Research reports that an employee’s most productive time in a new job is within their first six months of employment, which means that employers have a unique opportunity to train, engage, and build relationships with their most recent hires during this honeymoon period. Unfortunately, many organizations invest all their time and budget courting candidates with phone calls, company videos and recruitment marketing campaigns and fail to focus on the prime opportunities at the beginning of the employee and employer relationship. I’m talking about onboarding.

Forty percent of employees who left their jobs voluntarily did so within six months of starting in the position, according to data recorded and processed by the workforce insights arm of credit-reporting agency Equifax and another 16 percent of new employees left on their own within 12 months. In other words, more than half of voluntary turnover happens within a year of the new employee’s start date.

According to SHRM, 60 percent of an entire workforce will be gone from a company within four years if there is no formal process for ongoing training and career development. A SHRM report also indicated that companies with an engaging onboarding program retain 91 percent of their first-year workers. Investing in a robust onboarding experience should be a no-brainer, but according to a recent survey conducted by Kronos Inc., a workforce management technology provider, and the Human Capital Institute (HCI), nearly a quarter (24 percent) of respondents said that they have no onboarding program at all.

Structured Onboarding Processes Drive Employee Confidence & Productivity

The same HCI survey of 350 HR leaders in the U.S. found that 76 percent of those organizations are not effectively onboarding their new hires. Slightly less than half (47 percent) said their onboarding program successfully retains new hires.

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Even when companies develop structured onboarding programs, most don't meet their top goal, the research found. Although 62 percent of respondents said their primary goal with onboarding is to integrate employees with the workplace culture, this is not proportionally reflected in the results. Culture integration accounts for just 30 percent of the onboarding process for managers and just 27 percent for non-managers, according to respondents.

Instead of using onboarding as a tool to ensure employee longevity, about 40 percent of current onboarding activities consist of completing paperwork, such as filling out benefits forms and going over compliance documents. Respondents ranked reviewing rules and regulations (75 percent), providing an overview of the company (73 percent), and resources orientation (62 percent) as the most practiced onboarding activities. While many onboarding programs cover the basics of what new employees should know walking into an organization, a significant number do not.

How to Improve Your Company’s Onboarding Experience

Onboarding should be a magical time for new employees who are still in “the honeymoon period.” However, research tells us that more often than not it’s a time filled with anxiety, confusion, and stress. We can mitigate a great deal of new hire anxiety by making some simple adjustments to the timing of onboarding, as well as the support we provide.

Here are six areas of the onboarding process that can be adapted (or introduced if you’re not already doing them) to improve the experience and increase employee loyalty and longevity.

#1 Help employees build connections.

Whether it's a new hire lunch or strategic introductions to team members, friendships and relationships are critical to retention. Use introductions to provide your new hires with access to employees at your company who would make good mentors. Providing mentoring support will give your new hires an additional layer of comfort at their new job, the possibility of mentor/mentee relationships that continue past new employee orientation, and opportunities for ongoing learning and support.

Providing new hires with a mentor or peer buddy can have a positive impact on both productivity and retention. Under Google’s “Buddy Hire Program,” most Nooglers (Google’s affectionate term for its new hires) are assigned a mentor to help speed progress towards becoming a productive employee.

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IBM’s Royal Blue Ambassador Program provides every new hire with an experienced employee mentor for 30 days in order to help them adapt quickly to working at the firm. Beyond 30 days, IBM has a volunteer collaborative group known as its “grassroots community” which continues to help new hires transition into IBM.

Consider forming a "new hire" affinity group, especially if you are onboarding larger groups, so that new hires can share problems, opportunities, and experiences with each other. It’s important that your new hires bond with others and their fellow new employees are the best people to understand this period of adaptation and learning.

#2 Create a communication onboarding process and workflow plan.

Put a communication plan in place with a number of touch points and planned communication that begins on the start date and occurs at key points throughout an employee’s tenure. A good cadence may be at two weeks, 30 days, 45 days, and at 60 days into their employment.

Google’s analytics team has led the way in determining which factors have the highest positive impact on new hire productivity. Human resources, or people operations, is a science at Google. They’re always testing to find ways to optimize their people, both in terms of happiness and performance. In fact, almost everything Google does is based on data, so it should come as no surprise that Google uses data to gauge employee performance and improve productivity.

Getting new hires up to speed is a critical success factor in onboarding and in the book Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead by Laslo Bock, Google's former SVP of People. Google found that a simple “reminder alert” email to the hiring manager can reduce the new hire’s time to productivity by a full month, a whopping 25 percent decrease. The email includes a very short list, encouraging the hiring manager to prepare for, greet, and make time for their new hire. Simple, but highly effective.

