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Employee onboarding boosts retention, improves productivity

As the economy recovers and employers invest in further growth by recruiting and hiring new employees, one of the critical challenges they face is how to successfully integrate new workers. Good talent is hard to find, hard to retain, and expensive. If your objective is to ensure new employees feel welcome, prepared and ready to make a positive impact as soon as possible, conventional approaches to employee orientation – filling out forms and giving a quick tour of the facility – may fall woefully short.

Instead, consider implementing a structured employee “onboarding” program. “Onboarding” is a more all-encompassing process that extends from the initial job offer to the point where the employee becomes a productive contributor to the company. It includes orientation, training, feedback and follow-up. The process can last up to a year, depending on the employee and the position.

Why focus on onboarding?

A well-executed onboarding program gets employees engaged early, raises retention and improves productivity. Industry studies show that a significant amount of staff turnover – as high as 20 percent – typically occurs in the first 45 days of employment. Studies also show that employees who go through onboarding programs are much more likely to stay with the organization after three years.

When bringing on a new hire, a company has one chance to make a favorable impression. A company with a structured, well-executed onboarding program creates the impression it is well run and values its employees, whereas a company without a program, or with a poorly executed one, comes across as disorganized and indifferent to employee success.

Before the first day

The time between the offer letter and the start date is crucial because new hires may still be interviewing with other companies and can change their minds if they have any doubts.

Here are some easy suggestions to help.

Send a welcome gift and note to new employees, such as a promotional item emblazoned with your company’s logo or a personalized letter from your CEO. This small effort can make a new hire feel valued and excited about your company.

Send the first week’s orientation schedule and new hire paperwork prior to the start date. Human Resources should send the employee a welcome packet that contains new hire paperwork, including benefits materials, tax forms, and Form I-9. Request that the new employee bring the completed forms to work on his or her first day. This frees up time for more useful first-day activities.

Share the responsibility among HR and other departments. Onboarding is most effective when hiring managers and senior executives are involved in a cohesive, structured way. Prepare a plan for each division or department to delegate roles and ensure that orientation goes smoothly.

Set up the new employee’s work station before the employee arrives. Have the employee’s phone, computer, email account, business cards and keys or security badges ready and waiting. Test all equipment before the employee arrives.

Go paperless. Forward-thinking companies automate new hire administration. A web-based employee onboarding system streamlines the process by eliminating data entry and improving accuracy. Also, instead of overwhelming employees with information during the first few days, an employee portal serves as a useful tool which employees can consult long after the initial orientation.

Fostering loyalty from day one

Rochester-based LECESSE Construction, a professional construction management firm with 65 employees, provides a great example of how to acclimate new employees to a company. Until two years ago, new hires went through a typical half-day orientation that consisted of filling out forms and taking a tour. Upon discovering that new employees were forming their own support groups, Elizabeth Franz, the company’s director of human resources and strategy, worked with an HR consulting firm to develop a structured onboarding program. The process involved conducting focus groups with managers and then creating an intensive three-week program that includes every new employee.

During the first week, new team members have daily, one-on-one meetings with their supervisors to learn how the company delivers value as well as to discuss the new employees’ objectives and preferred style of learning. During weeks two and three, managers meet with new employees every few days to build understanding of LECESSE Construction’s strategic plan and company culture. “Every employee can explain the mission and consulting mindset of the company,” says Franz, in part due to the success of the onboarding program. Throughout the first year, managers meet with new hires at regular intervals to give feedback.

In a recent employee engagement survey, 89 percent of LECESSE employees reported they were highly engaged, far above the industry average. Franz believes the success can be attributed to the strong supervisor-employee relationship developed in part by the onboarding program.

Make new employees feel welcome

One of the best ways to cultivate employee loyalty is to encourage a connection among co-workers, such as through a buddy system. A “buddy” can serve to help employees feel comfortable in their new work environment by showing them around the office, and answering their questions and concerns. In the case where the new hire is from out of town, the buddy can help them with questions about the area in which the company is located. This helps to take the pressure off managers and can be especially useful at large companies or organizations that are doing a lot of hiring in a short amount of time.

In addition, new employees should be educated in the hierarchy of the organization so they know how their job impacts the performance of the company at large. Organizational charts, or even simple posters in the break room with pictures, names and titles for each staff member, can promote an understanding of how an employee contributes to the overall picture.


Many employees decide within their first six months whether to stay or go. Sometimes it’s the small things that can make a big difference in a new employee’s perceptions. Programs that build loyalty by engaging employees and making them feel appreciated from day one are well worth the effort.

© HR Works, Inc.

HR Works, headquartered in Upstate New York, is a human resource management outsourcing and consulting firm serving clients throughout the United States for over thirty years. HR Works provides scalable strategic human resource management and consulting services, including: affirmative action programs; benefits administration outsourcing; HRIS self-service technology; full-time, part-time and interim on-site HR managers; HR audits; legally reviewed employee handbooks and supervisor manuals; talent management and recruiting services; and training of managers and HR professionals.