9 Onboarding Mistakes Every Small Business Should Avoid

Shaking hands with new employee and starting the employee onboarding process

The onboarding process is the first taste of organisational culture for new hires, and it is pivotal for small businesses to get it right. Mistakes during this crucial period can result in low employee morale, productivity and, ultimately, low retention of those valuable new hires.

This blog sheds light on the common onboarding pitfalls that small businesses often encounter. We will provide actionable insights on how to anticipate and avoid these typical mistakes. By focusing on a comprehensive yet nimble onboarding strategy, small businesses can foster a supportive and inclusive environment from day one. For new hires, the right small business onboarding experience can lay the foundation for long-term success and employee satisfaction.

Let's unpack the essentials of avoiding onboarding blunders and elevating the new hire experience in the dynamic small business landscape.

Why Onboarding Matters

Larger corporations are more likely to have a structured onboarding process put together by a consultant some years in the past. But small businesses are doing everything DIY. This means it's up to business owners, local managers, or team leaders to put together a small business onboarding process that effectively teaches new hires how to become synchronised and well-adjusted members of the team.

Onboarding is a process that should take somewhere between two weeks and six months, depending on the number and complexity of tasks the role requires. Whether you are hiring a line cook at your local restaurant or a project manager for your agency, the right onboarding experience is essential for both employees and their small business employers to get the best results from each new hire.

The following list dives into nine common onboarding mistakes that are easy for small businesses to avoid once you see them coming.

1) Waiting Until the Hire's First Day to Begin

The onboarding process should begin as soon as an employee accepts the job offer. An employee's first day is valuable time in which they could be learning skills, layouts, and routines. Paperwork and extensive reading, however, can begin before an employee even steps through the door or logs in for their first remote shift.

Wasting Valuable Time on Routine Tasks

An employee's first day does not need to be filled with paperwork and basic powerpoint presentations. You can provide all of this in digital form as soon as the hire is confirmed. This can save valuable time spent with onboarding staff that could be spend on more important learning opportunities.

Allowing New Hires to Prep for the Job

Millenneal and Gen Z professionals, in particular, prefer access to information and the ability to read over documents without being rushed before a job begins. This allows new hires to prepare themselves for the job and arrive feeling well-informed with papers signed.

Useful Read: How to Engage and Motivate Your Gen Z Workforce

2) A Disorganised Approach

Running a small business, you probably don't have designated training staff. While the new hire's manager may be in charge of onboarding in addition to their daily duties, that's no reason to go in with a disorganised approach. Simply showing the new hire around and mentioning "how things are done" isn't enough to actually train someone in how to do the job.

Sink or Swim Training

Most professionals do not appreciate being dropped into a role on Day 1 and expected to perform as if they had been trained. Having someone to ask questions is not the same as being shown how to do the job right, to company expectations, and how to be a part of the team.

Insufficient Instructions

Be sure that training staff provide full explanations and step-by-step instructions for each new hire. Over-the-shoulder tips are not the same as onboarding training and will leave new hires unsure what to do or how to do it right.

Unclear Expectations and Goals

Make sure each new hire clearly understands the tasks they should perform and the goals they are trying to reach. 

Making a Bad First Impression

A chaotic onboarding process can leave the impression that your entire business is run in a disorganised fashion. Conversely, a well-organised small business onboarding process can show new hires that you run a tight ship, and they will soon be proud to be part of the team.

3) Trying to Conduct Training All At Once

barista at a coffee shop showing the till to a new employee

Another common onboarding mistake is to try and cover all training material within the first few days. Most people learn how to do a job well over time, adapting to each process as it is introduced. They will likely need structure to practice and reinforce the training in order to become adept at the work routine.

Information Overload

Training too fast can result in information overload. People cannot remember vast quantities of information learned in a single day. This is why onboarding typically takes a few weeks to a few months to fully complete.  Most people need to repeat, record, and sleep on new information to remember it effectively enough to use in the future.

One-and-Done Onboarding

Training is also not a one-time thing. If you show someone how to use a software program, they won't remember every trick the first time through. Mentorship and reference guides both play a role in helping employees master their tasks over time.

