How to Use Pre-Boarding to Boost Employee Engagement and Retention

A guest post by Andrew Crebar, co-founder of Sapling!

Millennials became the biggest working demographic in 2015, and by 2020, 40% of the workforce is expected to be freelancers. With these statistics, it’s not surprising that early engagement and retention of employees have become one of the top strategic priorities for people teams.

These changes are letting people teams take advantage of early employee engagement and ramp-up to productivity and success.

Most great hires will have spent hours upon hours searching, applying for jobs, and interviewing throughout the hiring process. This fire and drive has put them right at your company’s doorstep (…or is it the reward of that coveted job offer?). Regardless, this is where the the employee life-cycle starts. But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, don’t forget that pre-boarding is the often opaque road between job acceptance and day one in the office.

What is Pre-Boarding?

We all want our new hires to be productive and maximize their potential. But that’s easier said than done, right? One of the first steps you should take is to validate their decision and support their excitement for the new role. Be excited with them!

They’ve impressed you enough to get on the books, so it’s time to give back: impress and engage them every step of the way.

The key is keeping them in the loop with the right contact and materials at the right time. Don’t forget to get the onboarding basics out of the way, offer preemptive training, and introduce them to their new work environment.

Whichever steps you take, early contact, education and support will all significantly improve new hire engagement.

How Does Pre-boarding Fosters New Hire Engagement?

Workplace tenure has become extremely unpredictable in recent years — The US Department of Labour suggests that 25% of Americans have been in their current role for less than 1 year.

While employee onboarding has been done on-and-off for years, it’s time to acknowledge that finding, attracting and retaining the best employees means going that extra mile.

Okay, so what do you do? First, establish an emotional connection with a new hire. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy — just taking the time to send a personal email as a welcome, or inviting them to a social event before they start working will do. Keep it simple and straightforward so that it’s not overwhelming.

Another might be to invite them to learn about your company history, team, culture and values. You can use specialist software to track all of these activities and ensure that you’re providing a thorough pre-boarding experience.

Think about it this way — once the contract is signed, whether it’s six months or six days before their start date, they’re part of the team (no questions asked).

Plus, remember that your new employee has made a considerable effort to get in your good graces (at least they should). Take advantage of their motivation: engage them, answer and ask questions.

Upon accepting a job offer, there’s just nothing worse than being given the cold shoulder — no one likes being greeted with a grim silence that stretches on for weeks or even months before you start. Remember when you first started? Yeah, that’s right. We know you hated it too.

The most successful companies are all taking the initiative and taking steps to ensure that their staff are happy, confident and hoping for a long-term career within their walls.

Why Pre-Boarding is Commonly Misunderstood?

Sometimes companies will sing praises about how great their pre-boarding and benefits are, but then turn around and abandon their key principles.

Many people consider pre-boarding to be the internal work carried out in preparation of a ne2w arrival.

While this isn’t incorrect, the other side, the external interactions with the employee is even more important.

Why? Because it validates the new hire decision and shows them you care.

By neglecting a thorough pre-boarding strategy, you’re supplying motive for an early contract termination.  

Michael Watkins said in his book The First 90 Days that the break-even point of an employee is 6.2 months. Research by the Aberdeen Group states that 86% of new hires will make their decision to leave or stay within the first 6 months.

If it takes six months for an employee to start making a net positive contribution to the company and there’s a good chance they’ll leave in that six months, what are you doing to make sure they stay? It’s in every company’s interest to launch a proactive pre-boarding campaign for new employees.

Why Invest in Pre-Boarding?

Every time you hire, you’re making an investment.  Every time a new hire makes a contribution to the company, that’s a positive return on your investment.

Consider this: a new employee walks through the doors on day one. They’re nervous because they don’t know anyone, they’re ferried between people the entire morning while their desk/laptop/supervisor are all tracked down. He probably goes home optimistic, but slightly worried about his new job.

Instead, take the initiative and get active with pre-boarding. Answer their questions, prep their workspace in advance and keep them motivated so that at 9:15AM on Day 1, they start contributing.

Great staffing process and systems is the backbone of any successful company, and pre-boarding lets you optimize new hire potential from the moment they sign that job contract.

The Big, Easy Wins in Pre-boarding Success

There are a lot of easy ways to increase early employee engagement and retention.These big, easy-wins should form the scaffold of your employee onboarding program:

  • Start early and get paperwork completed before Day 1 (we know paperwork sucks, but get it over with early!)
  • Provide employees with an understanding of company values, the product and future roadmap
  • Introduce them to the team with a group-wide welcome email (pro tip: add a picture and some fun facts about them as conversation starters!)
  • Teach them about the product, industry and competitors

If you’re committed to a great employee experience and new-hire strategy, you can leverage technology to create a tailored, scalable process that will support new hires.

By creating the framework for getting your people confident, happy and productive –  you can help build and support long-term employee success.


Andy Crebar is a Co-Founder of Sapling, which helps companies use Employee Onboarding to amplify their total Employee Experience (‘EX’). He is passionate about people, self awareness and self improvement.