A Better Way to Onboard New Employees

Setting them and you up for a successful relationship

employee training new employee using a tablet, handouts, and notepad.
Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko on Pexels.com

The fact is: all new employees are “onboarded” whether you have a formal process or not. Onboarding refers to how new employees are integrated into your business during their first days/weeks/months on the job. The process includes their orientation to your business and the training on how to do their specific job. No matter what type of service or product your business provides, the elements of onboarding are similar. You customize those steps for your business needs and the types of employees and subcontractors you work with.

Why Have an Organized Onboarding Process?

How new staff members are onboarded affects them, your clients, and your bottom line. How? Think back to some of the jobs you’ve had before. What were your first days like?

A. Did you have the experience of showing up on your first day and being given a pile of HR paperwork to sign in the break room? When you were done, you wandered into the lobby to find a coworker who had only been there a few weeks themselves and weren’t sure how to help you? So, you set your paperwork pile in a corner and the coworker nervously tried to show you what they were doing? Your new boss walks in and takes the paperwork, maybe gives you a tour of the facility, and then hands you off to another employee who wasn’t expecting to be training someone that day? Your often left alone and lost, trying to figure out what you should be doing next. Your coworkers are using jargon and inside jokes and you feel completely lost. You go home wondering if you have made a mistake and maybe mulling over the negative rumors you heard throughout the day…

B. Or, did you receive a packet of paperwork to fill out in advance and bring with you on your first day? In the packet, there was a note about what to wear, what time to show up, and who you would be reporting to. There was a calendar of your schedule for the next month that included when you would have different training sessions and who you would be working with. When you arrive on the first day, the boss or another experienced employee greeted you and introduced you at the morning all-staff meetup. Then they gave you a tour of the facility and showed you where you could stash your “stuff”. On the breakroom TV, you watched a welcome video from the owner that explained the history and culture of the business, along with essential information about scheduling and other office-type policies and procedures. You were given a notebook with FAQs, a copy of the employee handbook, a few how-to sheets, your name badge, and a place to take notes. Your assigned “buddy” mentor employee guided you through your days over the next couple of weeks, making sure your questions were answered and you were introduced to important clients and vendors. You go home excited to go back tomorrow, knowing that you are an important member of the team…

Which experience did you enjoy most? In which situation did you feel needed, wanted, and important? How long did you stay in either position? What experience do your new hires have coming into your business?

HR pros estimate that hiring and training a new employee costs a business an average of $4,000 per person! Developing a solid onboarding plan means an investment of your time and money now but in the long run, will save you thousands in the future. How much more could you accomplish with the time and money you’re spending regularly finding and training new employees?

An organized onboarding process will help new staff members:

  • Learn your business goals, policies, and procedures;
  • Understand the why behind your SOPs;
  • Have confidence in their own abilities;
  • Know what they are supposed to do and how to do it;
  • Feel like a welcome and important member of the team; and,
  • Feel more invested in their job and more likely to stay for a while.

The Onboarding Plan Checklist

(scroll down to request your free copy of this checklist and use it to build your plan)

Step 1: How are you, your employees, and your business performing right now?

The first step to creating an effective onboarding plan is to honestly assess how well your business and your employees are currently performing. Ask yourself:

  • Are there obvious gaps in your employees’ knowledge that are affecting their work and your business?
  • What mistakes are being made repeatedly?
  • What frustrates you about your employees’ performance overall?
  • What complaints from your clients do you hear most often?
  • What reasons do people give for resigning from their jobs?
  • What business goals have you achieved and what do you wish you could be doing/would have accomplished?
  • Have you done a SWOT analysis recently? * (Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats)
  • How would an improved new employee onboarding process help you reach your business goals?

If you want an even more honest assessment, get feedback from all your current staff members on the above questions. You can take it another step further and survey your clients on their experiences with your staff.

Step 2: Plan Your Plan

Next, use the answers to the above questions to start mapping out what you need/want to include in your onboarding process. Based on what information and skills you want your employees to have, think about how you will guide them through orientation and training.