4) Skipping Training Entirely

The inverse mistake to all-at-once training is to skip training entirely. This is a particular risk for small businesses that feel that the routine is simple enough to learn on the go. However, even seemingly basic roles involve a fair amount of learning. New hires don't know where you keep supplies, and they haven't memorised information that is considered common knowledge for the rest of the team.

Someone, whether a boss, lead, or mentor, must provide guidance and training to help new hires learn what is expected of them, how to perform their basic tasks, and how to blend in with the team's shared routine.

5) Failing to Provide Written and Digital Training Materials

Verbal-only instruction is an onboarding problem for both big and small businesses. Showing someone a video, walking them through a crash-course, or explaining how things are done is not enough for most people. Memory isn't perfect and new hires benefit from hard copies of their instructions, expectations, and tips to succeed. 

For this reason, it's important to provide your new hires with written training materials, ideally in a digital and easy-to-reference form.

Providing Records, Guides, and Reference Material

When you consider how new employees learn during onboarding, consider how people study in school. Most people use a combination of reading the material, writing down the lessons, and reviewing to lock new information into their minds. Providing records, guides, and reference material is an important way to help new hires learn and remember their training.

Everyone Learns Differently

You must also remember that not everyone is the same type of learner. Auditory learners do learn best by hearing things explained. However, visual and physical learners must interact differently with the information to get it into their heads. Visual learners must read information and/or see it demonstrated. Physical learners must write information and/or perform tasks themselves to truly learn.

5) Forgetting to Mention Company Culture

Company culture plays an important role in any new job. It can indicate the difference between teams that are joking or serious, personal or private, and laid-back or intense. Part of setting behaviour expectations for new hires is sharing the true elements of your corporate culture. The motto is one thing, but your new employees really need to know how to interact and become accepted members of the team.

Remember to mention company culture in a personal and realistic way. Share a few recent anecdotes and give new hires some pointers on how to fit in. This will help your newest employees feel more comfortable as part of the team and avoid any early misunderstandings involving decorum and social interactions.

7) Comparing New Hires to Past Employees

Just like a parent should never compare siblings, a new hire should never be compared to past employees. Or current ones, for that matter. Each person possesses their own talents and performance, and new hires who are struggling to learn the ropes do not need to hear how they are not yet comparable to someone with years of seniority, whether or not they are still on the team.  Instead, they should receive encouragement and genuine feedback to help them improve and reach greater productivity achievements.

This leads us to the next common mistake in small business onboarding.

8) Forgetting to Provide Feedback to New Hires


Don't forget to tell your new hires how they are doing. People who are new in a role often worry that they are performing up to standard or managing to be helpful. Employee feedback is important for new employees so they know what they are doing well and where they can improve.

No Encouragement or Guidance

Everyone benefits from encouragement during their first few weeks on the job. Whether they adapt quickly or struggle to learn some aspects of the job, a little encouragement goes a long way toward high morale. Gentle guidance can also help new employees see where they can improve and how to hone the new skills they are developing to become a more effective member of the team.

Negative-Only Feedback

If you find yourself giving only negative feedback, reassess your approach. Negative feedback can discourage a new hire, especially if they never hear about what they are doing right.

Absentee Leadership

Make sure you are available for questions and guidance. New hires need one to three people they can ask when they are unsure how to approach a new task or situation. This can last for the first few weeks or months on the job, so present leadership is important.

9) Unstructured Onboarding Schedule

Lastly, always plan onboarding with a well-structured schedule. Let new employees know that you have a plan and that you will help them walk through introduction to the job one step at a time. You can cover tours, introductions, and basic information in the first week, initial task training in the second week, mentorship teamwork on the third week, and so on.

This is also an opportunity to introduce new employees to their typical work schedule, which will help them establish the right circadian rhythm (sleep habits) and availability as they begin to do their job in earnest.

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Master Small Business Onboarding with Shiftbase

The right software can often be a real boon to designing an organised and helpful onboarding process for your small business hires. Shiftbase solutions make it easy to build and manage both onboarding schedules and incorporate new hires into shifts with their new team.

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Topic: HRM / Small Business Onboarding