- A new-hire survey helps you assess employees' experience during their initial few months on the job and identify necessary changes to the onboarding process.
- Among other benefits, a new-hire survey increases employee retention rates as well as the odds that employees have the skills and support needed to succeed at your company.
- A new-hire survey should be conducted more than once and should cover a variety of areas, including the quality and duration of onboarding and the obstacles employees face.
- This article is for business owners who are interested in creating and using a new-hire survey to improve their onboarding process.
As a responsible business owner, you probably think your company does a good job of onboarding employees. However, your onboarding practices and procedures may not be as welcoming and effective as you think.
According to Gallup research, a mere 12% of employees believe their organization does a good job during onboarding. A study by Glassdoor shows the importance of having a quality onboarding process: The research showed that organizations with strong onboarding processes improve new-hire retention by 82% and productivity by over 70%.
With this in mind, conducting a new-hire survey is among the most positive steps you can take for the long-term health of your business.
What is a new-hire survey, and why should businesses conduct one?
A new-hire survey, also called an employee onboarding survey, is a questionnaire that businesses use to obtain insight into employees' experience during their initial few months on the job. Conducting a new-hire survey allows you to do the following:
- Learn which aspects of your onboarding procedures are – and aren't – working. The insights you glean make it easier to refine the onboarding process and ensure it is as efficient as possible. An efficient system will impress future new hires and increase your retention rates.
- Identify issues interfering with employee productivity. These issues include disconnects between employees' expectations and their actual experience, as well as the caliber of training and relationships with managers and colleagues. Unmet expectations can foster dissatisfaction and attrition.
- Bolster team morale. A bad onboarding process can make employees feel unsettled, thus dampening morale and impeding your company's growth. A new-hire survey reverses the tide by sparking improvements in onboarding procedures, said David Cusick, chief strategy officer of House Method.
- Pinpoint and accommodate individual employees' needs. Assess individual employees' overall experience during their first few weeks and months on the job, and address any negatives.
"A survey allows you to identify each new hire's needs and address them," said Reuben Yonatan, founder and CEO of GetVoIP. "The personalized attention will help you hold on to top talent."
Key takeaway: A new-hire survey helps to increase retention rates and employee productivity by allowing you to identify aspects of the onboarding experience that require change.
How do I create and distribute a new-hire survey?
Here are the two main methods for creating and distributing new-hire surveys:
- Paper. This is the less-expensive route. However, you'll need someone to manually compile the feedback shared by employees and put it into a form you can easily review and use to make decisions based on the findings.
- Software. Companies such as DecisionWise, Qualtrics and TINYpulse offer software that can help you design and customize new-hire surveys. The software also emails the surveys to employees and provides comprehensive reports about the findings. The technology requires a financial investment, but it has an upside: It may be easier and faster for employees to complete a new-hire survey online than on paper. That means they'll be more likely to provide detailed and more-useful responses. Respondents may also be less apt to skip questions to save time.
Key takeaway: You can develop and distribute new-hire surveys on paper, which saves money rather than time, or via software, which saves time rather than money.
How often should I conduct a new-hire survey, and what questions should it include?
The business owners and human resources (HR) experts we spoke with said the ideal times to conduct a new-hire survey are at the end the new hire's first week and first month on the job, as well as at the conclusion of the formal onboarding period.
You can format questions to require yes-or-no answers or ranked responses (for example, rating an element of the onboarding experience on a scale of 1 to 10). You can also use open-ended questions that call for detailed feedback. Many businesses combine these types of questions.
Regardless of which format you choose, base the questions on your goal for the survey. "Ask yourself what you're trying to do with the information," said Cate Galeza, HR manager of productivity software firm Formstack. "Do you want ideas from employees on improving the onboarding process, or are you trying to measure an employee's experience at a certain time period?"
Here are some sample new-hire survey questions. For simplicity's sake, we put them in an open-ended format. You can tweak some of them to accommodate a simple negative or affirmative response or rating scale. Remember that specific questions will vary based on your business's needs.
Questions to ask after the first week:
- How effective do you feel your training has been so far? What would you change? Are you having to ask a lot of questions about topics not covered in your training? If, so what are those topics?
- What, if anything, seems unclear about your role?
- Do you feel you have the proper tools to do your job? If not, what else do you need?
- What aspects of your role do you like and dislike so far?
- What, if anything, seems confusing to you? Do you feel you're starting to master your responsibilities?
- What were your initial expectations of the onboarding experience? How do they match the experience you're having?
- What's the biggest obstacle you've encountered to date?
- What's still unclear to you about your duties and our company's policies?
- Did you feel welcomed to the company? Why or why not?
- How well do you feel you fit into the company culture?
Questions to ask after the first month:
- Has the training you've received been relevant to your specific responsibilities? How so, or not so?
- How often have you felt you've been without direction and unsure of what to do or where to find the answers?
- What have you learned since your first survey that you wish you had learned earlier?
- Do you feel a sense of work-life balance? If not, what might need to change?
- What did you wish you'd been told before you started your job?
- What's delighted you that you didn't expect?
- Do you understand the expectations for this job in detail? If not, what is lacking?
- Did we meet your expectations during this first month? If so, how? If not, what was missing?
- How would you rate your satisfaction in working with your co-workers?
