The Importance of Onboarding a New Employee

Updated on April 9, 2019
Diane Abramson profile image

Diane has a master's degree in Human Resources Development (HRD) from Villanova University and is a SHRM Certified Practicioner.

By the Numbers

According to statistics from Cognology.com, up to 22% of staff turnover occurs within the first forty-five days of employment. Additionally, in the first six months, new employees make their decision to stay with an organization or not. Employee attrition costs organizations approximately 20% of an employee’s salary. However, new employees who experience an official onboarding program are 58% more likely to be with an organization after three years. 77% of new hires who have formal onboarding hit their first performance milestone and manager satisfaction with new employees increases 20% when their employees participate in formal onboarding training.

Sink or Swim

I still cringe as I recall a previous job, unfortunately not too long ago, in which I arrived for my first day of work and my direct aupervisor, the Human Resources Director, and the past department supervisor were all on vacation. This was summer, at a school. I was told to report to the Dean of Faculties office and speak with the Administrative Assistant. We had never met, but she was kind enough to walk me to my office, which was located in the Student Union. Because it was summer, no one was in the building and wouldn’t be for another two months. She opened the door to my office, gave me my key and told me to call if I had any questions. Unfortunately, she was just as ill-informed as I was as to my actual job responsibilities and wasn’t really sure what needed to be done to “orient” me to my new position except to show me where I worked.

For the next two weeks, I sat in a dark building that smelled of gym socks and rotting french fries, in an office with no windows (and no supplies), with absolutely no idea what to do, what was expected of me, who my coworkers were, or what I was supposed to do. During those two weeks, I called my previous supervisor, now a trusted friend and colleague, and begged for my old job back. I was desperate and horrified at the organization I had been hired into. Clearly, these people lacked compassion or concern for my well being, my career, or my job satisfaction!

In hindsight, I am thankful for the experience and that I decided to “stick it out;” my mother didn’t raise a quitter, after all. However, now as an HR professional, I look back at that period of my life, at that organization, at my supervisor, and the HR Director, and wonder how many other employees they let slip through their fingers, dissatisfied with the organization, and their new role.

Thankfully, many of the organizations that previously embraced the “sink or swim” or “prove yourself” mentality have either shifted their mindset or been pushed out of the market, unable to adapt to external changes. Today, attracting qualified workers is extremely difficult and often costly, and the last thing we, as employers, want to do is hire a talented candidate only to have them leave.

That is why retention is so important and that begins with new employee onboarding efforts. Unfortunately, new employee onboarding is often neglected or executed poorly, leaving new employees unhappy and unimpressed. Poorly on-boarded employees are likely to leave quicker than it took the organization to hire them.

What is the Difference Between Onboarding and Orientation?

Simply, orientation is a step or event that occurs during the onboarding process. Onboarding is a process that starts during the recruitment phase and can continue up to a year after the date of hire. Onboarding is a socialization process that provides new employees with the tools and resources needed to be productive and effective organizational members. Whereas orientation is training designed to inform new employees about their benefits, physical facilities, safety and accident prevention, policies and procedures, and health requirements.

The goal of onboarding is to take new employees through the hierarchy of employee engagement. From the most fundamental level, survival, where the new employee learns where to park, what his/her benefits are, all the way up to the level of self-actualization where the employee embraces the company culture, and feels like they work in an environment where they can learn and grow. They have a sense of security, in which they know what is expected of them at work; they have clear goals and expectations. They feel a sense of belonging; they have a best friend at work. And, they feel important. They feel like their work matters, and that it makes an impact on the bottom line.

How Do You Effectively Onboard?

First, establish clear goals and expectations for your new employee’s first week, month, three months, six months, and year. Clear goals help employees focus on the right things and provides them with a target to aim for. Further, goals ensure that new employees and their manager are on the same page and that there is no confusion.

Second, consider setting up your new employee with a buddy or mentor. Remember, new employees often feel nervous and overwhelmed. A mentor or buddy will help your new employee feel comfortable with their job, by training him or her. Additionally, the mentor should be responsible for introducing the new employee to their team and coworkers as well as appropriate managers and members of the senior team. Furthermore, the mentorship or buddy program will allow current employees to take on a leadership role within the company, making them feel like they are a valuable part of the organization. Lastly, the mentor can be useful in identifying areas in the new employee onboarding process that need improvement or modification.

Third, make the new employees’ first week amazing. Decorate their desk, take them out for lunch, invite them to meetings, and give them swag. Make sure all the little details are covered. Does the new employee have all the tools and resources they need to do their job effectively? Do they know what product or services the organization offers? The voice and tone of the company? Where offices are located? Is their computer and phone set up? Can they access their email? Remember, onboarding takes time and research suggests that only around the five month mark can you fully expect a new hire to reach their full productively.

Most importantly, technology and processes are easily copied by competitors but a highly skilled, committed and fully engage workforce is difficult to imitate. You worked hard to attract the best talent, don’t throw that away…retain your talent and make them productive, happy, and successful employees.

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Diane Abramson

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      • Larry Slawson profile image

        Larry Slawson 

        12 months ago from North Carolina

        I think you are totally right. These were some issues that my company faced as well. Thank you for sharing.

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