching. Even a great first day can mean nothing if a new hire feels ignored thereafter. An onboarding program could establish continuing check-in meetings with the employee’s direct supervisor and coach/mentor for the first 30 or 60 days of employment. From then on, interactions with the coach/mentor could be arranged at longer intervals until the employee feels comfortable.

An important concept

“Onboarding” may sound like jargon. But a failure to respect its importance can result in higher employee turnover, lower morale and weaker productivity

Good meetings are well planned

“Let’s call a meeting!” This popular refrain echoes regularly through the offices and hallways of organizations everywhere. Problem is, said meetings are often hastily arranged and largely unproductive. Although emergency “huddles” are sometimes called for, good meetings are well planned. Here are some important points to keep in mind.

Swim with a purpose

Before you dive into calling a meeting, make sure it has a valid purpose, such as:

  • Accelerating communication among all team members, improving the overall productivity of the group,
  • Improving (or rejecting) ideas and initiatives that are under consideration, through group discussion,
  • Binding group members to a group decision, because even dissenters are more likely to back a decision that comes about via a team-based decision-making process,
  • Facilitating and strengthening the group leader’s ability to earn the respect of group members, and
  • Giving the leader the opportunity to assess each group member’s contribution in real time, which helps evaluate employee performance.

Pinpoint the most common purposes for your meetings. Is the reasoning behind these gatherings still sound?

Create a structure

Productive meetings are just the right size and shape. To help facilitate this:

Set an agenda. Even if you have a meeting every week, there will always be important topics to cover. Solicit suggestions from group members and distribute the agenda a day or so before the meeting so everyone can come prepared.

Focus on discussable topics. If the meeting consists only of a series of announcements, those can be communicated by other means. Pick agenda items that lead to two-way communication.

Choose attendees with care. Be careful not to invite employees to meetings unless they can contribute new knowledge or benefit from what’s going to be discussed.

Keep the size manageable. Being selective with the attendee roster helps keep meetings small enough so that the discussion won’t get out of control and needlessly prolong the gathering.

Don’t deny it

The subject of meetings often draws scorn and sarcasm. But there’s no denying the value of a good discussion when properly planned and executed. 

Reimbursing employees' education expenses

Naturally, most employee training occurs in-house. But area colleges and trade schools can also help fulfill your employee education and professional development needs. And if you reimburse employees for their expenses at these institutions, you and your employees may be able to save valuable tax dollars.

Offer a fringe benefit

Payment of an employee’s expenses results in taxable wages subject to income and payroll taxes unless the payment is eligible for exclusion. Reimbursements and direct payments of job-related education costs are generally excludable from workers’ wages as working-condition fringe benefits. This means not only that they’re tax-free to the employee but also that you don’t have to withhold income tax or pay payroll taxes on them. Furthermore, you can still deduct these costs, but as employee education expenses as opposed to wages.

To qualify as a working condition fringe benefit, the education expenses must be ones that employees would be allowed to deduct as a business expense if they’d paid them directly and weren’t reimbursed. Basically, this means the education must relate to the workers’ occupations and not qualify them for new jobs. There’s no ceiling on the amount your workers can receive tax-free.

Discover the hidden advantage

A “hidden” advantage of reimbursing education costs is attracting new hires and retaining them. The labor markets in many industries are competitive right now, so it’s important not to overlook ways to differentiate yourself from the competition. Moreover, keeping an engaged, well-trained staff in place enables you to avoid constantly enduring the high costs of hiring.

Also bear in mind the Millennial perspective. Prospective employees roughly between the ages of 18 and 35, so-called “Millennials,” make up a significant portion of the labor market now. This generation has its own distinctive traits and preferences toward working — one of which is a need for ongoing challenges and education, particularly when it comes to technology.

Keep them engaged

By reimbursing education costs as a fringe benefit, you can keep your staff well trained and engaged while saving taxes

Look to the competition when filling open positions

Even under the best of circumstances, hiring isn’t easy. You generally have to dedicate a substantial amount of time and resources just to gather a few strong candidates. Then you must execute an exhaustive interviewing process that leads to the right hire — you hope.

