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Winning the war for talent: it starts with onboarding

With skilled built environment professionals in high demand, employers must do all they can to stand out from the crowd and make a good first impression

With the pandemic receding in the property industry’s rear-view mirror, the jobs market has begun to roar ahead once more. A British Property Federation survey of over 100 industry leaders published at the end of January found that 77% were confident that real estate would perform strongly over the next five years. But tellingly, the same proportion of businesses reported that they are finding it difficult to attract and retain talent.

While the shortage of skilled people is worrying for employers looking to seize opportunities for expansion, jobseekers with the right professional qualifications have the luxury of finding themselves in high demand. “I have never seen the market as competitive as it is today,” observes Robert Murray, a director at property sector recruiter, Oyster. “A lot of our clients are investors, funds, and real estate investment trusts (REITs), which had a lot of capital waiting to be deployed after the pandemic, and now the brakes are off they all need people. For every surveyor looking for employment, there must be at least 10 jobs.”

As well as offering attractive pay and terms, employers are keenly aware that to compete in such a market they must also sell their businesses to potential candidates as exciting and rewarding workplaces. But Murray argues that many of them neglect a crucial area: the ‘onboarding’ stage, those initial days and months between a candidate accepting a job and being settled in their new company.

“For every surveyor looking for employment, there must be at least 10 jobs”Robert Murray, Oyster

Why onboarding matters Research by analytics firm Gallup lays bare the extent of the problem, revealing that only 12% of employees say their company does a good job of onboarding. While one in five employees reported that their most recent onboarding was poor or that they received no onboarding at all. The same applies in the UK and elsewhere, says Murray, with too many employers expecting new hires to get on with their jobs with little support, only to find out at three or six-month probationary meetings that they are dissatisfied and thinking of leaving. That is, if they have not already left. With only a short notice period to serve, and little emotional attachment to their new workplace, recent hires are prime targets for competitors looking to poach skilled staff. Or in some cases former employers, keen to avoid losing talent and to avoid the expense of hiring someone new, may make a counter-offer to tempt them back.

“You only have one chance to make a first impression. Make it count”

Robert Murray, Oyster

Such scenarios are commonplace, suggests Murray, and leave employers at risk of squandering the investment of management time and money that each new hire represents. That danger can be vastly reduced, however, if companies put a little effort into creating an onboarding structure that is fit for purpose. He likens it to the hospitality sector practice of planning the ‘customer journey’ to ensure the best possible guest experience.

A first key point to remember is that onboarding starts from the moment that the job is accepted. Regular contact while a person is serving their notice period with their former employer helps to build a sense of belonging and of anticipation. Murray advises at least a fortnightly call to keep in touch, as well as inviting the new hire to team events, and arranging a lunch with their new colleagues a month before they join.

“You only have one chance to make a first impression. Make it count”Robert Murray, Oyster

Ready to work The first few days in the job are also crucial. Excitement can quickly turn to disillusion and frustration if simple arrangements such as readying IT equipment, setting up telephones and preparing security passes have not been undertaken. That means HR and back-office teams need to have processes in place. However, the principal responsibility for onboarding lies with senior colleagues. “People don’t tend to join a new company to work for the HR team member who sent through their contract, they join to work for the person who has taken them through the interview process, the person who has sold them the dream. That’s where the connection lies so it’s imperative to be present throughout the onboarding process,” says Murray. Gallup’s research suggests that when the manager takes an active role in onboarding, employees are 3.4 times more likely to feel like their onboarding process was successful.

Murray stresses the importance of “contact time”. Ensuring that the manager and close team members are present in person on the newcomer’s first day in the office can be challenging in an era of increased flexible working, but it can make a real difference in helping them to settle in quickly. Another team member can be assigned to “buddy” with the new hire to answer their questions and provide support. Another great idea is a welcome pack with a note from the boss, the names and pictures of colleagues, client information, and the location of local eating and coffee spots. Little things can make a difference Employers also need to take account of equity, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) in their onboarding, making sure that special needs and circumstances have been prepared for before someone joins, as well as on their first day. “For example, if they have dyslexia or another form of neurodivergence, do you take account of that in their starter paperwork? Do you allow more time for them to complete it? Little things can help to make people feel comfortable in a new environment,” says Murray. He observes that in general, small firms tend to be better at onboarding than large ones because people are less likely to leave it to someone else in another department. That should not be considered an excuse, however, because the person that the new hire is working for is responsible for ensuring that they have a good experience. In a highly competitive labour market, improving onboarding can make a real difference to employers’ ability to attract and retain talent, he concludes. “You’re investing all this time and money. You only have one chance to make a first impression. Make it good. Make it count.”


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