5 Onboarding Tips to Boost Employee Engagement and Retention

5 Onboarding Tips to Boost Employee Engagement and Retention

Perfect for a 8 minute break  •  Written by 
Avatar picture of Camilla Brambilla Pisoni

Onboarding new hires is a crucial process within an organization, although many companies still don’t seem to consider it a priority. Welcoming and onboarding a new employee across a larger span of time will yield long-term benefits to your company, stimulate that employee’s engagement and devotion to your brand, increase productivity and effectively increase your employee retention rate. Check out Ambassify’s onboarding checklist!

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Amanda has just been hired for a new position and, after a perfunctory “employee onboarding” routine, she read and signed compliance paperwork — but not much else — she’s thrown into the deep end and expected to manage.

If you’ve had a first day like that, you know exactly how it feels. You feel disoriented, confused, anxious, and lonely. On top of all that, you make a lot of mistakes until you finally learn the ropes.

It’s not unusual for the Amandas of the workforce who’ve had this type of experience to feel unmotivated, unproductive, and uncommitted to their new company. A bad onboarding experience can prompt a decision to quit within the first six months of landing a new job.


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This decision is a source of stress for the employee, but it can also be a significant resource drain for employers. A high turnover rate and the replacement of employees cost money and damage a company’s employer brand.

Numerous studies have shown that good employee onboarding positively impacts productivity, motivation, and employee engagement. Which is why now more and more companies are paying greater attention to their internal employee onboarding processes. If your goal is to retain more employees and set them up for success from day one, then bear in mind that extreme makeovers and substantial changes may be needed.

But what is the actual purpose of employee onboarding, and how it connects with employee engagement, you ask?


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Let’s talk about employee onboarding

Every organization engages in employee onboarding, but not every organization does a good job at it.

The minute a new hire accepts the job, onboarding begins. In most cases, it involves zero activities until their first day in the office (which is a mistake), and even then, it can be no more than a speedy welcome and an office tour before the new guy or girl is put to work.

But here’s the thing — the better your organization is at onboarding employees, the sooner they’ll bring value to the company. In ideal circumstances, new hires consume value for the first three months.

Their contributions either get them to the breakeven point or slightly above it in the next three months. 

And that’s just when the onboarding process is perfectly tailored to them, and the organization rallies behind them to help them succeed.


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Now, imagine that curve with no onboarding at all walk them through company culture’s finer points into their role, and some never do.

Effective onboarding focuses on ongoing processes that allow new employees to learn about the organization and their role in it. Continuous pop-up sessions and briefings about organizational structure, vision, mission, and values are crucial for the new hire to get into the right mindset and headspace. 

You should never underestimate how much time it can take an employee to fully and effectively transition into their role. Sometimes, it can take up to a full year for that to happen, and only a good onboarding process can help speed that up. 

Unfortunately, a lot of organizations still don’t see it as a priority.

A survey of 350 HR professionals in the US showed that 24% of them did not have a formal onboarding program at their organization. 75% of those that did had programs that lasted a day or two, basically just dealing with new hire orientation and compliance paperwork.

According to the Aberdeen Group study, effective onboarding results in:

  • 66% increase in employee retention.
  • 62% better time-to-productivity ratio.
  • 54% increase employee engagement.

You can offer the best compensation and benefits package but if your new hires don’t see you making an effort to connect with them (and to connect them with the organization and others in it), money won’t matter much. 

The decision to stay and to go above and beyond for a company is a decision that’s made with the heart, not with the head. Even employees who decide to stay but don’t feel as engaged with the company will be a dead weight for you if you don’t find a way to make them feel part of the team and boost their morale and productivity.

To prevent new hires from leaving (costing you money, time, and reputation), you need to focus your onboarding efforts on activities that connect the individual with the company and give them the tools they need to be successful. Here are five tips that will help you design a great onboarding experience, and allow you to transform new hires into satisfied and engaged employees faster.

Start the process ASAP

Onboarding can start as soon as the ink dries on the employment contract, which can sometimes be several weeks in advance of the new employee’s start date.

This process is called pre-boarding, and, of course, pre-boarding is not an intensive process — you do not want to overwhelm people before you even start paying them. That sends the wrong message.

However, there are small (but critical) things that you can do during this period that will demonstrate your commitment to the process, as well as slightly unburden new employees during their first few days at the company.

