“The pandemic has blown the doors off the traditional on-boarding model”

“The pandemic has blown the doors off the traditional on-boarding model”

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Early Careers Workforce, Engagement, Onboarding

Re-thinking employee onboarding – interview with Ross Stevenson from Steal These Thoughts

With a growing number of people considering changing jobs when the ‘dust has settled’ – whenever that may be – we’re talking with awesome people operating in the professional development and talent spaces to learn how to support, engage and retain younger workers who are re-thinking their relationship with their boss.

This week we caught up with Ross from Steal These Thoughts. An L&D professional, and avid writer and podcaster on all things learning, personal development and the monkey mind, Ross has a refreshing and honest take on what teams need to pay attention to to get through the disruption caused to the workplace. 


We hear from our community who share with us their reservations, challenges and anxieties when it comes to thriving in their career.

Two thirds of graduate placements have been cancelled; big projects have been postponed. The world of work has changed. Big time. If staff are working from home, there’s the likelihood that they’ll spend up to 16 hours in the same room.

They may have housemates, rising concerns about job security – a range of new concerns or firsts to navigate. This means, your people, now, more than ever, need you to step up and put the processes in place to support them, encourage them and develop them. 

The concept of virtual onboarding is becoming commonplace. But it’s not just a case of delivering everything via Zoom and putting a welcome basket in the post. 

The onboarding process, as Ross puts it, is now more than likely to happen in the new hires’ kitchen.

The rules have changed, we’re seeing a hybrid of office and remote working arise.

So, where do you start when re-thinking employee onboarding?


Careercake: Hi Ross, thanks so much for joining us. So, we’ve spoken to our community, many of which are worried about how to really shine during the onboarding process. It seems some associate being in the office with it going smoothly. 

To what extent do People teams need to reconsider their onboarding and engagement strategies to keep their people?

Ross: Naturally, recent events bring about a great deal of unease and anxiety. None more so than for businesses who need to hire new people and for those wanting to change careers.

The pandemic has shone a light on the employee experience in many workplaces. Now more than ever, people want and need to feel supported by their employer. The traditional talent cycle of attracting, developing and retaining talent is going through a complete transformation.

In particular, we are seeing this play out in the way businesses are on-boarding or as I prefer to call it, welcoming their new starters. You see, the pandemic has blown the doors off the traditional on-boarding model you’re probably familiar with.

Now everything takes place in the digital world. You might fear that this creates a disconnection between you and your people. But, there are many ways to be more human in the digital world too.

Hopefully, you’ll already be aware how important the on-boarding experience is in your workplace. Research from Gartner tells us that ⅓ of new hires leave during their first 3 months due to a rubbish on-boarding experience. So, get this wrong and you waste time, money and most likely enrage your talent acquisition team too.

We face an array of new challenges given the world we now navigate. No longer do new hires turn up to an office on day one. They are more likely to be working from their kitchen table in the comfort of their home.

It’s easy for new talent to feel disconnected when they aren’t with other people in the place they are meant to be working. In this hybrid world of working across an office and home, we have to evolve the way we help new talent find their place.

Careercake: Are you suggesting that onboarding needs to be overhauled in light of it being delivered remotely rather than onsite, in person? If so, where would you start?

Ross: Yes, absolutely. Every new onboarding strategy needs you to think differently as the old ways are not coming back. 

Erase your mind of how you used to do onboarding, which for many has been the old school come sit in a room for a day while we throw hundreds of pieces of data at you for 8 hours, only for you to forget it all tomorrow. 

That way never worked, even before the pandemic.

You need to allow yourself to think differently about this process. Put yourself in the viewpoint of a new hire. What would you be thinking about? What questions would you have? What worries you? What type of support and guidance do you want to see from an employer?

The best way you can help a new hire transition to their role is to look at things from their viewpoint. Focus on building a value add experience which enables an authentic connection to the workplace, which is now their new home too.


Careercake: As a business, we’ve seen more and more businesses accept digital learning over the last months, especially when it comes to re-thinking employee onboarding and engaging with their new younger recruits. What changes to the tools and delivery should you consider? 

Ross: You need to strike the balance between digital and human. 

“People will forget what you said, they’ll forget what you did, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel” (Maya Angelou).  

Whether you recognise it or not, onboarding is a big part of every employee’s experience with a new workplace. You always remember how you were welcomed in those first few months and for too many, it has sucked.

But yours won’t! Even though you’re having to build an experience for people to connect with anywhere on planet earth. There are some simple steps you can follow to create something which really supports your people and provides a world class experience.

Re-thinking employee onboarding checklist. Things to consider: 

  • Don’t replicate you’re boring one day onboarding event over Zoom

This is a big no no! Please don’t bore your new hires with a 100 slide powerpoint deck. This helps no one with anything and especially in this new world of work.

  • Think 3 months, not one day

The average length for new hires to get settled is 3-6 months. A lot of research shows it can even take 8 months for someone to become operationally effective. You need to build an experience that supports people constantly in their first 3 months. Connecting them with content when they need it.

  • Virtual buddies

Yes, you can still make new friends in the digital realm too.

  • Regular check-ins with managers

Keep connected and make sure everything is on course.

  • Support managers too

It’s not just new hires that need your help. Set your managers up for success by giving them the resources they need to support their newbies.

  • Connect new hires with the right stuff at the right time, not just more stuff

Don’t bombard your new hires with lots of content. Be thoughtful, provide the personal touch and share what they need when they need it.



Careercake: It has become easier for people to become disengaged in the workplace quickly, without people even knowing. What would you say are signs to look out for if you’re losing a new hire’s interest and engagement?

Ross: Don’t let people get lost and disconnected. 

There are a few key behaviours which will tell you that a new hire is not quite feeling the love and needs a comforting arm around their shoulder:

  • Mood changes: How do they talk and act in 1:1s? Look for signs of distress or feeling lost.
  • Loss of enthusiasm for work: I’m not suggesting everyone needs to love their work all the time. Yet, if your new hire is showing little enthusiasm for their work, you’ve probably got a deeper problem brewing.

Wellbeing and particularly employee mental wellbeing are going to need an incredible amount of support in the modern era. A disruptive year has spread a great deal of anxiety and other issues amongst our population.

Get ahead of the curve, use the support systems you have now and build more to look after your new hires. Starting a new job is daunting enough, but doing it during a pandemic brings another level of emotions. If you’re struggling with what to do on the wellbeing side, I’d recommend you check out Mental Health at Work which provides lots of resources to employers.

Further resources to help you if you’re considering re-thinking your employee onboarding process:

5 ways to power your employee onboarding programme (free download)

3 things your early careers talent want from learning at work

Self care in the workplace with Cathy Bailey

How the world of people development will evolve post pandemic – Steal these thoughts

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