3 Things, 30 Days: Essential Tips for New Employee Onboarding

August 3, 2023 BY Kelly C. Bawden, MS, CCC-SLP

Do you remember that quote that describes a baby’s first days in the outside world as “one great blooming, buzzing confusion”? As a veteran SLP who has had more first days than I care to count, I can attest that the same adage holds for staff who are new to a school district. Most districts handle the essentials pretty well, but there is far more to successfully onboarding a new employee than making sure they have a security badge and know where the staff fridge is. 

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, you’ve just spent around $4000 to recruit your new employee. Time and money that are well spent to get the right fit for your students, right? According to Robert Half & Associates, though, there’s a 25% chance that they’ll quit in the first 90 days, and you’ll be back to the drawing board. If the thought of starting your recruitment efforts over again makes your heart sink, don’t despair. Here are three advanced onboarding tasks you can do in the next 30 days to help protect your recruiting investment and kick your employee retention efforts off with a bang.

Set up the buddy system

Let’s face it. There’s only one of you and so very many of them. That, when paired with the fact that there is no possible way for you to know the minute ins and outs of every specialist’s job mean that you and your new employee have much to gain from a robust peer mentorship program. The words “peer mentorship program” may strike fear into the hearts of already overworked veteran employees, which is why I prefer the term “buddy system.” This relationship is less about one person teaching another and more about connecting your new hire with a job-alike peer to whom they can turn when they’re in need. The buddy can share pro tips and tricks for success in your specific environment, and your new hire can slowly learn about (and hopefully grow to love) district culture from the perspective of a trusted employee. 

Schedule at least two check-ins

No! Not more meetings! Email is actually preferable to a face-to-face meeting or even a phone call in this instance. Not that I want to discourage you from popping in to say hi (which you should definitely do if your schedule and location logistics allow), but checking in via email gives you a chance to ask more in-depth questions and allows your new hire to respond thoughtfully. The big idea here is for you to be curious about how their experience is unfolding. Here are some questions to get you started:

  • Are you having any trouble with systems (email, IEPs, Medicaid billing, etc.)?
  • How are things going with students?
  • Is there anything I can do to make your job easier?
  • Are there any resources that you need that you don’t have?
  • Surprises? Highlights?
  • Challenges? Stressors?

Ask for feedback from their “fresh-eyes” perspective. This information will help you understand how you can improve your onboarding practices and can shine a light on long-standing issues you never knew existed. Most importantly, frequent check-ins during your employee’s first month or two establish an open line of communication that you both can rely upon for the rest of the school year (and hopefully years to come).

Celebrate the end of the first month 

Ideally staff recognition is something that is already in your practice. If not, it’s never too late to start! (Here are 12 budget-friendly staff celebration ideas to get you started). Either way, the end of the first month of school is an excellent time to send a little something to your new hires to congratulate them on making it through and to reiterate how happy you are to have them on your team. Recognition can be as simple as a handwritten note or could be a gift card to the local coffee shop, some school district swag (t-shirts? stickers?), something crafty, a sweet treat, taking a coffee order and stopping by with their favorite drink . . . you get the idea. Do what feels right to you, and remember that the details of what you do are less important than the act of doing it. 

The first weeks on the job will make a difference in how your new employee feels about your district and will influence their decision when contract renewal time rolls around. Whether you think of these tips as the last steps in the recruitment process or the first steps in the retention process, take the time to do them, and you’ll reap the rewards for years to come.

This post was originally published 9/05/2019 and most recently updated 8/03/2023