By: Hannah Esbenshade on February 28th, 2020

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The Best Onboarding Practices for Employee Engagement & Retention

Best Practices | Employee Relations | Talent Acquisition

“The real competitive advantage in any business is one word only, which is “people”.

- Kamil Toume

Almost all employers have enacted a new hire orientation that typically takes place on the first day of employment. As workplaces have evolved over the past decade, they’ve embraced the practice of expanding orientation into an extensive onboarding program taking place over several months.

And while many leaders understand the importance of having a comprehensive onboarding program to set employees up for success, I wonder if they understand the correlation between successful onboarding and longtime retention. Research continues to show that a thoughtful and thorough onboarding program is key to retaining new hires, especially within their first year at a company.

Timelines and action items for onboarding will vary by
company from what I’ve seen in my practice as an HR consultant, but the overall
objectives are generally the same. The goals are to assimilate new hires into
the organization and guide them into a highly engaged and meaningful career.

4 Key Themes of an Effective New Hire Onboarding Program

With that understanding, keep the following themes in mind as
you look to tailor the onboarding approach to your specific organization.

Be Transparent

After a candidate has accepted an offer, companies should
put effort into keeping them “warm”. Don’t leave them guessing about what to
expect. Let them know when updates from their hiring manager or an email from
the company’s onboarding system will be sent. Put a checklist or workflow in
place with different tasks designed to touch base with your new hires.

The following are some ideas to get you started:

  • Share the timeline – As a candidate
    progresses through the recruiting process, let them know what to expect next by
    setting up canned emails and having recruiters keep them in the loop.
  • Provide a realistic job preview – be honest
    about what the job entails. It’s better to have a candidate remove them self
    from consideration early in the process than to have a new hire leave after a
    few months on the job.
  • Be generous with details – provide as
    much information as possible on the company and onboarding process. Orientation
    can be overwhelming and stressful, so any tips on what to wear, where to park, or
    what to expect during morning rush hour will be appreciated. Share a copy of
    the employee handbook and benefits package to allow new hires the opportunity
    to familiarize themselves with policies, practices, and benefits ahead of

Be Effective and Intentional

Make a strong effort to bring the onboarding process to life
as much as possible. Incorporate the company’s mission, vision, values, and
culture into orientation by including real-life examples. It’s important to
have CEO and other C-Suite members meet with new hires to share the company’s
story and help them understand how they fit into the mission of the
organization. Schedule a time for Payroll, IT, and other operational support employees
to stop by and introduce themselves. As the HR leader, make it your goal to ensure
new hires feel valued and appreciated, and that the organization is excited
they’ve joined.

Many employers have found utilizing mentors to be a highly
effective onboarding practice. Good mentors act as a peer resource and source
of encouragement for new hires during their first months on the job. They play
a strong role in adjusting to life within your organization and they jump start
the process of building a support system and sense of belonging.

Constantly Improve the Process

As with most things in life, we should always be looking for
ways to improve our processes. Make it a habit to periodically review the onboarding
process to ensure the information that you’re providing is accurate and up to
date. Ask yourself, are your new hires confused about where to go for
information? Do they know who to contact for issues with their paycheck or

When looking to measure the success or baseline of your
onboarding strategy, begin to send out short surveys at various intervals
throughout the employee’s tenure. Aim for sending a survey to new hires after
they’ve completed their first month on the job and follow it up with a stay
survey once the employee hits six months to one year of service. Your
onboarding survey should focus heavily on ease of integration into the company,
whereas your stay surveys should focus on employee engagement factors. Analyze
the data from survey responses to pinpoint strengths and areas for improvement.

Here are some suggestions on building resources for your new

  • Create a contact list of applicable internal and
    external stakeholders (e.g. security office or outsourced IT firm).
  • Utilize your company’s intranet. Keep the site
    as easy to navigate as possible (the fewer clicks, the better!) and make sure
    information is reviewed and updated as needed. Getting new hires used to
    checking a central location for new information can save you many hours of work
    in the long haul.
  • Rearrange the orientation schedule to include
    frequent breaks and a good mix of activities. Try to avoid long stretches of presentation.

Focus on Continuous High Engagement

Don’t let the recruiting process be the highest stage of
engagement for employees. Instead, figure out ways to distribute that energy
and focus throughout the first year and beyond. Have executives, managers and HR partners pulse check new hires throughout
their first year. Pulse checks are a quick and easy way to stay connected with
employees and plants the seeds for a working relationship that lasts through
the rest of the employee’s tenure. The overarching goal should be to build trusting
relationships and reiterate the company’s dedication to employee success.

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