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Effective Onboarding: The Key to Employee Retention


Employee retention has become a buzzword, and rightly so. The most recent statistics from the Work Institute’s 2019 Retention Report indicate that more than 41.4 million workers voluntarily quit their jobs in 2018, costing employers an estimated $617 billion.

Effective onboarding is a key factor in employee retention. A recent study finds employees who have a negative onboarding experience are twice as likely to search for a new job in the immediate future. The Society for Human Resource Management has found that 69% of employees are more likely to stay with a company if they’ve had a positive onboarding experience; however, according to Gallup, 88% of employees think their company has a poor onboarding process

Despite a clear business case for investment in onboarding, many companies have not developed effective programs that meet the needs of their new hires. An onboarding process that is unorganized, chaotic and difficult can reflect poorly on the company as a whole and, like first impressions, a poor onboarding process can be difficult, if not impossible, to overcome.

Benefits of a Strong Onboarding Program

There are both tangible and intangible benefits that a strong onboarding program provides:

  • Employees are able to quickly transition from learning company basics to making meaningful contributions.
  • Expectations are clear, and clear expectations about performance, success metrics, etc. help avoid surprises and improve efficiency.
  • Onboarding helps reinforce a company’s culture and brand.
  • Employees feel valued because the company has taken the time to provide them with the tools and resources they need.
  • New hires benefit from a common, cohesive experience.
  • As an added benefit, a standard onboarding process means that improvements to the program can be quickly implemented across the company.  

Building a Successful Onboarding Program

Regardless of the industry—B2B, B2C, non-profit, or government agency—successful onboarding programs share common characteristics that are worth noting and integrating. Here are a few best practices to get you started:

  • Seek executive buy-in. Support from senior leadership leads to support from department heads and managers.
  • Seek executive participation: The opportunity for new hires to hear directly from a senior leader in their group, geographic region or business leads to a clearer understanding of the company’s overall strategy and how their role fits into the organization’s long-term vision.
  • Focus on people, not just paperwork. An employee’s success will depend on the connections that s/he builds within the organization, so create opportunities for coffees, lunches and meeting with key stakeholders.
  • Assign a mentor or a “work buddy” to show the new hire the ropes and answer questions.
  • Pay attention to the “little things,” such as communicating where to park and how to book a conference room. Personal touches, such as a branded mug or shirt go a long way in making a new hire feel welcome and appreciated.
  • Curate your onboarding content. Establish a regular review schedule to ensure that information is current and relevant but hasn’t expanded to the point of “information overload.”
  • Set realistic timelines. If there are trainings or assignments an employee is expected to complete, space due dates out in order of priority over the course of a few weeks.
  • Leverage technology. Consider developing a portal that employees can access before their first day or after hours.
  • Gather feedback. The best programs are the ones that are subject to continuous improvement. Regular feedback uncovers patterns that may not be immediately obvious to those who aren’t directly engaged in the process.

Provide managers with “onboarding training.” Direct supervisors will play an integral role in an employee’s initial perception of the company.

Now, get started!

The first few days at a new company are filled with excitement and a certain degree of trepidation for any new hire. A thoughtful, structured approach that anticipates needs, provides the right resources, helps build connections, and positions an employee for success are critical to maintaining a workforce that is engaged, enthusiastic and productive.