How to Onboard Employees When You Can’t Even Find the Paperclips

New or growing businesses are not always models of organization and efficiency, and your business is likely no exception. This is why you hire employees who enjoy working in a lively small business atmosphere.

Unfortunately, you can easily scare off even flexible new hires on their first day if you seem totally unprepared for their arrival. You need a reasonable plan to get them started (known as onboarding). All employees need to feel welcome, and they should never think that you forgot that they were coming. Your job is to make them feel comfortable and take care of all legal requirements as soon as possible, regardless of the level of bedlam.

It might be some time before you are prepared to hand each new hire a perfect supply box complete with paperclips, but you can ease them into the chaos.

An Informal Approach to Onboarding

Here are five ideas that can help ease the comfort level of new employees and get them off to the best start.

1. Get the paperwork right from the beginning

Nothing is more important than making sure that your new hires will get paid — and that a government agency will not suddenly pounce on you due to missed paperwork. Make sure that they have all forms that must be completed and take care of details like the following before you do anything else:

  • Legally-required forms: You cannot pay employees (or withhold payroll taxes) without a W-4 form, along with any forms required for state or local tax withholding. Also, don’t forget to make sure that each new hire verifies employment eligibility by completing an I-9 form.
  • Additional payroll information: If you offer direct deposit, you want to get bank account information as soon as possible to help eliminate potential processing delays. And, don’t forget to clearly explain benefit offerings so they can complete the forms that address related payroll deductions and ensure prompt coverage.
  • Emergency information: The more you know about employees, the better you can help them in the event of an emergency. At the very least, ask for the information needed to get in touch with an emergency contact. If they want to provide allergy or other information, all the better — as long as you stay well within governmental privacy guidelines.

Don’t forget that your business may have its own requirements, as well. This is the time to get non-disclosure agreements signed, provide needed safety equipment for more dangerous jobs and address any other unique requirements for your business or industry.

2. Give them a home base

It may not be their final spot, but new employees need a place to stow their belongings, preferably before lunchtime. Even if you can’t give them everything they need right away, make sure that they have the basic furniture, supplies and equipment needed to do their job.

And, for heaven’s sake, make sure that all furniture and equipment is in good working order, even if it’s not the absolute best within the building. I can attest from personal experience that a new hire starts to develop an attitude problem on the first day when led to a one-armed chair in front of a broken computer.

3. Make one important introduction

It’s best to introduce new hires to one person rather than introducing them to the entire staff. Pick someone who can act a little like a mentor. New hires appreciate knowing that someone is ready and willing to provide a hand up.

In addition to being a first friend, this person makes sure that they have what they need, takes them on a tour, answers questions and starts introductions to their most immediate co-workers. It doesn’t hurt if he or she makes sure that the newbie does not sit alone in the lunch room, either.

4. Give them something to do

Some jobs require a substantial amount of training, but few employees feel like part of the team unless they actually produce some real work. Whenever possible, try to avoid isolating new employees by keeping them in 9-to-5 training for weeks on end.

Even before the first training class begins, you can (and should) assign some tasks that make them feel productive. Remember that virtually any task contributes to the company’s bottom line, teaches lessons in how the business operates — and creates employee interactions that breed familiarity and comfort. This is training, too.

5. Take them to lunch

To help build a solid social connection, grab some team members and take the new hire to lunch. If you feel that your presence will thwart free conversation, you might want to stay behind, as long as you still pay for the party.

New Contractors Need Extra Attention, Too

Even when you aren’t yet ready to bring in more full-time employees, you may take on one or more contractors to fill in when you need extra or specialized temporary help. Luckily, most contractors have the experience to hit the ground running without requiring too much initial coddling.

That said, if this is the first time that they work for you, they need a bit of a white glove introduction to help them do their jobs effectively. You may not want to do everything in the above list, but use some of the tips to ensure that they know what to do, can find things and know the people who can answer questions in a pinch.

Celebrate the Chaos, but Show That You Care

The inevitable chaos of a growing business makes it an exciting place to work. Thanks to a well-designed interview process, the employees who choose to work for you look forward to a participatory atmosphere where they can make a difference, even if bedlam ensues from time to time.

Still, into every chaotic atmosphere a little sanity must fall, and that sanity is most important when you onboard new employees. They need to feel welcomed and valued even if you can’t immediately find that pesky box of paper clips.

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