Employee Onboarding: The Secret to Making your New Hire Stay

The onboarding experience is closely linked to employee engagement, productivity and retention. Organizations cannot afford to get it wrong.

Employee Onboarding: The Secret to Making your New Hire Stay
Editorial Team
November 9, 2021
Employee Onboarding: The Secret to Making your New Hire Stay

The employee onboarding period is an opportunity for organizations to make a great first impression on their new hires. More importantly, a failed onboarding very often leads to a drop in employee productivity, engagement and retention. Research suggests 20% of individuals quit their jobs in their first 45 days. It is, therefore, imperative that a company’s onboarding program is designed to turn the talent they worked so hard to acquire into long-term assets.

Sadly, 88% of companies don’t onboard well, says a Gallup poll. Many employers are also blind to the importance employees attach to onboarding. According to one survey, 68% of employees believe their experience as a candidate reflects how the company treats its workers. Another study points out that one in five new hires is unlikely to recommend an employer based on their onboarding experience. Given the stiff competition for talent in today’s tight labor market, a failed onboarding is a mistake companies cannot afford to make.

The challenging times we live in makes onboarding an even more important event in a company’s calendar. The large (and growing) remote workforce is perhaps more detached from the workplace than it has ever been. Many of us were hired virtually, without ever having set foot inside an office. To make sure that this physical and mental separation does not lead to disengagement and attrition, it is imperative that employers get their onboarding right.

What is employee onboarding?

Many organizations confuse onboarding with orientation. Orientation is when a company fills out the paperwork and performs other routine administrative tasks associated with a new recruit joining its ranks. Onboarding, on the other hand, is “the process of integrating a new employee with a company and its culture, as well as getting a new hire the tools and information needed to become a productive member of the team,” says the Society for Human Resource Management. The Human Capital Institute adds, “Onboarding helps new recruits get acquainted with their new organization, adjust to all aspects of their new role and reinforce that they have made the right decision to join. It propels them beyond ‘newbie’ status to become a productive employee who understands the organization’s purpose and their role and is able to form strong workplace bonds.”

For onboarding to be successful, employers must give it more than a week (the average time allotted by companies). Experts and HR professionals agree that onboarding should ideally last a year and have the participation of multiple departments working towards one goal – to make the newcomer feel comfortable on their first day and ensure that they remain engaged and interested for the duration of their employment.

Given the rapid workplace transformations we are living through, one must remember that the meaning of the word onboarding extends not just to new employees but also to those transitioning to new roles and new systems within their current organizations.

Benefits of good onboarding

  • Positive employee experience: The days of spending your entire career at one company are long gone. Today’s employee isn’t afraid to switch jobs or companies as often as they need to before they feel they are where they belong. For employers, even a job offer that has been accepted isn’t a guarantee of a vacancy being filled. In a survey by SilkRoad and CareerBuilder, 67% of employers reported that one-fourth of new hires did not turn up for work despite accepting a position. This is why effective onboarding is so important, because it sets the stage for the entire employee experience. When a new employee has positive feelings about the employer based on their onboarding experience, there is a greater chance they will become engaged and productive employees in the long run. Engaged employees are 87% less likely to leave. Furthermore, organizations with a standardized onboarding process report 62% greater new hire productivity and 50% greater new hire retention.
  • Ability to attract talent: Good onboarding doesn’t just drive retention, it also improves an organization’s ability to attract and compete for talent. “If you can talk to a candidate about what their first 90 days will look like and offer specific supports for them, that’s an enticing offer,” says Jenna Filipkowski, head of research at Human Capital Institute. While employees are unlikely to recommend an employer after a flawed candidate experience, the opposite holds true as well. A positive experience can lead to a glowing review of the company on online forums such as Glassdoor, which will help attract more talent.
  • Financial success: Organizations spend a good amount of money and resources on acquiring new talent but apparently not enough on an onboarding process that encourages them to stay. This is bad math, because companies that invest in an effective onboarding program have four times the average profit and more than two times the average revenue of companies that don’t. If that doesn’t convince you, consider this: in 2018, 78% of businesses that invested in onboarding saw their revenue increase. Companies in the US spend upwards of $4,000 to onboard a new employee. If a poor experience leads to an early exit and a replacement, it doubles the company’s cost of hiring. By one estimate, replacing an employee costs a company up to two times their annual salary.
  • Strong company culture: Successful businesses usually have a strong company culture, and onboarding is critical to building culture. There is no better time than the onboarding period for employers to acquaint new employees with organizational values and vision, and to set clear goals for them that are not just in line with company objectives but also tailored to support their individual growth. For employees, it is vital that they receive a clear picture of the company culture they will soon be a part of during onboarding. First, it lets them know what their place in the organization is. Second, it allows them to understand the company and what it stands for and to invest themselves in its success. For employers, an onboarding strategy with a strong cultural foundation is an opportunity to hire people who fit the company’s values.