To further complicate matters, many of today’s industries face a shortage of skilled workers. The construction and manufacturing sectors have been the hardest hit, but a variety of other types of employers are struggling to find good employees. In light of these notable challenges, consider a source that many employers either overlook or shy away from: competitors.

Enjoy many benefits

When striving to score victories in this ongoing battle for talent, knowing where to look can be just as important as knowing whom to look for. You’re likely familiar with typical approaches such as classified ads, online job boards and professional recruiters.

Although these all have value, hiring experienced employees away from competitors can cut the time and money you must invest in training and may bring new insights into your operations.

Exercise prudence

Now, we’re not suggesting you head down to your chief rival’s office and start striking up conversations in the parking lot. But trade shows, conferences and professional development programs are often good neutral places to seek out experienced workers who may be looking for a new team.

Naturally, it’s important to steer clear of legal entanglements, so consult your attorney before undertaking any such effort. For instance, you’ll need to make sure any potential hire isn’t restricted by a noncompete agreement.

Make your case

One could make a pretty strong case that hiring good employees is an employer’s most critical task. After all, no matter how sound your business plan or how brilliant your strategic planning, without the right people on staff, your organization isn’t likely to get very far.

Buying Locally

Residents of Portland, Maine are regularly reminded of the benefits of buying from local independently owned businesses through the work of Portland Buy Local, a non-profit organization working to strengthen the local economy, preserve community character, and create ongoing opportunities for local entrepreneurs.

Portland is one of many communities that have commissioned economic impact studies to measure what happens to money spent at  local independent businesses compared to big box stores. A study conducted by the Maine Center for Economic Policy and funded by Portland Buy Local concluded that each $100 spent at a locally owned business generates $58 in additional local economic impact, compared to $33 when purchasing from a chain outlet – a difference of 76 percent.

The results of the Portland Buy Local study and others like it inspired me to take a closer look at my own business. I’m a partner in an independent payroll and accounting firm in downtown Portland named Local Economy, so I decided to see how much of each dollar spent at our business stays here in Maine. 

We found that 69 cents of every dollar spent at our business stays in Maine, breaking down like this:

27 cents of every dollar was paid as net salaries to employees. That means actual take-home pay that goes into employees’ bank accounts after all federal and state taxes have been withheld.

14 cents of each dollar was net profit that went to owners of our company -- all of them local.

8 cents was paid to Community Health Options, a health insurance company headquartered in Lewiston, Maine.

6 cents went to our local Portland landlord for rent.

6 cents was paid to the state of Maine in the form of state income tax withholdings, state unemployment insurance, state payroll processing bond insurance and state business licenses.

The remaining 8 cents that was put back into the local Maine economy went to independent vendors for office supplies, a locally-owned moving company (we moved our office last year), our local computer repair guru, our local electrician (who helped wire our new office), a local security monitoring company, a local paper shredding company, a local attorney, local restaurants, and our local bank, plus a few others.

Compare this with buying from a business with a location in Maine but which maintains its corporate headquarters outside the state. Yes, the local office provides jobs for Mainers and possibly rental income to local landlords, but some portion of the dollars you spend with those companies pays for the salaries of out-of-state executives and corporate staff.  Those out-of-state workers aren’t paying Maine state income tax, and goods purchased by the corporate office aren’t charged Maine sales tax which pays for our infrastructure and provides state services.  It’s a good bet that much of their budget for office supplies, legal advice and many other services go out of state as well.

Now consider how much of your money will stay in Maine when you purchase from an online retailer with no physical office in our state. The answer is: pretty much zero!

The point is to keep local businesses in mind.  Independently owned businesses are a vital component of what makes all of our communities tick.  We understand that what benefits us benefits you – and just as importantly - what benefits you benefits us. We drive on the same roads, send our kids to the same schools, travel from the same airport, and love the same city that you do.

All of us, the independent business owners and our customers, are what make our community unique and give it an incredible sense of place.