First Day Employee Engagement Killers

First Day Employee Engagement Killers

Unlike my father who worked for the same employer for over 40 years, I have been employed by 5 different organizations during the last 15 years alone. My winding career path may be similar to yours, which means you and I have experienced the dreaded “first day” too many times. An employee’s first day is naturally stressful. There are the human realities of trying to fit in, trying to make a good impression, and the constant effort to avoid saying something imprudent. On top of these worries, it’s like drinking from a fire hose as you learn new names, organizational charts, systems, and how to manage a phone that was built in the 1980s – all while keeping in mind where the bathroom is located. So, when I meet a new employee to handle his or her HR “paperwork,” it’s readily apparent from the eye twitches that it has been a rough day.

I generally live on the compliance side of things, which is to say I worry about intake forms, legal documents, and making sure the onboarding process meets the company’s objectives. In the past, we haven’t been too concerned about how the employee views this process. We are beginning to discover, however, that like viruses that infect the human body, your HR processes may be infecting your employees with “engagement killers.”

After an examination of your HR processes you might find a few lurking engagement killers, but I would like to focus on the very first one an employee encounters: paperwork during the onboarding process. With all that a new employee is trying manage on their first day, we compound matters with a regulatory bonanza of I-9s, W-4s, and plan descriptions (many of which I don’t even understand). This paperwork, rather than helping inform the new employee, often makes them feel like a cog in a machine waiting to be processed. Embedded within in this paperwork, are other latent engagement killers.

For example, how must it feel to a new employee when just after they’ve been to lunch with their future co-workers, they are told that the company has a 90-day probation policy? Alternatively, we are careful to make it clear that we can terminate the new employee at any time, and then we “lovingly” ask them to sign a lengthy legal document where they swear undying loyalty to their new employer (e.g., a standard non-competition agreement).

I am not suggesting we ditch our essential paperwork, but at DecisionWise we try to focus on the broader employee experience. Plus, we know that an employee’s first impression is important, if not critical, in nurturing their relationship with the company. So my pitch is that we need to decouple the compliance aspect of the onboarding process from the employee’s first day. That way, new employees will have the freedom to focus on the human stuff – the stuff that really fosters engagement.

Here are some suggestions on how to accomplish this goal. First, to make this process work, you will need to utilize formal offer letters. By utilizing formal offer letters, you can ask your new employees to return a signed acceptance to you. Once you have their signed acceptance, you can begin sending them your standard paperwork packet in advance of their first day. The U.S. Customs and Immigration Service has opined that employers may provide an employee their I-9 once the job offer has been accepted, even though the employee has not officially started. The employer then has three days from the employee’s first day on the job to complete the employer’s portion of the I-9. [1]  This means there is no legal reason you have to complete the I-9 on the new hire’s first day. In addition, there is no specific date that has been mandated for completion of IRS Form W-4.[2] Finally, federal law requires that a New Hire Report for the New Hire Registries be completed within 20 days of the new hire.[3] All other internal paperwork may be dealt with shortly after the first day of employment, as those documents are technically private contracts.[4] Accordingly, as far as I can tell, there is no paperwork that must be completed and filed on the actual hire date.[5]

So, what’s the point? The point is that employers should consider giving new hires most of their paperwork before they start. This gives the new employee time to read the paperwork and to come prepared with questions that are important to them instead of having them try and think of questions in the moment. Time to think will increase engagement. Of course, your paperwork process should not languish for weeks. You will need to complete the process by the second or third day of the new employee coming onboard. With some planning, however, your new hire will experience his or her first day free from a visit to the HR office.

One last suggestion – you don’t have to spend a lot of money to change the way you do things. First, you can always mail your paperwork to new hires. But, since this is 2015, you might consider using Google® Forms or other software alternatives such as Adobe’s EchoSign® or DocuSign®. In addition to not costing all that much, these services provide paperless delivery along with an audit and tracking mechanism that ensures your documents are signed and filed for safekeeping. So, at the end of the day, not only will you have done something to grow employee engagement, but also your compliance processes will become a little tighter, which is always a good thing.
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[1] USCIS Handbook for Employers, Guidance for Completing Form I-9; M-274 (Rev.04/30/13); Since E-Verify is based off of Form I-9, then compliance with Form I-9 should constitute compliance with E-Verify, including state mandates to use E-Verify.
[2] IRS Topic 753- Form W-4 – Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate.
[3]; state laws may shorten the time frame so employers should verify their specific state requirements. In Utah, the time frame is still 20 days.
[4] A word of caution is warranted here. While you might be able to wait a few days, you would not want to give unfettered access to a new employee without having a confidentiality agreement in place. So, you will need to balance things. Thus, you might consider identifying any mandatory documents that should be completed and the corresponding due date.