  • Communicate company policies and procedures — this way new hires have a chance to ask questions and clear up ambiguities.
  • Distribute logins and credentials —  have your IT department contact the employee to set them up with all the necessary accounts.
  • Invite new hires to possible networking events — if you have one going on, that is.
    Alternatively, ask them to join the team for after-work drinks one day: getting to know everyone in a more social setting takes the edge off of the first day at the office and signals that team spirit is the essential element of your company culture.

You can do more things during this period — sending the employees work equipment choices and helping them decide on what they want to use, sharing contact information and short bios of key team leaders and members, etc. 

Have a plan and commit to the long-haul

A lot of organizations that have a formal onboarding program do really well in the first few weeks. After that, things kind of taper off — the new employee settles into their role a bit, and everyone just assumes that they’re doing fine.

Of course, this is far from the truth. It turns out, most new employees take longer to acclimatize to their new situation and even longer to become fully productive members of the organization.

After the first few weeks, onboarding activities don’t have to be frequent, but they have to be purposeful and useful. It’s best to focus on relationship-building and company culture activities so that new employees feel socially connected and supported.

Focus on relationships

Efficient onboarding programs boost employee engagement because they focus on quickly integrating new hires into the collective. Strong relationships are crucial to making new employees feel supported and valued.

You can help build these relationships faster when you incorporate certain activities into your employee onboarding program, such as:

  • New employee mentorship — create a buddy system in which new employees are paired with veteran employees who can help them navigate company waters for the first few weeks.

  • Set up personal introductions — organize get-to-know-each-other meetings between the new employee and several of their close coworkers and other important stakeholders.

  • Encourage participation in different company programs — these programs can range from informal workout sessions on the premises to formal employee advocacy initiatives.

Set clear expectations

According to a Gallup study, only around half of all employees know, without a shadow of a doubt, what’s expected of them. And that’s all employees, not just the newcomers.

Let that sink in — right now, approximately 50% of the global workforce is basically shooting blanks, guessing what it is they’re supposed to be doing, how are they supposed to be doing it and why.

Of course, you want to avoid this at all costs. It’s especially frustrating for new hires since they feel insecure enough already, and want to prove that they were hired for a reason. That’s difficult to do if they don’t have a clue about what’s expected of them.

Here are some tips on how to effectively communicate expectations to your new employees:

  • Have this conversation on day 1 — don’t postpone. You’ve unburdened the new hire during the first week specifically so you could focus on the important stuff, and there’s nothing more important than them getting a grasp on how they’re expected to contribute, and what that contribution means for the company.
  • Explain duties and responsibilities in detail — ideally, someone doing the same job (or the exiting employee) will be able to go into the nitty-gritty of things with the new employee. This will help them get that first-hand information that’s often crucial for them to hit the ground running.

  • Focus on team expectations — it’s important for new hires to settle in comfortably into their teams. Explain to them what teamwork looks like in your organization, how feedback is given and received, and how big wins are celebrated.

  • Don’t overwhelm with performance expectations — let’s face it, a new hire will not tick any of the performance boxes in the first few weeks, and that’s to be expected. Tell them where you need them to be during different stages of the onboarding process (after 30, 90, 120, and 365 days), and make it clear that the company is there to help them achieve those goals.

Involve senior leadership

Even if you do everything you can to wrap up the boring stuff like paperwork, IT, and tours during the pre-boarding phase, chances are that the employee’s first day on the job will still be packed with the mundane.

What’s often lacking during that period is one crucial ingredient — inspiration.

That’s easily fixed when you involve a senior manager in the onboarding process. CEOs, VPs, and departments heads are in the best position to talk to employees about the company’s vision and goals and to walk them through the finer points of company culture.

Even if it’s just the head of their department, it still signals that their hiring is an important milestone, and employees appreciate that.

Onboard for engagement and success

If you take the sink or swim approach to employee onboarding, you’re risking a lot more than ending up with one unproductive employee. Almost everyone that you hire will end up like Amanda from our story — dazed, confused, and more likely than not to give up and quit.

The effect that unsupportive onboarding has on employee engagement is real and considerable, almost always resulting in low workforce morale, a longer time-to-productivity ratio, and a damaged company reputation.

Yet, structured onboarding programs are connected with better work outcomes and a more productive and engaged workforce. These programs do take a bit more time and planning to implement, but when you get them just right, you’re doing your new hires (and your bottom line) a huge service.