Don’t Lose Employees to Bad Onboarding

 In Communication, Managing Your Team

Jennifer landed what she thought was her dream job. Excited, energized and optimistic, she arrived on her first day ready to hit the ground running.

Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out the way she’d hoped.

No one met her upon arrival. She wasn’t sure where to go, and everything seemed a bit haphazard. Later, a harried assistant gave her an information packet and directed her to a training class.

After a week on the job, Jennifer still wasn’t sure whom to ask her “newbie” questions. She guessed she was doing the job well enough — maybe — but didn’t really know.

After six weeks, Jennifer still didn’t feel any connection to the company or people. She felt miserable.

Don’t Lose Good Employees

Jennifer’s experience was a result of poor onboarding. When she left, the company lost a great employee.

Unfortunately, scenarios like this happen far too often.

Research shows that poor onboarding leads to high turnover rates. Adverse effects on a business include lower program quality, sunk costs, lost time and lowered revenue. Further, turnover damages company culture by lowering morale and employee performance.

The problem and costs are significant. Turnover is estimated at 16% of annual salary for positions earning less than $30,000; up to three months may be required to source and train a replacement (Center for American Progress, 2012)

Thinking about your own business, are you stuck in a continual cycle of hiring, training and replacing? Have you seen costs add up? Are you all too familiar with the major stress that drains your ability to function at your best?

Also, do you wonder why some companies successfully retain their employees while others do not? You may be surprised to learn that offering employees more money is not the most effective solution.

Onboarding Supports Retention

To be successful in today’s work environment, you must be prepared to retain employees with an established and robust onboarding program.

Onboarding is not a new concept. However, it is reaching a new level of professionalism, much like recruitment, engagement and performance management. A successful onboarding program can minimize your company’s turnover so you no longer endure the sight of your best employees walking out the door.

As a busy leader, you can win half the battle by being prepared!

Power Challenge 1: Know the Difference Between Orientation and Onboarding

First and foremost, onboarding is not the same as orientation.

Orientation gets the employee in the door and familiar with the company.

Onboarding gets the employee invested in their position and in the success of the company.

Coupled together, they make up a strong retention strategy.

Orientation: The Initial Tactical Necessities

Orientation typically happens on an employee’s first day (or week) and is focused on introducing and welcoming the employee to the company. It’s usually handled by Human Resources.

Orientation generally includes:

  • Introductions
  • Legal and administrative paperwork
  • Basic training
  • An overview of duties, expectations and performance standards (“this is your job”)
Onboarding: An Ongoing, Strategic Process

Onboarding is not a one-time event; it’s a process that starts when an employee says “yes” to the job offer and continues throughout the first year of employment and beyond.

Onboarding is key for employee retention. It strategically helps the employee build relationships, feel connected to their work and the organization, and develop a sense of belonging. When successful, onboarding increases employee engagement and commitment, because the employee continues to feel  they’ve made the right career move.

Power Question: When Should You Onboard?

On the employee’s Day 1? Before Day 1? During their first week? What about a month or two later?

(If you answered “all of the above,” you’re right!)

Power Challenge Two – Embrace Onboarding as an “Emotion Strategy”

It’s a common mistake to believe once we’ve “checked all the boxes” during the initial orientation, our employee is now all set, good to go. Not so!

When employees come aboard, they go through an extended emotional transition. Their starting point is feeling like a newbie outsider.  Over time, they (ideally) come to experience a solid sense of belonging.

While orientation covers the required tactics — it gets the employee legally in your door — it does little to support the employee’s emotional transition.

Power Thought:

Checking the boxes in orientation does not necessarily help to RETAIN the employee. It just gets them in the door.

This emotional transition occurs over a period of time. The onboarding process should help the employee gradually make the shift from “I’m starting this job” to “I belong here.” Think about it – would you feel you “belong” or “fit in” in just one day or week?

Don’t Be Put Off

You may be thinking, “Hey, I’m not into all that touchy-feely stuff. That’s not retention, and it’s not appropriate for work.” Actually, in my experience, it is not only appropriate — it’s necessary. The emotional transition is the piece that is often forgotten.

To support this transition over time, onboarding must be intentional. Define what you want your employee to feel. You can think of these as “emotional objectives,” such as:

  • “I am supported here.”
  • “I can do this.”
  • “This company values me.”
  • “I am growing here.”
  • “I belong here.”
Take These Actions to Meet Emotional Objectives

Employees need social connection, career planning, feedback, recognition and fulfillment at work.

Social Connection

Employees want opportunities to make connections. You can help by encouraging staff to develop collegial, friendly relationships in the workplace. Don’t discourage socializing unless it gets in the way of work. Allow (and even plan for) a bit of fun.


Professional development is an important onboarding component, so create individual development plans with your employees. A simple plan is fine, but don’t make it only about compliance (that won’t be seen as growth). Support the employee in moving towards the next step in their career.

Performance Feedback

Please don’t wait for the yearly performance review to provide feedback! Younger generations (Millennials, Gen Z) expect and need frequent, ongoing feedback and guidance. In fact, I recommend that managers hold scheduled check-in meetings focusing on individualized support (weekly during the first month, then monthly afterwards).


Don’t forget to recognize employee achievements. Recognition can be verbal and informal, or more formal, such as “Employee of the Month.” Most importantly, it should be timely, sincere and meaningful to the employee.

Fulfillment and Meaning

Employees want to feel that their work matters — that it has purpose or meaning. Find ways to highlight positive impacts frequently, even when things are busy and stressful.

Power Challenge Three –  Try a Bit of Acceptance

I hate to say it, but even with the greatest strategies in the world, you will still have some employee turnover. It’s just reality.

However, you do have control over your attitude about that reality. You can stew about it and make yourself crazy (and burned out). Or, you can try a bit of acceptance and focus your energies on being as effective and efficient with the process as you can.

To start, examine your beliefs about retention. They drive your inner dialogue. Are any of the statements below part of your current mindset?

  • There really aren’t any good people out there to hire.
  • The pay is too low to attract or retain anyone good.
  • The whole system is broken.
  • It doesn’t seem to matter what I do; the good people always leave for something better anyway.
  • Everyone has a retention problem; no one can solve it.
  • I don’t have enough time to deal with this.

If you subscribe to any of these beliefs, you’re setting yourself up for long-term misery. These beliefs all say, “Don’t even bother, this is a lost cause.” Well, that’s depressing and not at all helpful!

With acceptance, you stop fighting reality. You don’t blame, complain or throw your hands up in despair. That doesn’t mean you have to be happy about losing people! But you can accept that it happens as a normal part of operations.

Try out any of these belief statements instead:

  • I may not like it, but it’s just reality.
  • Handling turnover is part of the job I signed up for.
  • The more time and energy I spend stressing, the less I’m actually addressing the issue.
Power Quote:

Serenity Prayer

God, Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

(Reinhold Niebuhr)

You Can Do It

Even though turnover is a reality, there is a lot you can do to minimize it. Start where you are; try one new thing at a time. It’s worth the effort for you, your staff and your business!

Need a speaker for a business event or training?

Carla inspires leaders and team members — and provides real-world tips to become the best version of themselves that they can be. Contact her today.

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