  • Make a detailed list of the most valuable information and tasks a new employee needs to know to do the job and help your customers.
  • Do you need to modify your plan for different departments/jobs/roles?
  • Decide what information and skills are best learned in a “classroom” format and which are best learned hands-on, working alongside you or a coworker.
  • Should the information be shared using handouts and a handbook, a series of videos, or PowerPoint presentations?
  • Who is the best person to conduct each step of the onboarding process? Involving other employees in the process shows that you value your experience and creates a career path for them.
  • How long will each element and the entire process take?
  • How will you evaluate the effectiveness of the process?
  • How will you show that the process is finished?

Important things to cover in your orientation and training:

  • The history of your business
  • Your mission and vision statements
  • Your company culture
  • Your organizational structure
  • Who are your customers and how does your business serve them?
  • The daily routine for the business as a whole and for the employee’s department or role, as applicable
  • How will the employee’s work be supervised and evaluated?
  • Policies and procedures – focus on the ones that affect the new employee’s job the most

Request your free copy of the Onboarding Plan Checklist:

Schedule a free, 30-minute consultation with Tiffani to help you get started on your onboarding plan. Or ask about my Onboarding for Success Package, where I work with you to create and implement your customized plan.

Ask about the Onboarding Animal Care Staff Handbook, complete with customizable documents including an employee workbook and PowerPoint presentation!

Breaking Up with Difficult Volunteers

As I sat down to write this article, it occurred to me that volunteer administrators are laying the foundation to break up with a volunteer from the first moment they contact our organization. This is not how I want to view my application process. I want to think that everyone who calls or emails is perfect for the job, will have all the time in the world to do it, and will conduct themselves with so much professionalism that they will outshine any paid staff person. All of the paperwork, interviewing, orienting and training are just formalities.

Unfortunately, not everyone interested in volunteering is a great match for the organization. Often, they leave on their own. Sometimes, we have to force a goodbye. We call it “terminating service,” “dismissing,” “firing,” and “retiring.” What if the volunteer is a high-level donor? What if the volunteer is showing signs of mental illness? What if the person is causing so much chaos that you know they won’t go quietly? How do you gracefully break up with volunteers in these situations?

Administrators of volunteers must incorporate best practices in human resources management into their programs. Also, they should implement them with all of the heart that they bring to this profession. This post is going to remind you that the same applies to handling difficult volunteer firing situations.

I found myself in the very awkward position of having to fire two difficult volunteers and learning that the previous volunteer manager had not gone through all of the “formalities.” I was challenged to move forward both ethically and legally without a strong foundation to build on. Here are the stories and some suggestions about appropriate actions. All names have been changed to protect confidentiality.

One Made Threats: Cathy had opinions about everything and let everyone know how she felt. Previous departmental leadership let the volunteer advisory council have so much latitude that they even decided on appropriate discipline for other volunteers. Cathy had taken this sense of authority and run with it. When a new department head came in, started making changes, including hiring me, Cathy let all of the staff, and volunteers know how upset she was that she wasn’t consulted. Also, she stated clearly that she would not conform to the new standards. She had friends at the local newspaper and would let them know how horrible our organization had become, especially in our attitude toward volunteers. This relationship wasn’t working out. I tried to be positive with Cathy. I had lunch with her. I asked for her appropriate input. I even asked her help to train new volunteers. I spoke with her privately about how her conduct impacted our programs and that she would need to make a decision about whether or not she should stay. Finally, my supervisor and I decided that the only further action to take was to let Cathy go. We did briefly discuss what would happen if Cathy did go to the newspaper and decided not to worry about it. My initial dilemma was that my supervisor, upon hiring me, had asked me to let Cathy go. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any file on Cathy’s history with the organization such as an application, notes on any previous issues or conversations with her, or proof that we had cause to let her go. Ethically, I felt that I couldn’t fire her without going through the disciplinary steps outlined in our volunteer handbook. So, I had to start from scratch and document everything. The timing became such that I had to fire Cathy on a morning when I was the only one in the office. My supervisor would not allow her to stay through one more weekend. I alerted the security guard that there might be trouble and am glad I did. After leaving my office, Cathy caused a commotion all the way to the front gate and out into the parking lot. However, no horrible story appeared in our local newspaper and we never heard from her again.

