December 17, 2021

An employee’s first six months: how to get it right

The first six months of your relationship with a new employee is vital for building the foundation for their entire time with you. We explore what you can do to set both them and your organisation up for success.

1. Develop a formal onboarding process

Onboarding an employee should begin before they even start, when you make the employment offer. Make sure you give them enough time to consider and negotiate their employment contract and that they’re clear on the terms and conditions of employment. As part of this step, you should also have a formal onboarding policy, which you can present them with when they sign up to work for you. 

This onboarding policy should cover the first six months of the employees’ time with you. It should include details of what you expect from the employee, what they should expect from you, what training they will need, your policies and procedures and key contacts, including any mentors or buddies (see below). You should also include details of any formal reviews.

2. Start the onboarding before they arrive 

Once you’ve agreed the terms and conditions of employment, you usually don’t have to wait until they start to make contact. (Unless, of course, there’s a restraint of trade at play.) 

Depending on the situation in which you’re hiring the new employee, you should be able to send them some welcoming content even before they arrive. This should include details of what they need to do on their first day. But it should also include details of key people they’ll need to work with and important things they’ll need to know.

3. Make them feel welcome 

Remember, just because your office starts work at 8.30 or 9am, that doesn’t mean you should get your new hire to begin at the same time. You’re usually better off getting them to come in mid-morning, so that your people have time to properly prepare for their arrival and they’re not left sitting outside in an empty foyer.

We’ve all been to that workplace where we’re not introduced to people and you have to figure out who they are and what they do as you go. This isn’t really a recipe for feeling part of the team. 

Arrange each new employee a buddy and when they arrive, arrange for that buddy to introduce them around the office. Don’t make the buddy the office junior (unless you’re hiring a junior). Make sure they’re on the same level as your new hire. 

Also,  don’t confuse orientation with onboarding. It’s just one step in the onboarding process – and an important one – but there is also so much more.

4. Set expectations

Solid relationships are always built on mutual understanding. Right from the start you should make it clear what you expect from your new employee when it comes to hours of work, productivity, raising problems and more. You should also ask them what they expect of you and what you can do to help them get their work done and make their life easier.

5. Train

Some employers take the view that they shouldn’t invest too much in their employees until they’re certain that they’re going to stay. Nothing could be less useful for effective onboarding.

I’m a firm believer in training people properly right from the start so that they can make a contribution from day one. After all, one study found that as many as 93% of employees would stay at a business that invested properly in their careers. Because it creates more efficient employees who are less likely to leave, proper training should also benefit your bottom line, even if it costs you in the short-term.

6. Keep up the talk

The worst thing you can do for any new team member is to leave things unsaid. If the employee is doing a good job, let them know and if the employee isn’t living up to expectations, let them know too. Even a small bit of guidance can often help employees get back on track and do their best work. By putting everything out in the open, you also help prevent small problems from becoming bigger ones. 

You should also ask the employee if something doesn’t make sense, if they need guidance in any part of their job, or if there’s anything you can do to make their life easier.

7. Understand your obligations

One reason that the first six months matters so much to many employers is that it’s the period of time in which unfair dismissal laws don’t apply (although it’s 12 months for small employers). That means, a lot of them see this period as risk-free when it comes to hiring and firing staff.

But it always pays to remember that having employees work for only a short period can be exceptionally costly for your business. One 2019 study found that hiring an entry level staff member costs on average of almost $10,000, while hiring an executive costs an average of almost $35,000.

Also, even though the unfair dismissal laws may not apply, you still have obligations. You can’t dismiss an employee for an unlawful reason and the employee is still entitled to the general protections that all workers enjoy. 

So, if it’s not working out, you should still tread carefully before terminating the employment contract and involve a professional if you need to.

Want to know more about planning for your employees’ first six months? 

If you’d like to know more about getting the first six months right, get in touch.

say hi to our author

Merilyn founded Catalina Consultants in 2012 on the belief that all organisations, regardless of size, should have access to top quality bespoke HR services. She enjoys working closely with her clients and believes that the best results are built on relationships of rapport, trust and authenticity. Growing up, Merilyn had her sight set on stardom and dreamed of becoming an actor. She also sang and played the piano, but ended up studying accounting and HR. Whilst she hasn’t won her Grammy just yet, she still loves a good karaoke night. Merilyn loves to travel with her family, with South Africa being one of her most memorable destinations.

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