Use this Research-based Employee Onboarding Plan to Boost Retention

February 21, 2017 Becky Krill

employee onboarding plan

Every company has their own version of employee onboarding. Some companies devote two years to the process, spend thousands of dollars and utilize detailed metrics, while others arm a new hire with only an employee handbook and some words of encouragement.
New employee statistics are pervasive on the internet: Four percent of new hires leave a job after a disastrous first day; half of all hourly workers leave new jobs within the first 120 days; nearly 33 percent of new hires look for a new job within the first six months.
But dig a little deeper into the research and there are some encouraging statistics too. Organizations with a standard onboarding process experience 50 percent greater new hire retention; 77 percent of new hires that hit their first performance milestone have had formal onboarding; and manager satisfaction increases by 20 percent when their employees have had formal onboard training.

Related reading: Rethink Your Onboarding Strategy to Boost the ROI of New Hires

How do you achieve these positive statistics and reduce employee churn? Embrace employee onboarding as a formal part of your new hire process. 

What is formal onboarding?

According to Onboarding New Employees: Maximizing Success, written by Talya N. Bauer as part of the SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) Foundation’s Effective Practice Guidelines Series, HR managers must decide whether they want informal or formal onboarding. 

In informal onboarding, an employee learns about his or her new job without an explicit organizational plan; in formal onboarding, a written set of coordinated policies and procedures assists an employee in adjusting to a new role in terms of both tasks and socialization.
Bauer outlines the four distinct levels of onboarding, which she calls the four C’s:

  • Compliance. The lowest level that includes teaching employees basic legal and policy related rules and procedures.
  • Clarification. Ensures employees understand their new job and related expectations.
  • Culture. Provides employees with a sense of organizational norms both formal and informal.
  • Connection. Includes the vital interpersonal relationships and information networks that new employees must establish.

Best-in-class organizations with the highest levels of employee retention and satisfaction tap into all four C’s during the onboarding process. 

“Research shows,” Bauer writes, “organizations that engage in formal onboarding by implementing step-by-step programs for new employees to teach them what their roles are, what the norms of the company are and how they are to behave, are more effective than those that do not.”


Onboarding actually should begin before a job offer is made. The University of Florida Executive Education program says onboarding really begins when a potential employee learns of the company during the recruitment process. UF’s program recommends having plenty of information regarding the culture and workplace in the Careers section of a company’s website.

The interviewing process itself is another step: during an interview, it’s important to provide a realistic preview of your organization’s culture. Bauer says that may result in more declined offers, but those who sign on tend to stay.

Once a hire is made, according to the UF Executive Education program, the less information a company has to throw at a new hire on day one, the better the first day will be. Send any legal forms and employee handbooks to the new hire prior to the first day of the work. This will reduce information overload on the first day.

In Onboarding in a Box, LinkedIn’s marketing manager Stephanie Bevegni recommends engaging with a new hire before his or her first day of work by sending an email. It will increase excitement and foster a relationship before the first official day of work. The welcome email should include the first day’s agenda, any items to bring and links to all the company’s social media sites.

Bevegni also recommends that the hiring manager maintain a “pre-boarding package.” This is a checklist with reminders about internal people to contact (like payroll), things to request (such as a workstation) and tasks to complete (such as organizing a lunch).

Employee onboarding: the first days

On the employee’s first day, avoid power point presentations and lectures. Instead engage the new hire in team building activities, videos and discussions with co-workers to start building relationships and engagement. In Extreme Onboarding: How to Wow Your New Hires Rather than Numb Them, Dr. John Sullivan describes some creative onboarding activities companies utilize. Rackspace uses games, skits, music and even limbo. Bazaarvoice sends new hires on a weeklong scavenger hunt designed to introduce the employee to company culture and jargon.

In’s 10 Commandments of Employee Onboarding, one commandment states: “Thou shalt give thy employee thy undivided attention.” In other words, on the first day while you are interacting with the new hire, don’t let emails, phone calls or other employees sidetrack you. Allowing yourself to be distracted sends the message, “I’m not that into you” and it kills morale.  

Related reading: 3 Aspects of Employee Training You Can't Afford to Ignore

Employee onboarding: the early days

Beyond the first-day games and tours, Bauer’s SHRM guide outlines four “levers” HR managers can use to help new employees settle in.  

  • Self-efficacy. The more confident a new employee feels in his or her role, the more motivated and more successful they will become. Self-efficacy has been shown to have an impact on organizational commitment, job satisfaction, and turnover.
  • Role clarity. How well an employee understands his or her expectations. A study from the UK found that companies lose $37 billion dollars each year as a result of employees not understanding their jobs.
  • Social integration. New employees need to feel socially comfortable and accepted by their peers and superiors. According to one estimate, 60 percent of managers who fail to onboard successfully cite failure to establish effective working relationships as a primary reason.
  • Knowledge of and fit within an organizational culture. Each company has its own unique culture, so helping new hires navigate that culture and find their place within it is critical.

In 10 Best Onboarding Practices to Turn New Hires into Lasting Employees, Brian Westfall, senior market research associate with Software Advice, writes that companies should form a cross-departmental onboarding team. HR knows compliance issues. Management knows performance expectations. Co-workers know the day-to-day grind. And IT knows the equipment. An email can keep everyone on the same page. 

Westfall says that a coworker might suggest that management assign a new hire their first project sooner, if they feel they’re learning the ropes faster than expected.

Develop a formal employee onboarding program to retain new hires

The benefits of a formal onboarding program are clear. Bauer says that when onboarding is done correctly it leads to higher job satisfaction, organizational commitment, lower turnover, higher performance levels and lowered stress.

Employee onboarding is an organizational commitment that starts before the new hire’s first day of work. It includes recruitment, realistic job previews during interviews, formal orientation, coaching and support, and most importlantly, ongoing training. 

Both the big things, like having a formal onboarding program and the small things, like taking a new hire to lunch on the first day, matter. Commit to a formal employee onboarding plan and you will see your employee retention rates increase.



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