Five Elements of a Great Onboarding Experience

You found the perfect candidate, made them an offer they couldn’t resist, and now they’re ready to start work. While you’ve wowed them up to now, your onboarding and orientation experience is critical to keeping them and to your reputation as an employer of choice.

  • A study by Glint showed that employees who had a poor onboarding experience were eight times less likely to be engaged in their work, with 40% of those employees reporting disengagement just three months after hire. Those same employees reported that they would not recommend the company to others.
  • According to a 2014 study by SHRM, one company surveyed reported that new employees who attended a structured orientation program were 69% more likely to remain with the organization for three years.

One of my favorite tasks in HR has always been designing and implementing onboarding and orientation programs for organizations. I love working with organizations to learn what processes they have in place, helping them determine where they need to make improvements, and then following up after implementation to see the results.

So what makes a great onboarding and orientation program?

  1. Communication. As with most things, a great onboarding and orientation experience begins with communication. Even before a new hire’s first day, there is often communications that need to be sent out to them. This may include new hire forms, information on where they need to report on their first day, or even just a welcome email from the leadership team. Make sure this communication is welcoming, informative, and easy to disseminate. If you require new hires to fill out paperwork prior to their start date, provide clear and concise instructions on how to complete and return the forms. Try to think like a new hire, anticipate what questions they may have and answer them proactively.
  2. Preparation. The worst experience I ever had as a new hire was walking in on my first day and being asked to put together my own orientation packet! And it only got worse when I was shown to my office only to find out I had no desk, no computer, and a room full of storage boxes (and they had a month to prepare). Being ready for your new hire to show up on their first day goes a long way. Be ready to greet them at the front desk when they arrive, have their desk, computer, and any other equipment they need ready for them, along with all of their access and login information. Make sure that you communicate their start date with leadership and anyone else who may be involved in their onboarding and orientation so that they are not caught off guard. And maybe even have a few goodies waiting for them when they arrive that first day or plan to take them out to lunch.
  3. Elimination of downtime. One of the worst things I think you can do on a new hire’s first day is leave them alone. Think back over your first day experiences, were you ever left to your own devices? If you answered yes, chances are you also remember wondering why they weren’t prepared for you, why they didn’t have your first day scheduled out, and when someone was going to come to rescue you from your infinite boredom. There are so many tasks to accomplish when a new employee starts, so there really should be no reason to drop them in a room or at a desk and leave them. Designing a standard orientation schedule for their first day, and even their first week will help ensure that there isn’t an excessive amount of downtime for new hires. Consider what paperwork they need to complete, what policies and procedures you should review with them, what training should be completed and who will present it, and who they need to be introduced to. Consider establishing a mentor or buddy program where a tenured employee is paired up with new hires to help them get acclimated to the organization, then have that mentor or buddy help walk the new hire through orientation.
  4. Follow through. Onboarding and orientation are often used interchangeably, however, they are two very different things. While your organization’s orientation may take a day or even a few weeks, onboarding an employee may take up to a year. So what’s the difference? Orientation involves tasks like the completion of paperwork, reviewing company policies and procedures, introductions to team members, and introductory training to understand their role. Onboarding goes well beyond that and includes more in-depth training and management involvement. It is the process of helping the new employee get their feet wet and learn how to become a contributing member of the team. While orientation may be a very formal process, onboarding is often much more informal. Don’t drop the ball after the initial orientation. Make sure that the new hire is being provided with the tools, training, and resources they need to understand and be successful in their role.
  5. Follow up. Designing and implementing an orientation and onboarding program can be a huge undertaking. But all of that effort could be wasted if the program is not effective, so a critical step in the process is to evaluate the results. A great way to do this is to have new hires complete a post-orientation survey and provide feedback on what worked well, what didn’t, and what they felt was missing. I also recommend having a touch base conversation with the new hire after they’ve been with the company for 60-90 days and had a chance to get settled. Use the feedback from the survey and touch base meeting to continue to improve your organization’s onboarding and orientation programs. And as noted in the statistics listed above, another measurable indicator of an effective onboarding program is an increase in employee retention.

Based on the five elements of a great onboarding experience, how would you rate your organization’s program?


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Lorrie Coffey