Onboarding strategies to maximize employee retention and engagement

Sep 21, 2020

Nearly a third of new hires quit just six months into a new job, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.

A virtual Wipfli National Training Conference session on August 18 outlined ways to welcome new employees from offer acceptance, on their first day and through the 90-day honeymoon phase. Strong onboarding programs can help organizations avoid costs associated with turnover and vacancies, according to Lisa Corbeille, a manager in Wipfli’s talent management services.

Unlike training or orientation which are defined events, onboarding is an ongoing process that can take three to 18 months, Corbeille said. “The goal is to build a lasting connection.”

Set the tone

“Start thinking about how to make a great first impression the minute a candidate accepts an offer,” said Breann Streinz, a Wipfli talent management consultant. Sending swag or welcome messages to new hires can build excitement for their first day – and make it harder for them to change their minds.

Streinz also suggested sending required paperwork in advance so an employee’s first day is more productive. Details about daily routines, like where to park or eat lunch, can also ease some first-day stress.

Being prepared is also important. Before a new hire shows up, supervisors should set up a work station, invite the employee to important meetings and designate a mentor. Have an assignment ready, so the employee can contribute to the team right away.

“Empower new hires to be productive as soon as possible by providing them with the equipment, tools and resources to carry out the responsibilities of their role,” Streinz said.

Create connections

New hires often spend their first day completing logistical tasks like getting badges and computer access. That doesn’t mean the day has to be devoid of connection, Streinz said. She encouraged employers to weave in cultural elements and social interactions to create a positive first impression. At Wipfli, she said the onboarding process includes a community service activity to reinforce the company’s values.

The next phase of onboarding – days two through 90 – should focus on setting expectations and introducing objectives. “Employees should have crystal clear ideas about what their job duties and responsibilities are, and how they connect to the greater organization,” Corbeille said.

She encouraged supervisors to hold regular check-ins, at least every 30 days, to ensure new employees are comfortable, happy and engaged. During what she called “stay interviews,” supervisors can offer feedback on new hires’ early contributions, coach them through firsts (e.g., administrative problems, mistakes, wins or conflicts) and make sure they’re building productive work relationships.

Onboarding should last at least 90 days, Corbeille said, to demonstrate the organization’s commitment to the new employee, although most virtual attendees (42%) said their onboarding process lasts only a few days.

Be inclusive

A quarter of Americans experience some job transition every year, Corbeille said, whether it’s a promotion or a change in supervisor, department or responsibility. That means, onboarding is for everyone. 

“Don’t assume individuals who are new to their roles (but not the organization) know how pieces of the organization work together,” Corbeille said. “The onboarding process can look different for existing employees, but don’t skip it.”

Onboarding can be tailored for other circumstances too, like for new college graduates, entry- or executive-level employees, or those who are switching industries. Monitor turnover within your organization to find groups of employees that may need more support, Streinz advised. Employee feedback should also be incorporated into the program.

Getting started

To build an onboarding program, identify objectives like productivity or retention thresholds. Then, decide who needs to be involved. Divide the responsibilities among all levels of the organization, not just team members or HR.

“When support across the team and leadership is high, new employees have a better experience and a more positive attitude about their jobs – and they work harder,” Corbeille said.

Interested in learning more?

See how Wipfli’s team of consultants can help you recruit and train the future leaders of your organization by visiting our web page. Or explore these additional resources:



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