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Improving Results Through Staff Onboarding

A high staff turnover reduces customer satisfaction as well as costing your spa money. Finding, interviewing and training new staff takes many hours, which could otherwise be spent on revenue-generating activities. It is important that spa managers and directors find the right people to start with, as well as effectively managing new hires so they are happy with their new job and productive at an early stage. In this post we’ll use the concept of ‘user onboarding’ to explain how you can increase your staff retention rates.

What is user onboarding?

Onboarding is a term from human resources for new hires. More recently, it has been appropriated and extended by online companies to refer to taking on and orienting a new customer. The process is often broken into three parts: accommodation, assimilation, and acceleration.


This stage is about giving new people the tools they need when they’ve just joined you. In the digital industry, this is about giving customers the tools they need to complete one or two key tasks that will give them real value.

So, for example, an ecommerce platform for digital goods like SendOwl or DPD will give people the tools they need to upload a product to their platform and offer it for sale during a free trial period. They will then encourage a customer to sell a product through providing more tools. Customers who successfully upload a product will have gained some value from the platform; those who sell a product will have gained a lot. The end result, in both cases, is happier customers who are more likely to sign up for the paid service.

How do you apply this model to the spa industry?

It’s common for new staff at a spa to feel out of their depth and underconfident for a number of days and weeks – maybe even longer. They don’t always have the tools they need to do their job (how do they access software on the system? Where is that item kept?). Equally, they may be presented with many tasks and feel uncertain about how to approach or prioritise them. Instead of this ‘sink or swim’ style of onboarding, you can instead decide on a few key tasks that you want new staff to complete in their first few days. Then you make sure they have the correct tools to complete them. This way, you help new staff be productive from day one, giving them an early sense of job satisfaction.


This stage is about helping new staff feel like they belong. The digital industry offers some good examples of evolving best practice. For example, fashion ecommerce site Zappos does this by taking their new hires through a course on company values, so they understand not just what the company does, but what the company feels is important:

> The four-week New Hire program is a combination of technical training and culture immersion. We cover the basics of delivering WOW customer service because this is such an integral part of who we are as a

company. The class also learns our computer systems in a sandbox environment. The first two weeks of class are in the classroom learning about the “wow tools” we provide. The most important piece of this training is empowerment. After two weeks in the classroom, trainees begin taking calls from our customers.

How do you apply this model to the spa industry?

You can structure your own onboarding course for new staff. It doesn’t have to be as long or intensive as the Zappos one, but it could cover some technical issues (learning IT systems on the job can be very stressful) as well as showing new staff what really makes your spa tick.

If you staff understand your culture, they are much more likely to feel part of it – and to want to stick around. If you don’t actively help new staff understand your culture, then you risk them feeling isolated. Don’t underestimate how a culture that seems accessible to you (because you are part of it) can seem isolating and inaccessible to an outsider.

This is a problem that the startup industry suffers with new hires. A culture that foregrounds ‘fun’ (table tennis, video games, pizza nights) should be accessible, right? But instead new hires can feel intimidated and out of place if they don’t play games and don’t know how to get involved when everyone else divides up into groups.

Make sure your new hires both understand your culture and feel that there’s room for them within it.


This stage is about making the new person quickly enter the existing community. To take another example from the digital industry, author and designer Paul Jarvis sends a PDF of the most popular articles that they've missed to new subscribers to his mailing list. That way “they can catch up and be in the same place as everyone else. I've spent a lot of time on the process and wording that happens when someone signs up for my list, and it pays off in spades with engagement and retention of subscribers.”

How do you apply this model to the spa industry?

One possible way is to make sure that you’ve created some great internal documentation. This is the kind of information you may tell new hires piecemeal. However, by writing it all down you save yourself time in future, as well as making it easier for new staff to ‘catch up’. After all, we’ve all been in the position of doing a new job and feeling that we’re only managing to process about 30% of what people are telling us (and it can feel like lots of different people are telling us lots of different ‘important’ things).

Spend time extracting from your own head all the information that new hires might need and then writing it down in a user-friendly document (online or printed) that they can refer to when they need to, and take home to study if they should so wish. That way they can quickly get up to speed. This is something that email provider MailChimp do very well. Their internal style guide means that new hires (and old hires) have documentation to refer to when they want to complete a task. Plus it’s presented in an engaging way.

Advantages of staff onboarding

Staff onboarding should mean that your new hires get value from their new job in the first few days, feel like they belong, and get up to speed very quickly. Any increase in expense (creating internal documents and courses) should be offset by the increase in new staff productivity and their overall satisfaction with their new job.

Another advantage of staff onboarding is that you should be able to spot bad hires more quickly. In fact, Zappos takes this one stage further. After only a week they offer new hires the chance to quit and receive a $2,000 bonus plus payment for the amount of time they have worked.

An article in Bloomberg explains why this makes sense:

And even from a financial standpoint, the idea makes increasing sense the more you think about it. Most CEOs agree turnover costs tens of thousands of dollars in recruitment, training, and lost productivity. So identifying the misfits early—at a cost of just one-week's salary and $2,000—could just be the best deal a company can make. What would you pay to get a full-time, weeklong look at your recruits' character, work habits, and social skills prior to making a commitment to them?

Apparently only 2-3% of people take Zappos up on this offer.

Of course, you don’t need to offer your new staff money to quit. What you can do, however, is use staff onboarding to appraise how new staff respond to your cultural immersion and technical training.

If they still don’t seem to care about their job or your company despite your best efforts, then perhaps you should terminate their contract now rather than investing further in them? We all make hiring mistakes and it is less costly to spot these sooner rather than later.


Staff onboarding is an effective way of making sure new staff feel happy with their new job, get up to speed quickly, and feel that they add value to the company from day one (giving their morale a boost). It is also an effective way of spotting ‘bad’ hires, which otherwise can be disguised by the usual (valid) excuses that new staff don’t know what they are doing and just need more help. However, a word of caution: staff onboarding is a great way to keep staff happy in the early stages of their new job. To keep them happy and productive for longer, you’ll need to keep investing in their personal and career development.

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