The Perils of Lazy Onboarding in a Competitive Employee Market (Part I of II)

Many, many years ago … before it was called onboarding … companies used to call the process of welcoming new employees “orientation,” and they did it even worse than companies now. Maybe it was because those Traditionalist and Baby Boomer generations of workers were brought up with the “grow old and die with the company” mindset. Organizations didn’t put that much effort into welcoming new people because buzzwords like “employee engagement” and “retention” weren’t on the minds of management. Profits were.

However, times have changed and so have workers. Today’s research shows that a successful onboarding process for new hires dramatically increases their engagement, loyalty and the odds of them sticking around long-term. So, if the data shows how important onboarding is for organizations everywhere, why, oh why, do so many companies screw it up?

There are several reasons why companies have trouble with their onboarding procedures, but they usually boil down to one thing: If you make it as impersonal as most companies do, you’re sending a strong message to your new employee that all that sweetness and light and “we are family” talk they heard during their recruitment may have just been a smoke screen.

Show interest in your new hires if you want them to reciprocate

Think about your last two or three jobs … how did those companies handle you coming aboard? Probably not as well as you would have liked, which is why they are now your FORMER employers! Let’s see if this sounds about right:

  • You accept the job offer and tell your new boss that you’re unable to start for two weeks because you want to give your current employer notice
  • Nobody contacts you from your new company for the two weeks, except for an email from HR telling you to report to their office bright and early on your first day
  • When you arrive, you sit by the receptionist’s desk out front for 10 minutes until an HR person comes to retrieve you. Then, you spend the next couple of hours filling out employment paperwork and getting info-dumped about your health and insurance benefits.
  • If you are really “lucky” you can watch one or more cheesy welcome videos that might have been made 15 years ago, judging by the clothing people were wearing
  • When you’re pardoned from HR prison, your manager comes down to get you and takes you up to your new cubicle/workspace.

But wait … the onboarding process gets better (not)

Your new manager either: a) has an important meeting to get to, so he or she leaves you in the care of the department’s administrative assistant. The admin gives you a quick tour of the department. She’s surprised when the drawers are full of old junk from the previous occupant, including one entire drawer packed with 675 old pens, highlighters and markers … only four of which actually work. She apologizes and promises to get you some things from the supply closet later. There is nothing on your gray cubicle walls except a copy of the company phone extension list. The admin hands you another bunch of pages on how to use your computer, telephone, other office equipment … etc.

Or, b) walks you around him or herself and introduces you to 30 to 40 people you’ll be working with, both in and out of your department. By the time you’re done, your head is about to explode from trying to put names with faces and job titles. All you want to do is find the bathroom and decompress for five minutes. Oh, but the desk is still in its gray, lifeless, multiple pen-holding state, so you still have that going for you.

But at least they’re taking you to lunch, right?

That is a lot of brain-scrambling, mind-numbing and head-swimming stuff going on, and you haven’t even begun to tackle the actual work you’re going to do for this company. Needless to say, the examples above are ineffective onboarding processes and all but guarantee increased turnover in the future if there is no improvement.

Onboarding will save you from the high cost of employee turnover

Most industry experts believe that American corporations have turnover rates around 20 to 25 percent, while some industries see 30 to 40 percent churn. That’s a staggering amount of turnover, but it is common in most industries. It’s even expected in some, such as retail, customer service and hospitality. While opinions vary on the cost to replace an employee, it is generally accepted that mid-level workers (those who make $30,000 to $60,000) will cost employers about nine months’ salary to fill the empty position. So, a manager earning $60,000 a year will cost $45,000 to replace. Higher-paid management and executive positions consistently cost one and-a-half to two times their annual salary.

Proponents of onboarding say that bringing a new employee on the right way can significantly reduce the chances of them leaving. In a 2007 survey, the Wynhurst Group found that new hires going through a structured onboarding process were 58 percent more likely to remain with the organization after three years. A 2009 study by the Aberdeen Group of senior executives with HR, staffing and recruiting duties, found that 86 percent of respondents felt that a new hire’s decision to stay with a company long-term is made within the first six months of employment.

Millennials are a key driver for the current emphasis of better onboarding

With the growing number of Millennials entering key positions, gaining their loyalty right off the bat will become even more critical over the next 15 to 20 years. Why? Because Millennials will make up more than 50 percent of the workforce by 2020. They are far more likely to job-hop even when things are going well. They’re the polar opposite of the Baby Boomer generation, who grew up with the idea that you stayed with a company forever, no matter how miserable you were. (Joking … but not by much!)

But don’t think onboarding is just about retention. It’s also a key component to an employee’s productivity. The Aberdeen Group reported that for companies with onboarding programs, 66 percent claimed a higher rate of successful assimilation of new hires into company culture, 62 percent had higher time-to-productivity ratios, and 54 percent reported higher employee engagement. Those stats are like sweet music to management and Human Resources’ ears.

What is the first step to improve your onboarding process?

So what can you do to make your onboarding efforts more effective? First, take off the rose-colored glasses you wear about your company and have serious exit interviews with employees who leave. If they’re going to be an ex-employee in an hour or two, they’ll likely give you the unvarnished truth if you have a non-confrontational discussion. You may not want to hear what they’re saying, but successful companies absolutely want to know why their people leave … and they act on what they hear.

Next, schedule time to talk to all your new hires from the last year. Ask them what they would have changed about their onboarding experience. Make sure they know that nothing they say will come back on them later. If you have to, set up an online survey where they can anonymously answer your questions. That still provides a chance to tell you what they feel and not what they think you want to hear.


(Come back next Tuesday for Part II of this look at today’s onboarding failures and how you can immediately audit and correct your current process.)


Cameron Bishop is President & CEO of Mission, Kansas-based SkillPath Seminars. SkillPath is one of the largest B2B business skills, management and leadership training companies in the world. The company provides expert training programs in over 8,000 public seminars held across the country; customized training programs for hundreds of major corporations, government agencies, medical facilities and educational institutions; training content licensing; and unlimited eLearning opportunities via our STAR12 Website.

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