How to create a successful employee onboarding strategy

October 11, 2019 | Aoife Flynn 5 mins read

Last year, experts reported that employee turnover in the United States reached almost 20%.

This is one of the highest employee turnover rates in the history of the US. Because of this, many companies are looking for ways to transform their recruiting and onboarding process in an effort to reduce mounting costs associated with employee turnover.


Understanding the goal of onboarding

Every organization will have a slightly different goal when onboarding new hires. However, all the best onboarding companies have a key goal in mind, and that is to carefully integrate new employees into the company so as to retain as many of the best employees as possible.

Losing good employees is one of the biggest internal problems of companies today, second only to developing a recruiting process that can select the best new hires (for a more in-depth discussion on this point, managers should consult a recent, published study entitled The Truth About Burnout). High employee turnover costs companies thousands and millions of dollars in retraining, employee burnout, increased recruiting budgets, and delayed project timelines.

As such, employers must understand that transforming their onboarding process towards the goal of integration (helping the new hires fit in with the group) and retention (making sure that new hires want to stay at the company) is crucial.

For example, Quora onboard their new hires by assigning them a mentor. These mentors challenge the new hire with critical projects from week one and metaphorically hold the new employee’s hand through the first few months of their new job. The mentorship creatively integrates that employee within the workforce, and the new role is critical enough to challenge them and help them feel a part of something meaningful and be a valued team member.


Creating objectives from your goal

Your company will need to set objectives – specific objectives – that guide your onboarding strategy to help your new hires integrate well enough to want to stay at your company for long period of time. Many times, onboarding objectives will vary slightly among departments, as well as in specific roles within those departments.

Your objectives should properly identify a timeline for new employee onboarding. Experts are suggesting a timeline for longer than you might think.

Onboarding new hires at an organization should be a strategic process that begins on day one and lasts at least one year, staffing and Human Resources experts say, “The way in which employers handle the first few days and months of a new employee’s experience is crucial to ensuring high retention (Source: SHRM)”.

Onboarding programs that last one day or a week or two are doomed to fail and any retained new hires remain in spite of poor onboarding, not because of it. However, the most effective onboarding experience doesn’t maintain intensive onboarding for longer than a few weeks or months. After a training and adjustment period, the rest of an employee’s first year can still incorporate weekly or monthly check-ins and/or training as part of the overall onboarding process.


Onboarding tools to help you and your new hires meet objectives

A number of new companies have impressed HR professionals everywhere with a great mix of successful onboarding tools. For example, Twitter onboard new employees using the following tools:

  • Company “swag” as welcome gifts
  • Desk arrangements where new hires are mixed with veteran employees
  • Sit down orientation classes in the first few days and weeks of work
  • Business meals with company executives
  • Monthly “happy hours” with company managers who then brief new employees on their team projects


Your company can incorporate some of these tools and techniques, but there are plenty more ideas out there to help you achieve your onboarding objectives.

  • Virtual courses (videos, online exercises, etc.)
  • Social events to help new employees build relationships with their coworkers and increase employee engagement
  • Employee handbooks (this is a must)
  • Name tags (new hires and veteran employees) on the first day
  • Company tours
  • Job and software bootcamps



The difference between onboarding new hires and new hire orientation


Typically, company orientation is focused on taking care of all the bureaucratic red tape that all businesses must follow when hiring new team members. New hire paperwork is usually part of the orientation process, as well as legally-mandated company policy and training.

Orientation is a critical part of the employee onboarding program, even though it is not often the most exciting part of employee onboarding. It gets a number of important details out of the way, and it grants the employer a chance to help new employees fully understand their rights, responsibilities, and scope of company benefits.


State and federal compliance standards


As mentioned above, there are federal and state compliance standards that employers are required to meet. For example, New York recently required employers to update sexual harassment training, as well as inform female employees of their right to a lactation room if they are young mothers. Some states allow non-disclosure agreements if a serious dispute occurs between employees, and other states forbid them so that an employee whose rights have been violated may seek legal due process.

Failure to abide by state and federal compliance standards can result in fines and even lawsuits between employees or between an employee and their employer. Consult your local employer laws when building your orientation and onboarding process.



How to properly onboard international hires


Hiring a citizen of the United States will look a bit different than hiring an international employee. Increasing the diversity of your company is a great start to troubleshooting project issues and increasing your firm’s overall innovation.

But your new, international employees are going to feel a bit more tentative than your American employees. As such, it is important that your onboarding process help your international employees feel safe and valued.

For example, it is important that the employee understand why their role is critical. This could include discussing the country where they are from (is your company looking to expand into their country?), or it may include an explanation of how their expertise is unique to any other talent available in the region. Not only will this help your international new hire feel valued, but it will help them understand your expectations of them.


Properly onboarding remote employees


Many onboarding tools and techniques can work for remote employees, and many will not. For remote employee onboarding, your company needs to have a strong grasp of digital communication tools and productivity software and a clear onboarding plan.

Onboarding remote employees needs to ensure that your new hire can reach that same level of proficiency with these digital tools to keep communication strong and consistent.

Buffer is a real-life example of a company that uses almost exclusively remote employees. In order to properly onboard new remote employees, Buffer uses a three-buddy system – similar to Quora’s mentorship program – to help new hires integrate into the remote employee company culture and reach task proficiency as quickly as possible.


In conclusion


Taking shortcuts in your new hire onboarding process will cost your company time and money. Choosing instead to transform your onboarding process can significantly increase your employee retention rates, as well as your company’s overall productivity.

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