A strong workplace culture begins with a defined process around EHS onboarding for new employees. Find a five-step blueprint here.

Employee onboarding processes are make-or-break. With a good system in place, your organization is poised to quickly get new hires up to speed, improving productivity and operational efficiency while also creating better experiences for employees. But when onboarding is ineffective or incomplete, a key opportunity to instill long-lasting values is missed.

The success of acclimating and educating a new employee is especially important from an EHS training perspective. Onboarding “offers an imprinting window when you can make an impression that stays with new employees for the duration of their careers,” according to HR expert Amy Hirsch Robinson of Interchange Consulting Group.

In our current environment, establishing a thoughtful and comprehensive onboarding process is more challenging and yet more vital than ever, with many new hires being brought up to speed through virtual means. The good news is that this disruption doesn’t require a complete overhaul of effective methodologies, but rather some adjustments to ensure employees are still getting an impactful experience from a distance.

When it comes to building a proactive safety culture in the workplace and across distributed work settings, this is a pivotal moment. It’s vital to have a plan when someone new joins the ranks. Here’s a manageable and repeatable blueprint for EHS-focused onboarding, no matter your organization’s circumstances.

EHS Onboarding for New Employees: A 5-Step Plan

1. Make a Good First Impression

First impressions matter,” notes Jim Clifton at EHS Today. “They set the tone for the employee’s career, and it’s never easier to influence employee behavior than when they are a blank slate and eager to learn and change.”

If EHS is not treated as an important organizational priority at this stage, it’s possible the employee will never view it as one. On the flip side, a strong message around EHS culture can become firmly embedded.

I have an acquaintance who once started a new job, and the HR director was giving him an office tour on his first day. When they got to the kitchen, the director showed him where the garbage and recycling bins were, and commented about how the CEO was big into eco-friendly practices. Years later, he still finds himself being extra-thoughtful about waste and recycling at the office, and these habits even happily carried over to his home life.

It’s not that my friend didn’t care about being environmentally conscious beforehand. It’s that the message really struck him at a time where he was most observant and absorbent. The people you hire likely care about health and safety to some extent; emphasizing EHS from the outset helps activate this mindset.

Naturally, at a time where employee onboarding is more frequently happening via remote virtual sessions, it can be more challenging to make a lasting first impression of this kind. But for that reason, it’s all the more valuable to frame it as a central focus. (And be sure to highlight the importance of EHS principles outside of the office, like sharing ergonomic tips for WFH employees.)

2. Deliver an EHS Elevator Pitch

Take a cue from a sales leader’s handbook: the elevator pitch. An effective elevator pitch has three qualities: It’s concise, compelling, and customized. You need to quickly convey why your product matters, and how it will solve a problem, in a way that’s acutely relevant to the recipient.

Apply these same principles in your EHS messaging for new employees. You don’t want it to just be some set of procedures and protocols in a packet that sits in their desk drawer or email inbox, untouched after Day 1. Come up with a convincing pitch to hammer home the message, and make sure that it’s pertinent to the new employee: aligned with their values, and applicable to their day-to-day tasks and interactions.

3. Give New Employees Ownership

To gain buy-in from new employees, you don't want workplace safety to seem like a mandate or burdensome obligation. It should be a collective initiative that employees recognize and rally around, and EHS leadership can lead that charge. That means giving everyone a sense of involvement and investment.

One of our recommendations for building company EHS culture is to get employees at a variety of different levels and departments engaged in EHS activities. This can be an excellent idea with new hires as part of the onboarding program; not only does it familiarize them with health and safety considerations, but also with their new cross-functional colleagues and facilities.

4. Readily Offer Support

Of course, most of your company’s new hires are probably not EHS specialists. They can’t be expected to know all the practices and regulations around workplace safety, and you don’t want them to become frustrated by that. EHS leaders should be eager to lend expert support, advice, and guidance especially in these early stages.

A couple of suggestions that might help: holding weekly check-ins with the new employee during their first month, and creating an FAQ document over time based on the EHS feedback and questions you hear most often.

5. Look Ahead

The problem with a lot of onboarding programs is that the teaching stops after some defined period of time. To avoid this, create a plan for continual education and support around workplace health and safety. Investing in ongoing EHS training is a smart way to keep EHS momentum growing, while maintaining the vigilant culture you are establishing early on.

Workplace Safety Culture Begins with Onboarding

As EHS leaders know, and should continually communicate upward, keeping employees engaged on the matter of workplace safety culture is doubly beneficial: It helps the business stay compliant and accountable, while also affirming to employees that their safety, comfort, and well-being are legitimately important to the company

The onboarding process is a crux point in driving this engagement. By following the five-step plan above, you can be sure you’re not letting it slide by the wayside as new team members come aboard.

To learn more about attracting and retaining talent, and how EHS can play a role, check out our post on tackling the talent shortage with strategic EHS support.

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