Major Donors Don’t Always Work Out As Volunteers: Linda was a major donor who had also been a volunteer for 18 years and was acting out her fears of and disappointment with changes that were being made. This happened simultaneously as the situation with Cathy both of which I had no idea about when I took the job. I was told that she had caused trouble off and on throughout the years. Of course, no one wanted to lose the many thousands of dollars Linda donated every year. However, her actions were causing serious disruption for other volunteers, who would pull me aside to let me know about her latest inappropriate comment or action. My supervisor wasn’t the only one who wanted her gone. Fortunately, I didn’t have to “drop the axe.” It was decided that the best course of action would be to have the organization’s director have the final meeting with her. She exited more gracefully than Cathy did. We were able to give Linda a more dignified out by announcing her retirement from volunteering and presenting her with a plaque at our next recognition event.

Lessons I Learned: What did I learn from the experiences that led to my opening comment of this article? From start to finish, volunteer administrator’s have to build a strong foundation for their volunteer programs. As leaders of volunteers, we have to walk the line between supporting our volunteers and protecting our organizations. From the beginning of the relationship, complete the application and interview process with every volunteer. Even if you use a computer database, keep a paper file of everything that your volunteer signs, such as the application, volunteer agreement or release, handbook receipt, etc. Throughout the relationship, keep a record of the volunteer’s activity, both the good and the bad. If you meet them for coffee, note it in their file. If they earn recognition, document it. If you have to council them about an attitude, action or misunderstanding, write it down and ask any other staff that is involved to write it down in their own words, too.

If you outline disciplinary steps in your volunteer handbook, follow them. If you don’t have them outlined, you really should. Why? It lets you off the hook (“I’m following procedure…”). It ensures fair treatment of all volunteers. Also, it makes sure you keep a record of what has happened. It’s okay to meet one-on-one with a volunteer to talk with them about concerns. Volunteer administrators encourage each other at conferences to do regular check-ins with their volunteers. However, if you are considering the possibility that you may have to terminate the relationship, you really should have another paid staff person present. By doing this, you will have a witness to the conversation in the event you need one. You really shouldn’t let someone go when you’re the only one in the office. With such a confrontational volunteer, I should have been able to wait until a time when I could have another staff member with me. Actually, it’s best to always have someone in the office with you if you are firing a volunteer, whether you expect him or her to act out or not.

If you can provide the volunteer with a better option, like retiring, try to do so. Consider creating the category of “Honorary Volunteer.” People can become inactive, by their choice or yours, and still receive your newsletter and invitations to recognition events. Remember that volunteer information is to be respected, as you would want your own personnel information to be handled. It is unethical to disclose information to uninvolved staff members or volunteers about a disciplinary process you are going through. When I announced that Cathy had left the program, I did not say that she had been fired. If anyone besides my supervisor, the security guard and me knew what had happened, it was because Cathy had told him or her. It’s also not ethical to include volunteers in the disciplinary process unless you need them to make a statement about something they have witnessed. Directors should be involved in any actions involving major donors or high-profile volunteers. If the volunteer threatens some course of action, take note of it. Consider the possible consequences so that you are prepared. Remember, if you have crossed all your “t”s and dotted your “i”s, you can stand up to criticism. However, be sure to remember the issue of confidentiality when defending your position.

When an Illness Is Involved: A colleague once asked me for some advice about breaking up with a long-time volunteer who was showing signs of mental illness. Even though she had spoken with the person, the woman kept showing up for what had been her assigned volunteer shift. In addition, the woman had become engaged in some unethical activity involving clients. In addition to the above steps, I encouraged the colleague to seek the guidance of a professional who was experienced working with persons with such illnesses. I also encouraged her to send a certified letter to the volunteer, so that she had additional proof in writing that she had dismissed the woman and had let her know that her shift had been assigned to an active volunteer. When the situation involves an illness or other sensitive issue, you should take care to show your compassion. You should also remember that you represent your organization and are charged with protecting your clients. I don’t envy you if you face this situation.

Document, Document, Document: Some of my co-workers would tell you that I am very obsessed with the details when it comes to volunteers. That’s okay. When push comes to shove, I’ll be able to assist them should we have to break up with a difficult volunteer. What’s my final word? Documentation!

Simplify Ordering Using Purchasing Platforms

57% – that’s how much one of my clients was able to reduce expenses through strategic vendor management! That meant they spent hours searching websites and listening to sales pitches, right? Not at all!

Tip: Do a quick search to see if your industry or favorite vendors are part of an online co-op or marketplace. These B2B/B2G marketplaces let you enter the product you’re looking for and instantly see which vendors have it, compare prices, see how many units are in stock, and when to expect delivery. Small businesses and nonprofits especially benefit from buying through this purchasing model.