How to build an effective onboarding plan

From being a master communicator to planning for an employee’s professional growth, here are the seven steps to creating an effective onboarding process:

1. Get the basics right

There’s nothing worse than being promised the moon during the hiring stage and then arriving at the office to find out that you haven’t even been assigned a desk. Good onboarding starts with the basics. This means having the computer, phone, desk, parking spot and identity card ready before the employee arrives. You will also need to provide them with the information they need to function, such as company regulations, policies, and values. Sharing a glossary of widely used terms and acronyms will help familiarize them with the company language quickly. If they are entitled to health and other benefits, make sure they can take advantage of them quickly and simply.

A new hire means lots of paperwork, but that need not be the focus on Day 1. Many wise employers now have the paperwork sorted out during preboarding (the period between the individual accepting the job and their first day in the office) itself. One way of doing this is to have an online process in place to fill out and sign respective documents.

Companies can also take the online route to provide employees with relevant information before they come on board. For example, they can send them a virtual copy of the company handbook or instructions on where they should go and whom they should meet on Day 1. Many companies today have onboarding portals. Once a candidate accepts a job offer, they immediately receive access to the portal, which holds important details such as their first-day agenda, a welcome message and maybe even an invitation to lunch. Getting the basics right goes a long way in relieving a new employee’s first-day anxieties.

2. Equip your employees to do their best work

Apart from providing basic organizational information, employers must clearly outline the responsibilities and duties of their new hires and the company’s expectations of them on the first day itself. Inform them of what they are accountable for. Let them know what resources are available to them. This includes ensuring they have access to the technology and tools (the MS Office applications suite, for example) they need and teaching them how the tools work individually and in collaboration with each other. Clear communication is key to helping a new employee get down to work quickly. It reassures them that the company trusts their abilities and is paying attention to them. This confidence will motivate them to do their best.

Companies would also do well to include upskilling programs in their onboarding strategy to bring new employees up to speed swiftly. Learnit offers numerous classes that employers can tap into to help their team members find success quickly. The Growth Mindset workshop prepares employees to face challenges and acquire the right outlook. The Influencing without Authority workshop is a helpful tool for a newly recruited manager struggling with self-doubt while leading an unfamiliar team.

3. Watch out for communication overkill

The first two points highlight the importance of effective communication in employee onboarding. However, too much communication can derail a good onboarding plan. A common mistake companies make during onboarding is to inundate employees with facts, figures, and details, most of it irrelevant to their roles. This results in fatigue and your new team members end up missing the details that are actually useful. Over-communication often stems from companies including irrelevant and out-of-date information, usually because they use the same material for all employees across departments and roles.

Rather than an avalanche of unusable information, employers must remember that employees expect relevant and frequent communication. This includes quick answers to questions they might have. Communication delays can kill an onboarding program even before it has started. The previously mentioned SilkRoad and CareerBuilder survey says 82% of employees expect to be provided a clear timeline for the hiring process while 31% expect customized messages and not spam from their new employers.

