According to a 2009 study conducted by the Aberdeen Group, 86 percent of participants felt that the decision to stay at a company long term occurred within an employee’s first six months on the job. Today, more than one in five new hires will leave a company within the first 45 days of joining an organization. These statistics point to the importance of onboarding as an employee retention tool. Too often, organizations think of onboarding as a function that stops as soon as the necessary paperwork is signed. In reality, onboarding is an ongoing process that should stretch past the first year of employment to keep individuals engaged with and proud to be a part of the company.
High turnover rates have a resounding impact on a company’s bottom line. A new hire can cost up to twice the annual salary for a position but, beyond the monetary considerations, high attrition affects employee morale, job satisfaction, and synergy at the company. Intensive onboarding programs require a significant investment of time, energy, and even money, but the investment can really pay off in the long run with an excellent culture, a motivated staff, and loyal employees.
The Purpose of the Onboarding Process
The Wynhurst Group investigated the impact of structured onboarding processes in 2007 and found that new hires were nearly 60 percent more likely to remain at a company after three years if they went through such a program. Research conducted by the Corporate Leadership Council found that employee discretionary effort increased by more than 20 percent when they completed engaging onboarding programs. The majority of companies with structured onboarding programs report that new hires integrate more fully into the company culture and have higher levels of productivity.
The exact onboarding process depends on the goals and emphases of the given organizations. Human resources (HR) professionals can get executives and other decision makers to buy into creating a structured program by asking for their input on how the process should look and what new hires should primarily learn about the company culture. In this way, companies can set new hires up for success by clearly outlining what is expected of them and what they should expect in the first few weeks. Because each organization has its own culture, the choice to emphasize certain aspects over others gives new hires a general idea of what the company considers important.
Of course, onboarding must go beyond teaching about company culture. To succeed in a position, employees need to fully understand their role and their responsibilities. A structured onboarding process can ensure that new hires have adequate time to get accustomed to their new position and become confident in their work. Employees should also gain a clear sense of how their work fits into the bigger picture at the organization and how their achievements move the company towards its goals.
Designing an Engaging Onboarding Process
Research has shown that the most effective onboarding begins before the first day of work. Organizations can immediately engage new hires through an online onboarding portal that can also expedite many of the tedious paperwork processes. The portal should contain an employee handbook, details about the new positions, as well as key information about the new hire’s department.
If possible, companies should include photos of current employees and small blurbs about them so that new hires do not feel completely lost when they come to the office for the first time. Also, a nice note from the hire’s new boss can prove very heartening and motivating. From a practical standpoint, the portal can be used to handle benefits, payrolls forms, and both W-4 and I-9 documents.
On the new employee’s first day, companies can make a great impression by having the person’s workspace completely prepared, with the computer, phone, and logins all preconfigured and working. The company’s primary objective for the first day is to establish clear objectives for the position, including all duties and responsibilities. The company should provide resources for support in all of these functions as a crutch for the first few days so that the employee does not feel stressed about constantly bothering coworkers with questions. However, social interaction is also important, and the firm should allot time for the new hire to forge working relationships with all key coworkers. A great way to accomplish this goal is to take the team out to lunch.
The conversation about responsibilities should involve the whole team, especially during the first few days of employment. This team-centered approach allows everyone to outline and understand expectations and prevents resentments from building if people feel like they have to pick up the slack. This approach also keeps lines of communication open so that the new hire feels comfortable.
The Importance of Ongoing Conversations
Onboarding does not end after the first few days of employment. The HR department should schedule regular check-ins with new hires to encourage an atmosphere of openness, provide the opportunity to voice any concerns, and simply show that the company really cares about the employee’s experience. The first check-in should happen at about the one-month mark. At this meeting, HR personnel can verify that the employee is fitting in and feeling happy and comfortable. Also, the employee should have developed some sort of mentorship relationship with a coworker or supervisor by this point as a go-to person for any questions in the coming months.
After this initial meeting, HR staff should continue to check in every two to three months depending on both the employee’s performance and his or her specific role. Around the one-year mark, the onboarding process culminates with a review of the person’s work and an honest conversation about the new hire’s future at the company. At this time, onboarding seamlessly translates to formal employee development and retention programs. HR professionals should explain these processes while ensuring that lines of communication are always open should concerns arise.