- How would you rate your level of productivity at every shift?
Questions to ask after the onboarding has wrapped up:
- Have you forged a good working relationship with your manager? If so, how? If not, why do you think that is?
- Have you forged a good working relationship with your co-workers? If so, how? If not, why do you think that is?
- Was the duration of the onboarding process too long, too short or just right?
- Did your onboarding make you feel more or less confident that you can do your job? Why or why not?
- Did your onboarding meet your expectations? If it fell short, how?
- What information/training/practices should we add to our onboarding program, and what should we eliminate?
- In general, was your onboarding successful? Why or why not?
- If there were a job opening here, would you recommend that a friend or family member apply for the position?
Additional questions to ask remote employees at the end of the onboarding period:
- What would help you feel more connected to everyone else on the team?
- What types of resources do you need to do your work better?
- What additional information do you need access to?
- What communications issues have you had that need fixing?
Key takeaway: Conduct a new-hire survey after an employee has been on board for one week, again after the first month and then again after the onboarding process is complete. Questions will vary according to your company's individual needs, but in general, include questions about the quality and length of the process, challenges employees face, relationships with colleagues and managers, and what may be missing from your onboarding program.
How do I make sure I get the best survey responses?
Asking the right questions at the right intervals will help your business benefit from conducting a new-hire survey, but it won't guarantee high-quality, actionable responses. Business owners and HR experts offered several strategies for ensuring you get the most out of your new-hire survey:
Keep it brief.
Being asked to complete a new-hire survey with more than 10 questions can be overwhelming for many employees, especially if they've just completed their first week on the job. The more overwhelmed new hires feel by the survey, the less thoughtful and actionable their responses will be.
Mix it up.
Some experts we spoke with said a new-hire survey should contain only questions that require a yes-or-no answer or a ranked response. Others said they prefer open-ended questions. But most of our sources said they favor a hybrid approach. Business coach Dave Labowitz said he likes to use numeric rating scale (NRS) and open-ended, text-based questions.
"NRS questions allow you to track averages over time, which is important to measure whether you're getting better or worse at your onboarding process," Labowitz said. "An NRS question can also help you identify an outlier who had an extremely positive or negative experience. This person may be worth following up with individually."
Open-ended questions are equally critical because "they'll tell you what you need to work on, not just that you have work to do," and may elicit concrete ideas for improvements to onboarding procedures, Labowitz said.
"Sometimes you'll see patterns across many team members, and other times a single team member will throw a brilliant idea your way," he said. "Either way, these answers are absolute gold."
Watch your wording.
Avoid wording that makes it easy for new hires to skip open-ended questions. "For example, don't ask them if they feel anything was left out of the onboarding process," said Phil Strazzulla, CEO and founder of Select Software Reviews. "Instead, ask what was left out of the onboarding process."
Most new hires fear doing or saying something wrong when they first join a company. They haven't developed long-term trust in their employer and may be afraid you'll use negative feedback against them. That's why it's vital to reassure employees that they won't suffer any consequences from answering survey questions honestly, said Jeff Skipper, of Jeff Skipper Consulting.
"Depersonalizing" some questions also makes it easier for employees to be candid in their responses to a new-hire survey, Skipper said. For example, instead of asking respondents to list what they didn't like about the first week on the job, phrase the question this way: "If you were going to prepare someone else for their first week on the job here, what would you caution them about?"
Key takeaway: Brevity, carefully worded questions, a mix of questions that require short and long answers, and reassurance that offering honest responses won't cause respondents any trouble are essential elements of any new-hire survey.
How can I maximize my investment in a new-hire survey?
It takes time to develop and use the results of a new-hire survey. It also requires money, for the labor to administer the survey and analyze the results and, if you choose to use it, the software used to create the survey. Maximizing these investments over the long term makes good business sense and can be achieved by following these best practices:
Publicize and act on employee feedback.
Periodically publish the feedback and findings – anonymized, of course – on an internal platform. "That way, new employees know that the information is read, and that their thoughts are meaningful and valid," said Cory Colton, principal executive coach at Inflection Point Coaching.
Some businesses schedule regular reviews of new-hire surveys to identify appropriate changes that should be made to the onboarding process – for instance, extending training times or improving training programs. Ian Kelly, vice president of operations at NuLeaf Naturals, said businesses should take this step every three months.
Revisit and revise the survey periodically.
The most valuable new-hire survey isn't put together just once and presented to new hires for years and years without further consideration. Instead, it's reviewed and altered periodically to reflect the changing needs of the business and its employees, Labowitz said.
Combine feedback from the survey with other employee feedback.
This can help you monitor and assess the effect of your business's onboarding program at other stages of employees' tenure with the company. For example, comparing information shared in new-hire surveys with information provided during an annual engagement survey helps to determine whether new hires' experience during the onboarding process has an impact on their level of engagement after a year of employment.
Similarly, viewing the contents of employees' annual performance reviews alongside feedback shared in new-hire surveys lets you know if employees' initial impression of your organization and their onboarding experiences affect their job performance. You can then initiate any necessary changes – for instance, improve training during the employee onboarding process.
Key takeaway: New-hire surveys are the most valuable when the feedback is shared with employees and later analyzed along with feedback from other surveys, such as annual engagement surveys.