Is Great Onboarding the Key to Improving Workforce Retention?

February 28, 2020 - minute read

While many employers treat their onboarding process and retention strategy as two distinct entities, research suggests they’re anything but. Employers with a strong onboarding program increase new-hire retention by a whopping 82%, according to an eye-opening study by the job site Glassdoor.

However, many employers have yet to make the connection. According to Gallop’s most recent State of the American Workplace Report, only 12% of employees feel their companies do a good job of onboarding.

Yet underestimating the impact of the onboarding experience on employee tenure can be a very expensive mistake. After all, the average cost per hire is $4,000—which means losing a new hire essentially doubles your hiring costs, as well as the time it takes to fill the position.(If you don’t know your cost per hire, you can easily calculate it here).

In other words, our mothers were right: you only get one chance to make a great first impression. Although your new hires have formed some initial opinions based on the interview process, their first “insider” experience takes place on their first day of employment and proceeds from there. It matters.

So, by carefully choreographing your new hire’s onboarding experience, you can vastly improve retention, not to mention productivity, morale and employee engagement. 

View Your Onboarding Process through a New Hire’s Eyes

We all know what it feels like to be the newbie, venturing outside our comfort zone. We have a strong desire to get the lay of the land. To get up to speed, so we can start proving ourselves. Perhaps most of all, we want to feel like part of the team—to belong.     

A great onboarding process addresses those basic human needs, focusing on people over paperwork. That all-important first day might include a warm welcome, numerous introductions to coworkers, someone to eat lunch with, and a chance to ask questions without feeling judged.

A great onboarding process doesn’t include burying new hires in forms, or leaving them alone with a manual until the manager finds time for them. When new hires go home at the end of the day, you want them to feel excited, reassured and optimistic. Not overwhelmed, isolated, or bored.

Investing care and planning into your onboarding process will pay off in fairly short order—even, and perhaps especially, for hourly workers. The more confident and comfortable workers are in their new role, the more quickly they’ll become productive contributors—and the more likely they are to stay with your company.   

10 Strategies for Improving Your Onboarding Process

Reinventing the onboarding process doesn’t happen overnight, but these strategies can help you move in the right direction.

  • Provide forms and orientation materials before the start date - If your HR software allows it, give new hires access to the basics in advance. Assets like a virtual tour, FAQ, and guide to company lingo can all help reduce first-day stress, while getting paperwork out of the way frees up more first day hours to meet with managers and coworkers.
  • Plan a first-day welcome – Small gestures like presenting a signed greeting card from the team or hosting a mini-welcome event with donuts can go a long way toward making new hires feel comfortable. Encourage coworkers to share details about your culture to start the conversation.
  • Implement a buddy system – Pairing new hires with experienced coworkers who are willing to share their knowledge is a great way to get new workers up to speed faster, while giving them an important contact and resource. 
  • Use an online learning management system – The most effective training programs mix classroom and on-the-job training with online learning systems that serve up content—i.e., videos, checklists, and quizzes—that reinforce learning. Make sure the system is user-friendly. Hourly workers in particular may be smartphone whizzes, but struggle with company PCs. 
  • Hold managers accountable for assimilating new hires – Create standards for your managers, such as covering certain material with new hires on the first day, overseeing their progress, and checking in at regular intervals. Use your HR analytics to track retention rates by manager.
  • Share the company (and department) mission with new hires – Less than half of U.S. workers know their companies’ mission, according to Gallup. Knowing the company’s goals and purpose, as well as where they fit in and the role they play, helps workers feel more invested and connected. (For example, janitors play a critical role at keeping their coworkers healthy, but many are never told that.) 
  • Extend your onboarding period – Even after new hires are up and running, have managers conduct ongoing check-ins. Make sure employees have all the tools and knowledge they need to be successful and feel valued.   

Yes, onboarding is an administrative task. But, done right, it can be so much more—including the first step of a successful retention strategy. If you want to improve retention rates, give onboarding the same level of care as your hiring process. And if your current onboarding software is holding you back, see what else is out there.

Filed Under: Workforce Management Onboarding