Onboarding and Beyond

Retaining new employees starting day one.

By Chad Davis

  • Identification paperwork, benefits review and a freshly printed badge. Check.
  • Training videos on corporate history and office technology. Check.
  • A lively meet-and-greet over lunch with your new team, a discussion on company values, and a welcoming message from your new manager waiting in your inbox. Check?

While we’re all familiar with the necessary but unexciting tasks of onboarding, this third step — engaging, communicating and establishing a positive team dynamic on the first day — is where many companies miss the mark. In fact, the traditional, paperwork-driven process of orientation is often mistaken for onboarding, leaving many new hires feeling underwhelmed and disconnected.

In the U.S., companies are not investing enough time or resources in onboarding. “New Hire Momentum: Driving the Onboarding Experience,” a 2018 study from Kronos and the Human Capital Institute, revealed that more than a third (37 percent) of organizations spend less than one week on onboarding new hires and a quarter (25 percent) spend less than one month. Just 10 percent view onboarding as an ongoing activity.

However, onboarding is imperative to strengthen the workforce. The same Kronos-HCI study found that poor onboarding practices stall performance acceleration and threaten to disengage enthusiastic employees. Ultimately, ineffective onboarding can directly impact an employee’s likelihood to stick around, with 40 percent of turnover happening in the first four weeks.

With a record-high turnover rate of 19 percent in 2016, financial institutions in particular should consider approaching new employees like they approach new customers. The first days and months after a customer opens an account are critical: Building a personalized, seamless relationship leads to revenue-generating opportunities down the road. Why should the employee onboarding experience be any different?

By reimagining an employee’s first few months on the job, bank managers can more quickly and effectively build trust and improve longevity.

Starting off on the right foot: Don’t wait for day one.

While the onboarding experience still requires filling out forms such as identification validations and benefits enrollment, instituting a “preboarding” approach can get as much paperwork as possible out of the way so a new hire’s first day can be exploring and joining the team and culture.

From offer acceptance to orientation, preboarding is the perfect opportunity to build new-hire excitement, streamline processes and save your HR department a ton of time. Preboarding might include a leadership welcome message over email, a first-day agenda and an electronic checklist of forms to be completed prior to the employee’s start date.

For Union Bank & Trust, a financial institution with 31 locations across Nebraska and Kansas, automation during preboarding has been key to innovating the onboarding experience. “Our new employees have really enjoyed the process we’ve put in place,” said Katie Davis, human resources information systems and benefits coordinator at Union. “Completing paperwork electronically ahead of time allows new hires to start interacting with their new team, building relationships, and learning the ropes of their roles on their first day.”

With a strong preboarding process in place, Union reinvented what the first day looks like. Instead of being buried in paperwork, new hires are welcomed with a personalized gift bag full of branded swag. Then, after watching videos explaining the company culture, they’re off to team lunches. “Our program is all about being present and helping new hires adapt to their roles,” said Davis.

Onboarding employees: From day one to month six and beyond.

Onboarding extends far beyond a one-day orientation. For employees to truly feel like part of the team culture, the onboarding experience should extend to six months, a year or longer, and involve ongoing support, check-ins, timely trainings and more. Here’s an example:

First week

Employees and managers should have had multiple interactions, and managers will have helped to schedule informal chats with the team, assign mentors to new hires and introduce them to senior branch leaders.

First month

New hires will be expected to attend trainings, meet stakeholders, shadow teammates, obtain access to the tools needed to complete their work and discuss any outstanding questions with HR. They should be assigned to projects where they can begin achieving early “wins” that build confidence and demonstrate how they support organizational success.

First three months

Employees should have a clear understanding of company culture and management philosophy, set professional goals, and schedule or have completed their 90-day review. New hires should feel confident in their work, on track with performance expectations and comfortable approaching their managers with lingering questions or concerns.

First six months

Managers should continue to provide feedback, offer support and training as needed, and communicate with HR to ensure a smooth transition.

Reinventing your onboarding strategy doesn’t have to be costly or time-consuming: Consider organically crowdsourcing a team of cross-functional stakeholders to implement the program, or establishing a buddy system to support new hires. Sometimes it’s the simplest changes that pay the largest dividends in improving retention and boosting corporate culture.

Don’t stop innovating: Measure the performance of your onboarding program.

Just as you track business metrics and measure financial success, it’s important to continually monitor your HR programs. If you’ve put in the work to reinvent your onboarding program, take time to make sure it’s working. Surprisingly, less than half (45 percent) of organizations track the efficacy of their onboarding programs, even though those that do have more favorable talent and
business outcomes.

Try mapping out an evaluation plan to reveal areas for improvement:

Look to turnover rates for guidance. Is week-one feedback falling flat? Chat with your onboarding team. Do employees tend to leave around the nine-month mark? Boost check-ins at six months.

Measure performance against communication. Ensure new hires have enough visibility with their managers to understand their roles, critical processes and stakeholders — and see if they’re completing assignments on time.

Source employee feedback. Don’t wait for annual surveys: Short, frequent polls can offer employees more opportunities to provide managers with the feedback they need to improve today, instead of waiting for an issue to arise.

The potential momentum that new hires can bring to an organization is immense. Each new hire contributes to the future success of your entire workforce, and with a holistic onboarding program, employers can further bolster that momentum by increasing engagement, speeding time to proficiency and reducing turnover.

Chad Davis is senior manager of marketing, Kronos. For more information, visit

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