As seen in Waste Advantage

Onboarding is not a one-time event. Prioritizing the experience of your new employees can help create a positive work environment, boost morale, and improve employee retention and engagement.
By Mike Huycke

Filling entry-level and general labor positions across the waste and recycling industry can be challenging. Retaining employees in these roles is equally as difficult. The turnover rate for new employees drops significantly by more than 30 percent after the first 30 days of employment. Furthermore, the percentage continues to decrease as the duration of the employee’s stay increases.1

Successfully integrating a new employee into your team is a multi-step process that extends beyond hiring and orientation. It is not confined to paperwork and routine tasks; it is a collaborative effort that spans months to complete. Welcoming a new candidate begins with effective recruitment, coordinating the interview process, and keeping the candidate engaged through orientation, training, and extended onboarding.

Organizations can foster loyalty, productivity, and a positive work environment for new team members by engaging various stakeholders, including administrative staff, supervisors, and other teammates. The success of this process directly impacts critical metrics such as the cost of hire, time to fill, and turnover rates—ultimately influencing the organization’s bottom line.

Keep the Hiring Process Simple
Recruiting and interviewing are the first steps. The aim is to smoothly guide a qualified candidate through the interview stage while keeping them engaged along the way. Simplicity and personalization are key. Make the process straightforward, personalized, and tailored to their schedule. Using a tech-enabled recruiting platform compatible with a variety of mobile devices is critical. Use the hiring process as an opportunity to share information and set expectations about the process and role for which the person applied.

Focus on the Interview
Do not overlook the interview; it is crucial. Take time to get to know each candidate and understand them as individuals. Use the interview to discuss the role’s attributes and challenges. Be authentic, transparent, and ask tough questions to ensure candidates understand the roles and responsibilities.

Giving candidates a chance to try out the job through realistic previews and assessments is invaluable. Let them experience the role firsthand to help both parties make the right decision. For example, if you are interviewing someone for a sorter role in an MRF, provide the appropriate PPE and invite them to try it out on the sorting line. Afterward, ask, “Did any smells bother you? How did you find the facility? Are you comfortable with the environment?” This offers the person an opportunity to decline the role and respects their comfort level and preferences. More importantly, it improves the likelihood of short-term retention.

Extend a Warm Welcome on Day One
Be ready to greet new arrivals warmly. While this may seem basic, it is often overlooked. Your objective should be to prioritize their social comfort and integration. “One best practice is highlighting a new employee’s name on the daily sign-in sheet. This helps identify them so leads and supervisors can identify and introduce new hires to the team. Feeling recognized and valued is especially important for new employees,” shared Eddie Goodwin, Leadpoint’s Operations Training Director.

Use a Mentorship or Support Program
Mentors or support systems are crucial in helping new employees adjust to a new work environment and understand company culture. Starting new roles can feel daunting, especially in complex industrial settings. However, partnering mentors with new hires provides the comfort and support necessary to ease the anxiety often experienced in the first few days and weeks of starting a new job.

Support programs provide structure and positive reinforcement during the initial weeks, guiding employees without exerting authority. Knowing someone by name reduces the likelihood of feeling lost, emphasizing the importance of building connections for improved retention.

“Our goal is for mentors to share knowledge, effectively onboard new team members, and enhance retention. We’ve experienced people leaving because they had no one to sit with during their first break. Simple opportunities for support like this are often overlooked. We’ve noticed a strong correlation between sites with robust mentorship programs and better retention rates. Additionally, mentorship offers growth opportunities for the mentors,” said Chad Bebber, Leadpoint’s Director of Operations Support.

Create an Engaging On-the-Job Experience
Engagement is crucial. Seek ways to actively involve new employees during their onboarding process. Technology can automate routine tasks and paperwork, freeing time to create engaging experiences or content. When individuals are engaged, they feel like valued members of the larger team and recognize their importance. Following are examples of how you can involve new employees in their training.

Share Knowledge
If your operation tracks KPIs, ensure employees understand what is being monitored and how it impacts their role. Help them understand their contributions to the numbers and how they align with the business’s goals.

Participate in Safety
“After a few months with us, employees begin to participate in safety meetings, also known as tailgate meetings. They’re encouraged to present topics, fostering their sense of belonging and importance within the team. Safety involvement should be inclusive for everyone,” Goodwin emphasized.

Establish Milestones
To monitor new employees’ progress, identify key milestones, such as 30, 60, 90 days, and beyond. This practice fosters relationships, provides opportunities for direct feedback, and supports continuous improvement through regular communication. It emphasizes that onboarding is an ongoing process beyond the first day or week of a new hire’s tenure. It conveys a message letting new employees know of their importance to the organization. During each milestone, invite questions and solicit feedback from the employee on how they are feeling about their new role.

“We want our employees to realize they can achieve anything they set their minds to with effort and the right attitude,” Bebber emphasized. “Establishing milestones helps individuals progress to the next level, expanding their skill sets and aiding in career advancement. This approach has a dual benefit—it enhances tenure and helps employees achieve their personal goals.”

Prepare and Train Your Managers
Managers play a crucial role in integrating new team members, starting with the interview process. Managers must be well-versed in conducting compelling interviews and providing clarity on objectives, timelines, roles, and responsibilities.

Hiring managers must be prepared to welcome new employees personally and not solely rely on team leads or mentors. They should familiarize themselves with onboarding expectations, including the duration of training and the content covered during orientation.

Managers play a significant role throughout onboarding, including conducting milestone meetings. To support them in this role, provide training on conducting constructive meetings, delivering feedback, and helping employees reach their full potential through counseling and support. Equipping managers with this information before the new employee’s arrival will ease the transition.

How Do You Integrate New Employees into Your Organization?
Consider asking yourself the following questions when evaluating your program:

  • Are onboarding processes and materials documented and straightforward for new hires and internal stakeholders?
  • Does the program effectively communicate the company’s mission, values, and culture?
  • Does the program provide enough training and resources for new employees to perform their jobs effectively?
  • Are there systems in place to address challenges or gaps that may occur during orientation, training, and onboarding?
  • Are new employees given the opportunity to interact with key stakeholders, such as managers, mentors, and peers?
  • Does the onboarding program facilitate the integration of new hires into their teams and the organization?
  • Are there continuous learning and development opportunities beyond the initial training and onboarding period?
  • What constructive feedback are we hearing from new hires that we could improve upon?

An organization that effectively integrates new employees lays a strong foundation for long-term success. The benefits of onboarding and integration extend to both the individual and the company. A company can ensure a seamless transition for new team members by implementing the right strategies. It is important to remember that onboarding is not a one-time event. The ongoing process demands continual adjustments, feedback, communication, and a commitment to continuous improvement to maintain openness and adaptability. Prioritizing the experience of your new employees can help create a positive work environment, boost morale, and improve employee retention and engagement.


1. Source: Leadpoint’s 2022 and 2023 employee data.

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