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.
Gallup research found that a mere 12 percent of employees believe their organization does a good job during onboarding. But a quality onboarding process is essential because it can improve employee performance by as much as 15 percent, according to research from Gartner. Plus, committed workers like to stay at their jobs and are nine times less likely to pursue other opportunities.
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.
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:
“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.” [Read related article: Are You Using Buzzwords Your Employees Are Sick of Hearing?]
Here are the two main methods for creating and distributing new-hire surveys:
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.
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 of 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 at 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 to accommodate a simple negative or affirmative response or rating scale. Remember that specific questions will vary based on your business’s needs.
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.
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:
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.
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 crucial 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.”
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?”
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.
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 to create the survey. Maximizing these investments over the long term makes good business sense and can be achieved by following these best practices:
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.
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.
Aggregating various types of employee feedback 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’ experiences during the onboarding process affect 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 impressions of your organization and their onboarding experiences affect their job performance. You can then initiate any necessary changes, such as improving training during the employee onboarding process.
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.
New-hire surveys can give you important insight into ways to improve talent acquisition, onboarding and the new-hire experience. Use some of the questions above to gather this vital input from new team members.
Linda Pophal contributed to this article. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.