Onboarding process: Spur productivity and retention

Half of all hourly workers leave new jobs in the first four months, and half of senior outside hires fail within 18 months, according to the SHRM Foundation’s report, Onboarding New Employees: Maximizing Success.

When you consider the costs of recruiting and hiring, those figures translate into a lot of money wasted for employers – not to mention the lost time.

You may wonder – where did it all go wrong? When did these new employees’ feelings turn from excitement upon accepting the job offer to inklings of regret?

Trouble from the start?

Proponents of new employee onboarding would suggest doubts may have crept in as early as the gap of time between offer acceptance and the first day of work. During this time, most new hires begin to experience anxiety about beginning the new job. Was this the right decision? What if I don’t fit in? Will my supervisor like me? Can I learn all those new procedures?

When the first work day and beyond don’t dispel those natural concerns, employees often develop a case of what Scott Erker and others call “employment buyer’s remorse” (or “hire’s remorse”).

One way companies can combat this regret-driven turnover is by developing a more strategic onboarding process.

Organizations with a standardized onboarding process (compared to those without a consistent process) experience higher rates of new hire performance, engagement and retention.

Even if your company is small, you can gain similar boosts in new hire productivity, engagement and retention just by investing some time in creating your own strategic onboarding plan.

Onboarding basics

In the SHRM report, Onboarding New Employees: Maximizing Success, author Talya N. Bauer defines onboarding as “the process of helping new hires adjust to social and performance aspects of their jobs quickly and smoothly.”

It’s crucial to realize that “onboarding” refers to the entire strategic process of helping new employees adapt to your organization, not just to a basic orientation (although orientation is often an important aspect of onboarding).

Bauer goes on to divide onboarding into four distinct parts, the Four C’s:

1. Compliance – Teaching employees basic legal and policy-related rules and regulations
2. Clarification – Ensuring new employees understand their new jobs and all related expectations
3. Culture – Providing employees with a sense of organizational norms – both formal and informal
4. Connection – Helping the new employee establish vital interpersonal relationships and information networks
The Four C’s build on one another. Just about every company covers Compliance issues at least informally with their new hires. However, as you can see in the chart below, Bauer’s report found that only 20 percent of organizations onboard their new employees at the most strategic level, adequately addressing the rest of the Four C’s in a standardized manner.
Spur Employee Productivity and Retention Chart

Pages 2-4, SHRM Foundation’s Effective Practice Guidelines Series: Onboarding New Employees


Onboarding: What’s in it for your company?

By helping your new employees adjust to their jobs more quickly in the short-term, you score some huge advantages for your company in the long-term.

Short-term onboarding benefits

  • Self-confidence in job performance
  • Role clarity
  • Social integration
  • Knowledge of and fit within the organizational culture

Long-term onboarding benefits

  • Higher job satisfaction
  • Organizational commitment
  • Lower turnover
  • Higher performance goals
  • Career effectiveness
  • Lowered stress

Enhancing your onboarding process

Creating a standardized and strategic onboarding experience at your company is an ambitious undertaking. Following these recommendations is a place to start, especially when you focus on what matters most to your company. 

Onboarding basics

Your onboarding process should focus on teaching new hires about your business model and corporate culture. Encourage managers to help their employees make connections between company-wide goals and their day-to-day tasks, which in turn impacts productivity.

Teaching new employees about your corporate culture is important, too. 

This includes:

  • introducing them to key people
  • taking them to lunch
  • getting them involved with the department’s work early on
  • giving them autonomy when they’re ready
  • encouraging them to participate in optional activities like volunteering

Think about what your new hires really need to understand about your company to be both productive and engaged, and make those things the cornerstones of your onboarding content.

Consider cross-boarding

Onboarding can be about more than just your new hires. The Aberdeen Group calls cross-boarding “the process of onboarding someone from an individual contributor to a leadership position.”

For example, you could practice cross-boarding through a special workshop for new supervisors and managers. Whether the attendees have never been a manager before or are coming into the role with management experience from another company, they may need a refresher. Try to help your managers walk away feeling supported and well-versed in the vision for leadership at your company.

What else could you be doing to help new leaders in your organization have a more successful transition?

Invest in technology

Technology can have a dramatic impact on your onboarding. It can provide on-demand resources for your new employees between meetings and orientations, giving them quick answers about your company’s culture, policies and procedures when they need them.

Obviously, finances are a factor when it comes to investing in new technology, but if there are things that you identify that could help your employees be more productive or engaged, see what you can do.

Onboarding principles to remember

Bauer recommends the following best practices for onboarding.
  • Implement the basics (e.g., prepare their workstation, cell phone, and other essentials) prior to the first day on the job.
  • Make the first day on the job special.
  • Use formal orientation programs.
  • Develop a written onboarding plan.
  • Make onboarding participatory.
  • Be sure your program is consistently implemented.
  • Ensure that the program is monitored over time.
  • Use technology to facilitate the process.
  • Note milestones, such as 30, 60, 90 and 120 days on the job – and up to one year post-organizational entry — to check in on employee progress.
  • Engage stakeholders in planning.
  • Include key stakeholder meetings as part of the program.
  • Be crystal clear with new employees in terms of:
    • Objectives.
    • Timelines.
    • Roles.
    • Responsibilities.

Remember, the sooner your new hires feel welcome and prepared for their jobs, the sooner they will be able to successfully contribute to your company’s mission.

If you’re like many businesses, your employees are your biggest investment. When your employees are happy with your company, they’re less likely to leave. Get our free Insperity magazine, The Insperity guide to employee retention, and learn more about what goes into a solid employee retention strategy.

The Insperity guide to employee retention, Issue 14
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