Learnit’s Communication Strategies class will help your team communicate effectively and efficiently.

4. Foster connections

Being the new kid on the block can be an isolating experience. An effective onboarding is one that fully understands the need for social connections in the workplace and feeds an individual’s need for the same. It ensures that employers introduce new employees to their colleagues, managers, and key contacts in their first few days or weeks so that they can make connections that much faster. It is attentive to the fact that these introductions go beyond the perfunctory handshake and exchange of greetings. By organizing a virtual team lunch and learn, or any such event that mixes training with internal networking and team building, employers can significantly help their new and current employees get to know each other on a personal level, seek and offer guidance, and form their own networks.

Job-shadowing is another way to foster connections. Managers can have the new employee observe and accompany a colleague from a different department that they will be working closely with. The new team member will learn the skills and competencies required for the job while the social connections they will form in the process will be a bonus.         

Social relationships become even more relevant when onboarding remote team members. In the absence of in-person interactions, there is a high likelihood of remote employees becoming more isolated and less engaged. To prevent this from happening, employers can help forge virtual connections by encouraging remote team members to share introductory videos of themselves or by organizing online recreational events. With more and more people preferring work-from-home schedules, it is vital that companies refine their onboarding process for remote employees

Learnit’s Build Strong Work Relationships class can be a great addition to a company’s onboarding program by helping employees adopt positive relationship-building behaviors.

5. Assign a mentor

High-performing organizations are two-and-a-half times more likely to assign a mentor to a new employee than low-performing companies, says one study. Another states that 87% of organizations that included a buddy program in their onboarding process managed to speed up new hire proficiency. A mentor can be the employee’s go-to person, helping them get around the office, introducing them to other staff members, answering queries and clearing doubts, and checking in on their work and progress periodically. A mentor is an important first connection that leads to more connections. A new team member’s mentor can be a valuable asset to them, perhaps even being the one backing them up for a future promotion.

Some companies don’t stop at just one mentor but assign an entire team of mentors, with each one handling a specific role. A culture mentor, for instance, is really helpful when it comes to explaining an organization’s culture to a newcomer.

6. Perform periodic check-ins

After the initial onboarding period, employers have a responsibility to check in on their new employees every once in a while to see if they remain happy, engaged, and productive. This means performing periodic reviews of their performance. To start with, mentors can monitor the team members they are responsible for once a week during the first month and then once or twice a month thereafter. Having these interactions are crucial to discussing and addressing skills gaps and making course corrections when needed. A final review at the end of the onboarding period should present a clear picture of the employee’s productivity and their place in the organization.

Check-ins work both ways. In an ideal onboarding, employers encourage new employees to give honest feedback on what is working for them, what they are  struggling with, and whether their expectations have been met. Employers can then use this evaluation to fine tune their onboarding process.

Learnit’s Giving and Receiving Feedback workshop will help you use feedback as a growth tool. 

7. Train your managers

To build an effective onboarding strategy, employers must first sync with those who are already part of the organization – the managers. Before the new employee comes on board, it is important that the managers are trained, ready, and willing to induct them the right way. While managers are the reason why a large section of employees quit, it is equally true that most managers don’t have the time and capacity to support, implement, and improve onboarding processes. It is, therefore, the company’s responsibility to prepare them and align them with the process. Some of the ways in which company stakeholders can train their managers to become onboarding heroes are by:

  • Providing them with clear onboarding instructions.
  • Telling them what their expectations from the new employees should be.
  • Educating them on the impact onboarding has on engagement, productivity, and organizational success.
  • Seeking their suggestions during the development, implementation, and review of the onboarding plan.
  • Training them to hold formal and informal sessions with new team members.
  • Holding them accountable for attrition among new hires.
  • Making use of technology to automate mundane tasks (filing paperwork) so that they can devote their time to more crucial tasks (mentoring).

Learnit offers a variety of workshops in the People Management competency.