We’ve all heard onboarding horror stories. An eager new hire shows up on her first day, to ready to meet the team and get down to work, only to spend the day filling out paperwork alone at her desk all morning after a brief welcome from her manager. After eating lunch alone, she receives login credentials for the company’s database, but no training on how to use it—making it difficult to begin work in her new role as an analyst. Her coworkers seem irritated when she asks for help, and she’s left to nervously try to figure out what she’s supposed to do. This pattern continues for weeks, and it’s not long before this promising analyst begins looking for work elsewhere.
Fortunately, scenarios like this are becoming less likely in today’s context. Organizations know that turnover is expensive. There are direct costs of course, like payouts for unused sick days, but there are also things like losing institutional knowledge and training a replacement that take a heavy toll on the bottom line. Leaders have begun to realize that the onboarding experience is a major determining factor in new employees’ decision to stick around or bolt out the door, as 90 percent of people make this choice in the first six months of work. As a result, they’ve established clear processes and protocols around onboarding, making sure that new people know what the expectations are, how to utilize resources, and who to go to with questions.
The problem is, onboarding is more than logistics. There’s a human element as well, as the first few months are when employees begin to form personal connections to their work, with their team, and to the organization as a whole—or not. While organizations are busy honing their onboarding systems, they’re often not considering engagement levels in the process.
Take this recent example from one of our clients who was experiencing high turnover, but didn’t understand why. After conducting an engagement survey, we found that one of the main reasons people were leaving was that they had a poor onboarding experience. Many did not have an accurate preview of what the role would entail, leaving them confused and frustrated when reality hit. The job simply wasn’t what they thought it would be based on the recruiting process. Others did not feel that they would be able to grow and advance within the company once they began work.
In light of these findings, we recommended that our client provide a more realistic job preview to applicants during the hiring process and demonstrate to new employees their long-term mobility within the company. These changes would help new people understand how they fit into the big picture now and how they might build a career there in the future, increasing engagement and ultimately reducing turnover.
A common thread among people who left the company was an overall feeling of disengagement during the first 90 days of work. This leads to the key takeaway: Across industries, our research has found that people who are engaged (based on several metrics) in this initial 90 days are three times more likely to stay than those who were not.
This means that effective onboarding must go beyond setting up the company laptop and showing them around if the goal is truly to set new hires up for long-term success. It must also include things that directly contribute to an overall sense of engagement, such as:
- Making good on promises made during interviews
- Aligning expectations of both the work and the organizational culture
- Communicating how the role contributes to the overall mission
- Building positive work relationships
- Assigning a mentor (or team of mentors) who will support the new hire’s acclimation and answer their questions
- Offering thoughtful feedback about the early contributions they have made, preferably within the first month
- Demonstrating skill development and career advancement opportunities
But how will you know if your carefully designed onboarding program is having the desired effect of bolstering early employee engagement? You’ll need to monitor it closely and identify the key levers that determine the outcome. Using both informal check-ins and more formal surveys in the first week, month or 90 days, can help you pinpoint why people are becoming engaged or disengaged. This allows you to make beneficial tweaks to your onboarding process to help increase engagement, and therefore retention. Onboarding surveys can be particularly powerful to identify if there are key segments of the organization that could use a revamp to the onboarding experience: Newmeasures research often finds that new hire experiences can vary widely by location, role, or manager.
With careful attention to this critical time in the employee life cycle, organizations can quickly say goodbye to their turnover woes and instead watch new hires become seasoned, valuable team members.