Onboarding best practices for frontline success
If you search online for “onboarding best practices,” you’ll find a lot of information that’s applicable to the corporate world but not a lot that’s applicable to frontline workers in grocery, retail, foodservice and similar industries. But proper employee onboarding is just as important for these essential workers—it may even be more important, as turnover is especially high among frontline workers. For example, in the hotel and restaurant industries, more than a million people quit their jobs in November 2021 alone.
So what does this all mean? For starters, if you work with frontline employees, the rules for onboarding are different, especially amid the Great Resignation. The big potential difference is the persona of the employee and the knowledge/skill they bring to the role. Many corporate workers are hired as specialists, meaning that their onboarding and training focuses on getting to know company and internal processes.
Frontline workers are often stepping into a job for the first time or with limited relevant experience. One person may have years of experience doing similar work while another is starting their first job. Frontline onboarding must be designed to accommodate this reality and get people up to speed on the basics of the job ASAP to close operational gaps.
In addition, frontline workers are usually hired because they are needed on the job. Therefore, they don’t have time for days or weeks of training. Onboarding must be designed to get them into the workflow ASAP while also covering the required knowledge, skill and compliance requirements.
With all of this in mind, make sure to heed the following onboarding best practices for frontline workers.
7 essential onboarding practices for frontline employees
The following tips are applicable to all types of frontline workers, whether they work on a shop/restaurant floor or in an office environment. It’s important to note that some frontline roles (like office-based roles) may take several days or even weeks to complete, but the following steps are pretty universal for effective employee onboarding.
First, make sure you know the requirements for hiring and onboarding. You’ll likely need to get multiple people involved in the process: someone to prepare new hire paperwork, someone to oversee training and orientation, someone to take care of the schedule, etc… Meet with all participating team members ahead of time, and ensure that they understand and tackle their respective roles.
All paperwork—including contracts, payroll forms and employment eligibility forms—should be ready for the employee to complete ahead of time. Use digital alternatives where possible to expedite the process, and then input your new employee into the appropriate systems right away so they can start working ASAP.
Provide the employee with answers to Day 1 questions
We all know how intimidating it can be to step into an unfamiliar job role on the very first day. That’s why it’s so important to provide a new hire email, paper document or text messages containing a basic overview of how to hit the ground running as well as answers to common questions.
You’ll want to clarify key information like:
- Start time and date (and when to expect the complete work schedule)
- Parking information
- Dress code
- Pay rate and schedule
- Any security codes
- Where to go upon arrival
- What to bring to the workplace
- Who to contact with any questions
- The overall plan and expectations for the first day/week
It can also be reassuring to list the names of people who will be available to show your new employee the ropes when they arrive.
Build a new-hire training plan
Make sure you know the knowledge and skill requirements for each role and have a consistent approach to training. Stay focused on what the employee needs to know in the first few weeks, not necessarily everything they will need to know for job mastery.
For example, start with the basics like compliance, safety and essential processes. Don’t focus so much on the incidentals that they can pick up through ongoing learning experiences—such as company culture and history, product knowledge details, etc…
Provide a resource site
Give people a place to go to self-serve answers to common questions. For instance, you might provide a company dictionary so people can keep up in conversations with minimal knowledge, or an expert list so people know who to go to with specific questions. Your resource list might also include the general onboarding documents, company policies and any other relevant documents that employees may need to revisit from time to time.
These resources should be easy to access on mobile tech so that employees can retrieve the information as they work or on their device—without having to hunt for a binder or visit a manager’s office to use a PC.
Accelerate onboarding with personalized training
Don’t force new hires to sit through training they don’t need. The training should always be customized to the individual. Determine each person’s knowledge and skills at the beginning, and then focus only on the gaps so that they can get into the operation ASAP.
Using a frontline LMS like Axonify, you can easily tailor the training to each individual and ensure that they get the maximum value in the least amount of time. Axonify delivers training in short bursts and uses artificial intelligence to identify knowledge gaps and tailor the learning experience accordingly. Our microlearning lessons help organizations break down content to focus on just required information, which can then be completed more quickly and get people into the operation faster. Then, Axonify’s daily training can reinforce critical knowledge and introduce new topics during daily 3-5 minute sessions that fit into even the busiest workdays.
Make social connections a priority
Match the new hire up with a dedicated peer/trainer/buddy so they have someone to connect with right away. Connection is #1 among the 7 C’s of successful onboarding, because building those connections immediately can make a huge difference for the employee’s engagement and ultimate success.
The new-hire buddy should have time to chat and help the new team member feel at home. Make sure they prioritize introducing new hires to other workers as part of the process. You’ll want to prepare trainers ahead of time on how to foster these social interactions and present a positive company culture.
The new-hire buddy should be a peer, not a manager. You want someone on a level playing field to help the new hire feel like part of the team. The new hire might also feel more comfortable asking certain questions to a team member with no authority over them.
Touch base early and often
It’s important for managers to be proactive during the initial days and weeks of a new hire’s employment. They should connect with the employee on day 1 and then check in throughout onboarding to make sure that the employee feels ready, can ask questions and understands their expectations. As the manager identifies the employee’s questions and concerns, they can provide coaching or mentoring as needed.
If there is time available, it’s also a good idea to intermittently observe new employees on the floor during those initial shifts. The observing supervisor can identify where the employee is excelling and where they need additional coaching. Training can then be optimized accordingly.
Make the employee onboarding process count
Research from 2018 revealed that 33% of employees quit in the first 90 days. But as previously noted, turnover is especially among frontline workers and among workers in the post-2020 economy. You can’t afford to lose one-third of your new hires in this economy. An effective onboarding program can go a long way not just for employee retention but for minimizing disruption to your business when employees do walk away.
So don’t just treat onboarding as an inevitable setup and debriefing process. Have a plan for an effective onboarding process, make it count and consider it an investment in the long-term health of your organization.