Onboarding Key to Employee Engagement and Retention

‍In a 2013 study by Aberdeen Group, 90% of respondents said they believe that employees make their decision to stay within their first year of employment.  One third of all external hires are no longer with an organization after two years, frequently citing reasons such as lack of clarity of responsibilities, ineffective training, and lack of help from manager and co-workers.  By treating onboarding as a key element of their talent strategy, companies can get employees started off on the right foot, thereby driving greater engagement early on, and greater commitment to stay with the company.  Hewitt found that companies with a best-in-class approach to onboarding also had the highest levels of employee engagement.

Onboarding is more than just filling out some paperwork and learning about benefits.  It is a comprehensive and planful approach to acclimating a new employee.  Try these if your company needs to improve its approach to onboarding:

Look for opportunities to pre-board.  Prepare the new hire for their first day on the job and simplify the processes and paperwork once they arrive.  Is there paperwork or important information they can review in advance?  Can the new manager and/or team welcome the new hire in some way before arriving?  Some simple, but overlooked details include preparing the person’s desk and work area, making sure their phone and computer are set up and working, and making sure their manager is present to welcome them and show them around.  Often, with some dedicated effort, a clear process can be created to ensure the new hire is arriving to a manager and team who are prepared for them. Have you ever shown up to a new job and found nobody was prepared for you, your computer wasn’t set up yet, or that your manager was out of the office?  First impressions are important.

Provide insight about the company’s culture, values, and strategies.  These should be consistently woven throughout communications with new hires while they are still an applicant and through their onboarding experience.

Clarity of role.  Understanding one’s role and how they contribute to the success of the organization is a critical element in employee engagement.  They should clearly understand performance expectations, and should receive a learning plan tailored to the specific needs.  Managers should be able to identify what they expect their new hires to accomplish in the first week, month, 3 months, 6 months, and beyond, and explain who will help them along the way.

Socialization with co-workers and manager, including meeting appropriate senior management.  Building rapport and solid relationships with co-workers creates a support system that is critical to new hires acclimating to and understanding their new environment.  Managers of new hires should focus on building trust and openness.  Perception of strong leadership is also an important driver of engagement, and if handled well, connecting with senior management can begin to build trust between different levels of employees, and can increase the likelihood of employees speaking up when they have feedback or concerns.

Ask for feedback on the onboarding process from those who have gone through it.  Continuously improve your onboarding by understanding what is and isn’t working well.  Create repeatable processes, where possible, and encourage managers to do the same to increase efficiency and consistency of new hire experience.  Your managers shouldn't be "winging it" every time a new hire starts.

Consider implications for internal people movement.  Employees who move internally within a company may already display high levels of engagement and commitment. However, don’t overlook them because they are already familiar with the organization.  Clarity of role, building a support system, and developing a relationship with their manager will continue to drive engagement, or if neglected, could turn off a previously engaged employee.

Employees who are engaged in their work and committed to their organizations give companies crucial competitive advantages—including higher productivity and lower employee turnover.  Top talent has options.  Engaging new hires early can ultimately determine how hard someone will work for you and whether they will be committed to staying at the organization.

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