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Implementing an employee preboarding program can mean the difference between a new hire showing up to work on their first day or having second thoughts and taking a job elsewhere. In fact, this happens more often than employers might think. A study by career site Indeed found that 65% of new hires have a change of heart, and fail to show up on their first day (also known as ghosting), leaving hiring managers in the dark and scrambling to find another candidate to fill an open position.
One way for human resources teams to prevent these newcomers from becoming no-shows is by engaging them after the job offer letter is signed, sealed, and delivered. Though over half of employers onboard new employees, some may simply be unaware of the positive effects that a well-thought preboarding process can have on new hires.
So in this employer’s guide, we’ll dive into what employee preboarding is and why some employees ghost, and we’ll also provide some pre-first-day tactics you can add to your checklist.
The secret to keeping your top talent starts with employee preboarding
In its simplest terms, employee preboarding is used to periodically engage new hires between the time they accept an offer and their first day on the job. Because this timeframe can last a few days to as long as several weeks, sometimes an employee will hear from a previous employer, and in other cases, recruiters still have them on their radar.
“The chances of that new team member changing their mind, maybe losing interest, or even potentially receiving another offer is a real possibility. So keeping in touch prior to their start date can be a difference-maker.”
— Julie Betts, Former Vice President of Learning and Development at OnPay
To keep their newest team members focused on the first day of work (and attention away from recruiters), some employers use this time to stay in touch. The effort ranges from email communications to sending a welcome package with branded company swag.
Not only can it keep competing offers at bay, but it can also go a long way to keeping the first-day jitters to a minimum, says OnPay’s learning and development coordinator, Ella Wynett.
“Touching base with your new hires before their start date is such an impactful way to make them feel welcome and create a valuable first impression. Some new hires have anxiety about transitioning from their previous employer because it’s a bit of an unknown; efforts prior to their first day foster good feelings about joining your company.”
— OnPay's learning and development coordinator, Ella Wynett
The good news is that these efforts do not need to be over-the-top or time-consuming. But before we get into some techniques, let’s talk a bit about what may be happening in the mind of a new hire that triggers second thoughts.
Why do new hires quit before they start?
There’s never a one-size-fits-all explanation when a new hire goes in another direction. Here are some things that can influence a decision.
- Another offer comes along. In some cases, the candidate has been interviewing with several employers and accepts a more competitive offer after accepting yours.
- Less than stellar reviews. As their first day approaches, the new employee may come across company reviews on sites such as Glassdoor that cause second thoughts
- Former employers. In some cases, after a candidate gives notice (and accepts your offer), the former employer reenters the picture, persuading their former team member with incentives like a bump in pay. In fact, 1 in 4 individuals who switched jobs say their former employer came calling with a counteroffer, according to a 2023 ZipRecruiter survey.
How does employee preboarding differ from traditional onboarding?
Though both methodologies seek to make a new hire feel at home (and ready to hit the ground running on day one), preboarding and onboarding are very different.
- Preboarding employees refers to the activities or communication that begin after a new employee accepts an offer (before their official start date).
- On the flip side, onboarding is generally an interactive experience that takes place once an employee is officially on the payroll and shows up on their start date.
Though every organization likely has its own approach, onboarding typically includes:
- Providing the newest members of the team with formal training and orientation sessions
- Introducing them to fellow team members
- Completing official documentation (such as I-9 and W-4 forms)
- Reviewing and signing the employee handbook
For more information, see our onboarding checklist and guide, which covers all aspects of acclimating new employees.
Now that we know a bit more about why some new hires drop off before day one, let’s take a look at some of the specifics that you might include in preboarding efforts.
Employee preboarding in practice
What takes place during this span of time? Though it depends on the company, a preboarding period typically consists of any outreach or communications that make a new hire feel welcome prior to starting their first day with the company. This can be as simple as a quick email note from a direct manager or having a box of company swag arrive at your new staffer’s doorstep.
To find out more, we spoke with Mitch Chailland, a human resources professional with over a decade of experience, and president of Canal HR, a professional employer organization serving Louisiana and the Southeastern United States.
“In my experience, small gestures during the preboarding process really do add up and can make a big difference for new hires.”
— Mitch Chailland, President of Canal HR
Here are some he says are worth considering:
- Send a little package or drop something off before the individual’s first day with branded company merchandise. “This could include pens and notebooks, a shirt or hat, whatever you have,” he explains.
- Ask a coworker to write a letter (or email) to tell the new hire how excited you are for them to join the team. “This goes a long way to make the newest member of the team feel welcome as that first day approaches,” Chailland says.
- Additionally, if the new hire didn’t meet any team members during the interview process, someone from the team can always reach out to express their excitement about the prospect of working with the staff member.
Some organizations count on their learning and development (or human resource teams) to make a first impression. For example, sharing a series of “pre-first-one” email communications to help a new hire prepare or keep them up-to-date on company developments. Once more, we caught up with OnPay’s learning and development VP, Julie Betts, about what you may include. “These touchpoints can speak to company culture and shared values,” she explains. “Just be careful not to provide anything that’s considered confidential while they’re still in that pre-hire phase.”
For example, email messages might include any of the following:
- A simple welcome message covering what the employee can expect on their first day, including directions to the office, where to park, and, if possible, an agenda of what they’ll experience during their first week.
- An invitation to follow your company on platforms such as LinkedIn.
- Have you earned some recent news coverage? Send the new hire a link to the article (or if there’s no media coverage to share, send what’s happening around the office or organization).
Why should employers consider preboarding efforts after a new hire accepts an offer?
By adding some “pre-start-date” communications with the employee, you’ll make a lasting first (and positive) impression with these job candidates turned colleagues.
Communicate culture and set expectations
Provides newcomers with a taste of your workplace culture and what to expect once they’re part of the team (making them feel even more confident about choosing your company). This could be especially important as 72% of workers say they have regretted starting a new job after experiencing the culture once they joined.
For new team members, it’s an opportunity to become familiar with faces before walking in the door. This can make it easier to understand who the stakeholders are, helping to build relationships that facilitate collaboration when the time comes.
Hit the ground running
New teammates feel empowered (and excited) to contribute from day one. It can cement a new hire’s commitment to contributing to your organization, making them feel less like “newbies,” and ready to get the ball rolling.
Data supports employee preboarding
Some data strongly suggests preboarding makes a big difference in the minds of your new team members. A study by market research firm Aberdeen found that companies that use pre-boarding retain 81% of first-year hires.
For some closing thoughts on why preboarding efforts can make a difference (and could be worth a closer look), we spoke with Sally Ahmed, who has an MBA in human resources management and over 12 years of experience as an HR professional, Currently, a Human Resources Manager at The TemPositions Group of Companies, she agrees there are many reasons why preboarding can make a difference.
“Preboarding is the gateway to understanding company culture, policies, and procedures, helping your new hire learn about employee benefits, perks, and programs such as mentorship and wellness. It gives an opportunity for the new hire to speak with several supporting staff such as HR, IT, operations, and facilities to ensure a smooth first day.”
— Sally Ahmed, Human Resources Manager at the TemPositions Group of Companies
Preboarding can be a productive way to welcome new hires
Proactively engaging new hires not only reduces the risks of them moving on before day one, but can also ward off competitors (and make candidates think twice if another company swoops in with an offer after yours). It can be a low-cost, high-reward strategy that keeps the new team members you’re bringing on board confident in their decision and focused on their official start date.
Best of luck bringing top talent into the fold and discovering ways to use employee preboarding to your company’s advantage!