Once hired, Nooglers undergo a two-week in-person training and orientation program that explains the organizational structure, core technologies, and best practices. Beyond that, senior employees deliver in-person lectures on Google practices and culture. during which they talk about their experience and share team perspectives. The result is a better rapport and shared values and language.

#3 Encourage managers to engage with new hires

A new employee’s manager is one of the most important people in the onboarding experience, gaining this person’s support may directly improve or undermine a new hire’s chances of success. In a study that followed 409 college graduates through their first two years on the job, the degree of supervisor support that new employees felt during that time period had implications for role clarity, job satisfaction, and even their salary over time. In another study we found that supervisors can promote or inhibit newcomer adjustment through their supportive or obstructive behaviors. It’s critically important that effective onboarding programs take into account not just the experience of the newcomer but also that of the hiring managers.

Ask managers to share department and team goals, key performance metrics, and management style to help new hires understand key priorities and what to expect. A localized departmental version of onboarding will help your new hires immediately understand the focus and the priorities of their new department and team.

Here are some ways managers can participate in successful onboarding programs:

  • Deliver reminders to managers to meet with new hires at set intervals.
  • Provide pre-scheduled meetings with managers and key employees.
  • Create frequent opportunities for two-way communications and “check-in” feedback sessions.
  • Put structures in place to measure new hire engagement and longevity.
  • Hold hiring managers accountable for shortening the time to minimum productivity and improving new hire retention and satisfaction rates.

Managers can help maximize your new hire’s success by recognizing individual progress, improvement, and achievements. If a new hire is quickly getting up to speed, let them know. Managers can be reminded to make a point to say “thank you” or “good job” and avoid only reaching out if new employees appear to be struggling. Ask managers to check in frequently and take the time to talk about individual goals and professional development opportunities. Showing a sincere interest in each individual will go a long way to cultivating a strong, lasting relationship.

#4 Ask for feedback and input.

This is ultimately for your benefit, HR. Without the data from feedback, you have no way of measuring the success of your onboarding program, the increased investment you’ve asked for from your executive team, or departmental success.

One of the most obvious (and beneficial) ways to improve your onboarding program with data is to survey your new hires that went through your new hire training after 1, 6 and 12 months have passed. Use that survey data to identify the program components that worked, those that need improvement, and areas where additional action are required. External benchmarking of your competitor’s onboarding programs will help you to maintain a competitive advantage.

An overlooked survey application: Asking new hires why they quit their last job during onboarding may provide you with insight into which factors may again cause them to quit this new job, and help your organization measurably improve retention.

#5 Create a pre-employment onboarding guide and/or communication campaign.

A highly effective way of reducing “first day” stress before your new hires even begin orientation is to get them fully engaged with the company. This is where technology support comes in.

Giving access to your internal employee site as soon as an offer is accepted is a great way to get new hires acclimated quickly. This should be a destination for incoming new employees to find everything they need to know about working at your company, including standard operating procedures, what technology the company uses (such as performance tracking apps and communication tools), company values and even the most popular post-work hangouts among coworkers. You can also include quizzes for tracking progress.

Succeeding@IBM offers pre-start date learning and training, and new hires that participate in their pre-hire community are 80 percent less likely to leave during their first year. Warby Parker sends “an electronic welcome packet”, with the company history, core values, press clippings and what a new employee should expect during their first day, week, and month. The night before starting, new employees at Warby Parker get a call from their direct supervisor to make sure that they know “where to show up and when.”

The idea is to make the onboarding process as smooth as possible and set new employees up for success by giving them the information they need before their start date. By the time they get started, new hires can hit the ground running.

Final Thoughts on Onboarding

Historically, onboarding has been treated as a single event rather than a process: New hires are passive participants in a one- or two-day orientations. They receive information about policies and procedures, sign lots of paperwork, and are given a tour. Today’s talent economy requires forward-thinking companies to assess how they bring new employees into their company culture and get them up to speed so they can be productive as quickly as possible.

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As hiring heats up and, at the same time, turnover rates dramatically increase, the time has come for executives, hiring managers, and HR leaders to realize the tremendous impact modern onboarding practices can have on new hire productivity and retention. The traditional goal of simply having people signed up and familiar with the basics must shift towards one of delighting new hires and providing them with the information and the support that they need to be productive as soon as possible and support for as long as necessary for success.

 

Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR is an author, speaker, HR professional, and workplace social media expert who has a passion for recruiting, training, and all things social media. She is the President/CEO of Xceptional HR and a leader in the HR community with more than 12 years of industry experience. Connect with her on LinkedIn or Twitter.