What to do when you have to onboard yourself

Your former colleague just got hired at a swanky new tech firm, and they were greeted on their first day with champagne and a balloon. Meanwhile, the new company you recently joined just sent you the same email for the third time in a row with a broken link to a page about your new benefits package. Should you quit, and seek greener pastures? Or should you grin, bear it, and just onboard yourself?

What is onboarding?

Onboarding, according to the employee-data-analysis company Peakon, is the first phase of the traditional employee experience —– and, to some, it’s the most important. A 2018 study by Jobvite found 30% of new hires leave  a job within the first 90 days, known as the “onboarding period.” The usual causes? Company culture and unmet expectations; both problems that could have been prevented with a betteronboarding system.

There are many facets to the onboarding process, including everything from getting a job offer to the hiring process, “salary negotiation, paperwork, policy and culture training, job training, and benefits education,” according to BambooHR. This also includes your first in-person experience with the workplace, which typically involves touring the office and meeting your new bosses and coworkers.

During the COVID pandemic, most new hires became more familiar with onboarding as a quick, impersonal email from HR with a bunch of links to a handful of resources they’d never use, but some companies were already slacking on the onboarding front before COVID ever hit. An estimated 30% of organizations make new hires fend mostly for themselves. Peakon says hoping they’ll get into the flow of things without providing any formal activities or introductions.

Across the board, employees want to be able to start working right away instead of wading through a day or a week or orientation, according to a 2018 Ha Microsoft survey.

“Little things matter most to new hires, like having a working computer and immediate access to the building, email, and the intranet on Day One,” Harvard Business Review concluded.

How the best companies do it

Onboarding differs as wildly from company to company as their cultures do, but there’s one thing they all have in common: They make their new hires feel welcome and appreciated.

Tech giant DigitalOcean provides more tangible perks on an employee’s first day, like  company-branded swag, a bottle of bubbly, and balloons at the desk so they’re easier for their new co-workers to find and wish them a great first day. Other companies, like Facebook, use a more jump-in-the-deep-end, by skipping onboarding presentations entirely,  giving new employees their first project within the first 45 minutes of their day.

Then there’s Twitter’s onboarding program, called “From Yes to Desk,” which involves over 75 steps that include getting a new hire their email account, company swag and a bottle of wine before they even sit down to their desk. And that desk is strategically placed next to the people who would be the most helpful in getting them adjusting to the new digs. Within the first month, new employees get to have breakfast with the CEO (along with hundreds of other new hires, of course). 

What if I have to do it myself?

Unfortunately, not all new jobs come with alcohol and a balloon. Six out of 10 companies abandon the digital onboarding process in the middle, leaving employees in the lurch and causing immediate friction. So what do you do if you scored your dream job, but the onboarding process is a nightmare?

1. Rely on close relationships

If HR or IT isn’t reliable, and the red tape is too overwhelming to navigate on your own, start by asking for help from the people in the nearby cubicles if you want help with accomplishing tasks.

Your new boss or coworkers have been through the rigamarole of onboarding before, so, at the very least, you’ll have someone to just be there to commiserate with. But at most, you could get key information about  how to find loopholes in the system, and get to work faster.

2. Don’t be shy

If the system isn’t your problem, but the lack of socialization is, don’t be afraid to take matters into your own hands and schedule meet-and-greets with those in your department. Come with detailed questions and, passion, and you may impress even the top executives with your drive to network. And if they refuse to meet, you’ll have something to talk to your team about.

3. Curiosity is key

While curiosity might have killed the cat, it’ll enliven your career, – so keep an open mind, and ask for advice as much as possible. Even if you know the advice comes from the viewpoint of whoever is giving it, it’s often more about getting a sense of the company culture than the answers to your many burning questions. If everyone’s response contains phrases like “suck it up,” “don’t hold your breath,” or “that’s the way it is,” you’ll at least have a better sense of what office life is like.

4. Stay Zen

Probably the most important thing to remember when you’re trying to onboard yourself is to be patient —, but not too patient. If you’re feeling frustrated waiting for access to necessary software or benefits paperwork, remember that scientists have proven that incompetent people don’t realize that they’re incompetent. –  so there’s no reason to get all worked up over a system that couldn’t care less about you.

That being said, don’t become a pushover, and sit quietly by while your new place of employment treats you like a second-class citizen; onboarding is in many ways indicative of company culture, and you should know your worth, lest your new company treats you like a doormat.