The Onboarding Process and Its Link to Retention

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The Onboarding Process and Its Link to Retention_man working on laptop while woman takes notes

Never underestimate the power a fantastic onboarding process.  It could cost the company later. In fact, if the onboarding strategy is strong, it can keep the company’s front door from transforming into a revolving door.

In other words, a powerful onboarding process translates to the retention of talent down the road.  According to research by Glassdoor, organizations with a strong onboarding process can improve the retention of new hires by 82 percent.  Additionally, productivity sees a boost in improvement of more than 70 percent!

Onboarding and Retention

Strategy Linkages

To some extent – onboarding and retention have been considered separate strategies.  And that’s still predominantly the case, however, HR has begun to see the linkages between the two.  To be more specific, onboarding can be, at least in some way, considered a retention strategy. 

Think about it for a moment.

The onboarding process is one of the first impressions an employee will have of the company as a new hire.  Sure, he or she has gone through the interview process, spoken to HR professionals and even managers, but the person’s interaction with the company up to this point has been mainly external.  As a new hire, she or he will gain access to the company’s “world” – being able to sign into the company intranet for the first time and even meet new co-workers -- among other things.  The company will benefit from these positive experiences and could, conversely, suffer from negative ones.  Digitate says employees having a negative onboarding experience are twice as likely to look for another job.


88% of organizations don’t onboard well.



A bad first impression can flavor not only the rest of the onboarding process, but also the hew hire’s later interactions with the company.  Some examples might include:

  • A negative impact on the building of the psychological contract between the employee and the employer
  • A lack of engagement from the new employee
  • An impact on productivity
  • An impediment when it comes to connecting with other co-workers and the company culture

Length of the Process

When I first entered the workforce after graduating college and landed my first job, the onboarding process was a blur.  Within a few days, I was expected to be up and running without a real opportunity to acclimate to my new environment.  It was not a good experience and seven months later, I moved on to another organization.  That’s not the case for everyone, but it does articulate a very important point:  onboarding should not be a one week process.  According to HCI, a week is not a lot of time for a new hire to get situated and ready to be productive.  In general, a strong onboarding program will last, at minimum, 90 days.  In some instance, the program will run for a full year.  It’s important to for a new hire to receive as much support as necessary.  Otherwise, he or she will feel overwhelmed and under prepared for the tasks they have to complete each day.

The State of HR

The State of HR is in transition.  The days of being merely transactional are extinct and the evolution of the strategic HR department is underway.  So, what shape will the future take?  Where will the focus lie in order to achieve success?  Find out in our latest report:  The State of HR.

Onboarding Best Practices

With that in mind, there are four essential steps in the onboarding process that help employees be successful.

  1. Perform all Logical tasks before the employee’s actual start date. Think paperwork here.  If it’s done before the new hire’s first day, it leaves more time for the employee to meet with managers and co-workers.
  2. First day welcomes. Anything HR can do to make the employee feel part of the team is critical.  It could be a card welcoming the new employee or even a small mixer-like event.
  3. Make connections. This focuses solely on creating more opportunities for the new hire to connect with co-workers.
  4. Conduct regular check-ins and expectations. Do not abandon the employee.  Follow up and make sure he or she has everything they need.  Otherwise, you have an employee that feels lost and without the appropriate tools and/or knowledge to perform well.

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So far, we’ve looked the linkage between onboarding and retention from the new hire angle, but what about from the angle of the internal employee?  This is often referred to as cross-boarding.  In fact, HCI reports 81 percent of organizations believe cross-boarding is just as important as new hire onboarding.  Despite that, only 27 percent of companies say they actually practice this process.  Now, internal hires won’t need the same type of time and attention as a new hire – at least from the standpoint of needing information about the company.  However, internal hires or promoted employees do need time to get to know their new team.  Additionally, they will require some training to get used to their new job responsibilities.

In summation

Onboarding can offer a plethora of rewards for companies with HR professionals or human resources team that knows what it is doing from an onboarding standpoint.  Retention is definitely one of those rewards.  Given the current work climate, specifically the difficulty of finding new talent for the organization or finding talent with the right skills for the job openings available, it is no wonder companies want to keep those high potential and super productive employees on the payroll.  When it comes to retention, the onboarding strategy can be the most powerful and complimentary tool in the HR professional’s arsenal.


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