Employee Onboarding – Getting It Right

Finding top talent can be time consuming and expensive.  Search firms typically charge their clients 30% of a new hire’s total compensation.  If your new employee will be earning $150,000 p.a. with a 20% bonus, get ready to fork out $54,000 just to find your new star.

If you are willing to pony-up this kind of money to find a top manager, chances are you will want him/her to stick around for a while. However, according to Professor Talya Bauer, management professor at Portland State University in Oregon, 50% of all senior outside hires fail within 18 months.  Professor Bauer also found that 50% of all hourly workers leave their new job in the first four months of being hired. That’s not a very good return on your human capital investment!

So, what’s going on and how can companies increase the retention rate of their newly hired employees?

Research shows that companies that take the Onboarding process seriously are able to significantly reduce the turnover rate of newly hired employees. Proper onboarding increases employee job satisfaction, boosts productivity and acts as a hedge against resignation.

In a research paper titled, Onboarding New Employees: Maximizing Success, Professor Bauer lists the four C’s of a good onboarding program:

Compliance: Starting place of onboarding that teaches the new employee the basic legal and policy related rules and regulations of the company.

Clarification: Helping new hires fully understand their new roles and the company’s expectations.

Culture: Supporting employees to understand the organizational norms of the company.  This is even more important if a new employee is moving from a small company to a large one, or from a corporate environment to a family owned business.

Connection: Getting the new employee connected to a departmental team, establishing professional friendships for support purposes and having a few colleagues that will include the new employee in their trip to the company’s cafeteria.

Most companies do a terrible job at onboarding because they don’t understand the importance of the process and as such, aren’t willing to invest the time and effort to prepare for the new employee’s arrival.  But remember, half of those professionals that are hired will say good-bye to their new companies within the first 18 months of being on the job.  Here are some steps you can take to improve your retention rate of newly hired employees:

  • Onboarding Starts Before They Walk In The Door: Create a positive impact on the new employee even before they have their first day at work. Send them a welcome kit with materials on the company that they can read before they start work and also information on their benefits.  Give them a call and let them know that you are looking forward to their joining. Inform them about their day-one agenda and what’s planned for the rest of the week. E-mail them a copy of their first week’s schedule.  They will really appreciate if you order their business cards in advance and have them there on day one. But make sure you get all the details correct – no typos! Small gestures will have a big impact.
    If at all possible, the boss should not be on a business trip when their new employee starts work . The hiring manager and new employee should spend some time together to go over the week-one schedule.  One-on-one meetings with peers and subordinates should be already scheduled and confirmed. Make sure someone (or a group) takes the new employee to lunch.
  • Set Up Their Workplace: Whether they will be placed in a cubical or have their own office, make sure that their workspace is fully functional before they arrive.  This includes having both their computer and telephone set up and ready to go. If you need to schedule IT support for day one, book the appointment now. Equip the workspace with all of the supplies that you feel the employee will need.  Don’t send them to the supply closet and make them pick out the items.

When I started a new job once, I remember how frustrated I was to find a 2-foot high pile of work on my desk, compliments of my predecessor.  Not a good way to start off the working relationship.

If the new employee’s predecessor is still available, arrange for them to meet and encourage the predecessor to support the new employee in every possible way.

  • The Welcome: Day one is important; treat it that way.  Know when the new employee is arriving and have someone there to meet him/her.  They might need to go to HR to sign papers or get their company ID. Join them.  Have a meeting scheduled for the entire staff to get together and welcome the new employee.  Everyone should introduce himself or herself and tell a bit about their role at the company.  If necessary, use icebreakers to create a welcoming atmosphere.  Show the employee around the office, their workplace, etc.

The hiring manager and new employee should spend some time together to go over the week-one schedule.  One-on-one meetings with peers and subordinates should be already scheduled and confirmed. Make sure someone (or a group) takes the new employee to lunch.

  • Assign A “Buddy”: Depending on the level of the new hire, I would suggest new employees have a “buddy” (of the same sex) assigned to him/her for the first few weeks.  This person should have several years of experience at the company. Their role is to support them and answer questions.
  • Assign A Mentor: Although I believe mentor relationships are best if they are created naturally (a senior takes a personal interest in a more junior employee), in the case of a new employee, I believe that a mentor should be assigned. This relationship should remain in place for twelve months. The mentor and mentee should meet at least once a month for coffee or lunch and catch up on how the new employee is adjusting to the company.
  • Use A Behavioral Assessment Tool: The number one reason that employees throw in the towel and leave a company is due to a poor relationship with their boss. Here’s a way to get the new employee and boss off to a great start on day one: 1) have both complete a behavioral assessment; 2) have a third person – a person certified in the assessment tool – schedule a meeting for the three of them to meet and review the profiles ; 3) the new boss and new employee are “introduced” to each other based on their behavioral profile. I do this during the new employee’s first week. It helps both individuals fully understand the other one:  how they make decisions; how they communicate; their management and leadership styles; the manner in which they work; their energy level.  It would take months of trial and error… and a lot of frustration, before the employee and boss really understand each other.  There are many good tools out there. The one I use is called PDP.
  • Post Hire Survey: About a month after joining, the company asks the new employee to share how the onboarding process is progressing. I would suggest that an HR manager conduct the survey to learn areas for improvement. Don’t be defensive, just listen and learn.  If something in the process was handled poorly, this would be the time to apologize and make sure you get it right next time.

Effective onboarding is not hard but it does take time, effort and planning.  The best way to achieve good onboarding is to put yourself in the shoes of the new employee.  How would you like to be treated?  What kind of support and information would you like to have from you boss and colleagues?   If you take this first phase of employment seriously, you will improve your track record of retaining top talent.


Professor Talya Bauer Research Paper: Onboarding New Employees: Maximizing Success, 2010

Gallup article on turnover: Jennifer Robinson:  “Turning Around Employee Turnover” May 8, 2008

Benjamin Snyder: Half Of Us Have Quit Our Job Because Of A Bad Boss, April 2, 2015 Fortune Magazine

Michael Wtakins: The First 90 Days, Harvard Business School Press, 2003

William Vanderbloemen:  How to build and effective employee onboarding system, Forbes, March 16, 2017