From Onboarding to Long-boarding: Keep top talent motivated for the long term

From Onboarding to Long-boarding: Keep top talent motivated for the long term

HR leaders know you can’t afford to endlessly cycle through top talent: replacing an employee can cost as much as twice that employee’s salary. Retention is the name of the talent management game.

Many HR leaders focus their retention strategies on the onboarding process, hoping that a meaningful welcome period will sustain employees’ motivation well beyond their transition. The reality is employees want to feel consistently supported and appreciated for the long haul.

That’s where “long-boarding” comes in. HR leaders need to continue to affirm employees long after the onboarding period to keep them excited about their work.

During the COVID-19 pandemic especially, frequently engaging remote teammates will boost morale while in-person connection is not possible.

Here are three ways to long-board your employees, either virtually or in the office.

1: Communicate Often

If an employee doesn’t dig into their real work until the first few weeks or even months have passed, that’s by design. Onboarding is a cultural orientation more than anything – it takes time to get to know the values, mission and people that make up an organization.

Just don’t wait until their annual review to sit down and have the first in-depth conversation since they joined the company. Long-boarding is all about regular, constructive communication.

HR leaders should establish a regular timeline for new hires to check in with their manager or supervisor. And depending on the structure of your organization, it might also make sense for your employees to meet with someone on the HR team, too. If employees are working from home, these check-ins can happen at the same cadence through video conferencing.

Top performers want to know that their opinion matters. During these check-ins, ask for your employees’ honest feedback about how things are going. If they’re unhappy about something, odds are the problem can be addressed. Make sure they know their concerns have an outlet, and that they can have an active role in shaping their experience and workflow.

2: Development Opportunities

Employee development is a crucial component of long-boarding. According to a LinkedIn Workforce Learning Report, a whopping 93 percent of employees would stay at a company longer if it invested in their careers. In other words, a top performer doesn’t want to be static in the workplace – they want to grow, and they want to envision a future with your organization.

But small and mid-size organizations don’t always have the budget and resources to offer a comprehensive development program. Still, investing in current employees’ development likely costs less than recruiting new ones. And the return on that investment is invaluable: when an employee finds a sense of purpose, they’ll want to drive more change in your company.

Every employee has different goals, so it’s a good idea to offer a variety of career development opportunities. Here are three educational and training resources that are high-impact, relatively low-cost and remote-friendly:

  • Develop soft skills. Employees with strong soft skills, such as communication and negotiation skills, are critical to the success of your organization’s culture. Peer coaching, manager feedback and digital courses are all helpful ways to help employees improve their soft skills.
  • Offer technical workshops. Top talent is always looking to broaden their skill set. Have workshops for hard skills like coding, graphic design, or social media, for example – skills that might not be specific to employees’ job duties but give them an opportunity to expand their capabilities.
  • Offer leadership training. Top talent at the manager level should constantly strive to be better leaders. Sponsor leadership development programs or provide in-house leadership mentoring.

3: Frequent Recognition

When employees know the work they’re doing is valued, they’re more inclined to stay and grow within your company.

study from Robert Half found that 66% of employees would likely leave their job if they didn’t feel appreciated. And in a Society of Human Resources Management survey, HR leaders agreed that recognition creates a positive workplace culture and employee experience – and 68% said their organization’s recognition program positively affects retention.

During the onboarding process, you prepare employees to do good work. But what about once they’ve accomplished an important goal in their current role? Or when they’re struggling through a difficult stretch? Are you letting them know that you appreciate their good work?

Once you consider employees fully onboarded, come up with a timeline for when to recognize your employees’ contributions. Some of these points will be standard for everyone – such as hitting the six-month mark – but other points will need to be tailored to the employee’s individual progress, which means you’ll need to be in touch with an employee’s managers and teammates.

Here are a few meaningful occasions to show recognition.

  • A universal hardship. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenging time for everyone. Tell your employees how grateful you are to have them and show solidarity for what they’re going through.
  • Hitting a milestone. When an employee lands a new client or wraps up a big project, for instance, celebrate them.
  • Demonstrating grit. When an employee has to deal with a major curve ball, or has been putting in extra hours, make sure their hard work doesn’t go unnoticed.
  • An employee anniversary. Whether you start celebrating at six months or hold off until the one-year mark, anniversary celebrations should be ongoing.

Now that you’ve decided when to tell your employees that you appreciate them, it’s time to figure out how.

One overall best practice is to make sure the recognition feels personalized. You want to make each employee’s individual contributions feel valued, and you can’t do that through an email template that says “great job” with their name inserted at the top.

Below are several ideas for sending a gesture of recognition.

  • A handwritten letter. The most inexpensive gesture can also be the most personal. Pen a sincere note of gratitude for all your employee’s hard work.
  • A meaningful gift. Ditch the generic company t-shirt or snack tin for something that shows your company’s values. Give a gift that also does good, like granola made by women who are survivors of abuse, wine stoppers hand-blown by teens impacted by gun violence, or artisan towels from a company that gives its proceeds to marine conservation organizations, for example.
  • An experience. Consider giving your employee a voucher for an activity they enjoy, or a certificate to a restaurant.
  • Time off. Nothing quite says “job well done” better than “go home and relax.”

More long-boarding less onboarding

It’s important to understand that a good long-boarding strategy does not replace the onboarding process. Rather, it’s a complement: onboarding primes new hires for success, and long-boarding increases the odds that employees succeed.

When you commit to your employees’ growth in the long term, they’ll want to return that love and strive to accomplish even more within your organization – which means they’ll stick around. As you improve retention, you can save the energy and resources you’d need to onboard the next new hire and invest it in the incredible talent you already have.

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