Onboarding Done Right Retain Your Talent
Rolf E. Staerk/
Summary: Make the employee onboarding experience informative and enjoyable; then watch amazing things happen in your organization.

Little (Or No) Onboarding Happens All Too Often

The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) defines employee onboarding as the "process of helping new hires adjust to social and performance aspects of the new job quickly and smoothly." Like many of you, whenever I hear this term, I think about boarding a ship. And, in seafaring, we’ve all heard (or read about) some incredible survival stories that are both harrowing and frightening. An employee’s first-time experience with a company, should in no way resemble maritime stories and shipwrecks; but all too often little (or no) onboarding occurs.

Off To A Bad Start

George, a gifted human resources specialist, was hired by a large, architectural firm to help administer the day-to-day operations of their group benefits plan. His expertise was extensive in group health and dental plans, worker’s compensation, and employee life insurance. He was both eager and a little anxious about starting his new job. He arrived at work on the prescribed day and hour at the satellite office, where 80 employees worked, but he found the door locked. He went back to his car in the employee parking lot to check his notes and make some calls. "Am I at the right address?" he asked himself. He couldn’t reach his hiring manager.

After waiting 40 minutes, the office door was opened by the security guard and George was told to sit and wait in the lobby area; there was no receptionist at the desk. George was eventually seated at a temporary desk without a computer. It was then explained by an unknown employee that his hiring manager had been reassigned and would no longer be working in that office. No instructions or training was given to George, other than being told to "look around on the company’s internal website on your smartphone and see if there is some new employee training or something." During the lunch hour, he phoned his spouse to describe his morning: "Their onboarding is a shipwreck!" he told her.

Two and a half hours later, a sympathetic co-worker offered to introduce George to others in the office. Four days later, an access card and a key to the office were given to him. A week after that, an employee badge arrived from corporate headquarters. In the interim, George was told to contact the IT service desk and try to get an email account and network access set up. That process took more than four days. He finally had a working computer.

Ultimately, George was responsible for figuring out how to do his job and the specific duties turned out to be much different than was listed in the pre-employment job posting. He never felt included in the culture and didn’t feel comfortable in his job. George only stayed because he desperately needed the income. (The pay was excellent but he quit only after six months.)

Onboarding Done Right

Maxwell was hired at a privately held, medium-sized manufacturing company in a training capacity. This is how he described his orientation on the first day of work: He started with a tour of the facility and introductions with key people. Maxwell and his supervisor stopped at the reception desk and created an access badge and ID. After the tour, he was shown his work area which was clean, orderly, and included a functioning computer system. Email accounts had been created in advance and access to shared network drives was implemented quickly with help from an IT technician.

Within one hour of starting, an employee from the mailroom delivered a corporate-branded box containing office supplies, a variety of marketing promotional materials (including a t-shirt, mug, and cap with the company logo), and a coupon for a free lunch at the employee dining room. Shortly thereafter, Maxwell's supervisor met with him and together they reviewed a comprehensive and customized employee onboarding document that included a welcome letter, new hire checklist, available tools list, and specific instructions regarding required job tasks and duties. The onboarding document ended with a list of goals, calendar items, and objectives.

Also, on the first day, Maxwell met with Susan, a human resources representative who explained additional information and then completed forms necessary for new hires. The employee handbook was presented to Maxwell and explained in detail.

After this process, he was encouraged to ask questions and the onboarding documents from his manager were then used as guides to complete additional scheduled tasks and training over several months.

Maxwell reported to friends and family members that he immediately felt welcomed, embedded, and comfortable in his new job. Furthermore, it was reported by the supervisor that Maxwell became immediately productive and seemed to adjust quickly to new information and tasks. Maxwell stated often that, although the job was demanding, work was energizing, exciting, and time passed quickly.

Understanding The Cost Of Expensive Employee Turnover

Have you ever been in a leadership development class, meeting, or budgeting session where someone calculated the cost of employee turnover? I have. I hired an experienced educator, who in his very first management training class instructed each participant to:

  • Estimate the number of weeks in lost productivity from vacant positions
  • Multiply that figure by lost productivity hours from departing employees
  • Estimate the number of employees per year that voluntarily leave
  • Consider their wages per hour
  • Then calculate how much employee turnover was costing each department

His learners, who were hiring managers and department heads, quickly realized that an organization’s long-term viability depends on maintaining consistent and cohesive teams, where individuals feel integrated and embedded. Sometimes, however, managers neglect to fix a turnover problem.

Amazing Things Can Happen In Your Organization With Good Onboarding

Imagine now that you have hired a new employee, and through an organized onboarding process, you established a strong communication channel, where you taught them about your organization and their new job. If you did it right, you now have a trusting and friendly working relationship, which will later add value to your organization.

eLearning And Onboarding

Although many companies prefer instructor-led training (or virtual instructor-led training) for new employee onboarding, eLearning should be considered as well. Offering automated and repeatable onboarding courses for new employees allows for the re-application of key learning points that may be missed or forgotten on an apprehensive first day.

Eline Oostingh/

Smooth Sailing Ahead

A sailboat skipper depends on the skills and aptitude of the crew for a successful voyage. Likewise, in organizations that practice deliberate and detailed onboarding, employees enjoy their jobs more and feel a greater sense of community and belonging. They cooperate, plan, and execute more effectively. Group cohesion is enhanced and problems are solved more quickly and professionally. Employees who have experienced proper onboarding know more about their company and they become better-trained advocates who can give higher-quality internal and external customer service.