Have an item on backorder through your normal source? You can easily check to see if someone else has it available or when the item is expected to be back on the shelves.

I can do a quick search to see if there’s a purchasing platform for your industry and if so, set up your account for you. Contact me for more information.

Are you on the verge of burning out? Look for these signs:

Burnout is a very real problem, especially for solopreneurs and small business owners. These professionals feel the entire weight of their success on their own shoulders. Small businesses have been facing the most uncertainty and loss during the pandemic. Trying to figure out what your “new norm” is can be overwhelming in an already high-pressure situation. Burnout is on the rise as business owners easily work 16+ hours a day trying to recover from the ‘lost year’. According to WebMD, “burnout is a form of exhaustion caused by constantly feeling swamped. It’s a result of excessive and prolonged emotional, physical, and mental stress.” I think we can agree that pretty much everyone has been experiencing burnout lately.

Pause for a moment and honestly answer these questions:
Are you missing out on spending time with your family and friends?
Do you feel a lack of focus, motivation, or control?
Are you questioning if you have what it takes to keep your business going?

While it’s better to avoid getting to a point of burnout in the first place, small business owners often find themselves dealing with the symptoms before they’re aware it’s happening. As soon as you start to recognize these signs in yourself, it’s time to hit the pause button, evaluate your situation, and do what you do best: come up with creative solutions.

5 Signs and Consequences of Burnout

  1. Insomnia. If your brain can’t shut down because you’re consumed with work and worry, your sleep pattern gets disrupted. This leaves you overtired, lacking energy, and possibly lacking the mental energy to make wise business decisions.
  2. Procrastination. Do you cringe at how long your to-do list has gotten? Did some of these tasks once get you excited about your work but now, they make you want to crawl under a rock? Procrastination leads to missed deadlines and lost opportunities to promote your business. Lack of interest in things you once enjoyed is another sign of burnout.
  3. Fatigue. The human body is only capable of handling so much stress on limited sleep. You’ve heard the phrase “burning the candle at both ends”? This happens when you work long hours and don’t give your body and brain enough time to recover before starting another high-stress day. At some point, your body will want to give up, causing severe fatigue and possibly other illnesses that will keep you from getting any work done.
  4. Changes in appetite. Stress causes some people to overeat; for others, stress reduces their appetites. Neither extreme is good for your body. For optimal health and mental clarity, take lunch breaks away from the desk and choose natural, healthy food choices instead of fast food items as often as you can.
  5. Anxiety. High stress causes anxiety, which can cause crippling fear and other physical symptoms. Keep in mind: there’s a big difference between the anxiety you feel when stepping out of your comfort zone to accomplish something amazing versus the stress-induced anxiety that doesn’t seem to go away. Stress-induced anxiety can freeze you in your tracks and your business along with you.

Think about this: as a solopreneur or small business owner, if you are not physically or emotionally able to run your business, what could happen to it? You may have to close your doors and lose any streams of income you worked so hard to build. Let’s keep this from happening!

Give Yourself an Hour…or more…
Remember what the flight attendants say during their safety briefing: put on your oxygen mask before helping the person next to you. Why is this important? Because if you pass out from lack of oxygen, you won’t be able to put a mask on someone else – or worse, help them escape the airplane during a crash. The same is true in your daily life. If you have burned out, you will not be able to take care of your business. You won’t be helping your clients, your family, or your friends. Instead, your family and friends will be forced to take care of you and your business will suffer. You have to make it a priority to take care of your whole body, mind, and spirit. Take quiet time to relax. Get outdoors and breathe in the fresh air. Unplug for a whole weekend and live in the moment with your family. Reconnect with old friends. Start a hobby. The choices are limitless.

How I Can Help You
I started my business, Task Tiffani, with the goal of helping other professionals find a better work/life balance for themselves. I have experienced the crushing effect of burning out in my career when I pushed myself beyond my physical and mental abilities to keep up that pace. I also discovered how to tweak my daily priorities so that I can take care of myself, spend time with my family, and also have a successful business. Through Task Tiffani, I offer administrative, business operations, and project management services that are designed to help you check off some of your to-do’s by putting them on my task list.

Let’s chat about how I can help you smooth out your daily operations or take some tasks off your to-do list. You deserve a thriving business AND a great work/life balance.