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Onboarding Strategies Help New Employees Succeed and Benefit Employers

With the emphasis on growth and recovery in the current economic climate, strategies that help manage costs, increase productivity, and retain employees are obviously important to an organization’s success.  However one process that can help in all of these areas is sometimes under-utilized – onboarding.

The termrefers to the ways in which employers help new hires become engagedand begin contributing to the company as quickly and efficiently as possible.  While it may sound like simple common sense to welcome new workers, show them around and encourage them to ask questions, the specific approaches and tools an organization uses to facilitate the onboarding process can have a profound impact on the future of both new employees and employers.

“‘You only get one chance to make a first impression’ is perhaps the most used phrase to introduce the concept of new employee onboarding. With onboarding, the initial experience with their new company for a new hire is critical to their engagement,” says John Lamb, Vice President and Group Head for EbixBenergy, a business unit of Ebix Health.

“Alignment to corporate goals takes place during the process along with proper setting of performance expectations and employee development plans. This leads to the realization of a host of onboarding benefits including faster time to productivity, improved employee retention, and improved customer experience via more engaged and effective employees,“ explains Lamb.


Onboarding and Your Company’s Bottom Line

A survey conducted by the Aberdeen research group found that approximately 9 in 10 (86 percent) employees decide whether or not to stay with an organization long term within the first six months of employment.  Clearly, establishing a strong foundation upfront between a new employee and employer through a well-orchestrated onboarding program is key to avoiding worker turnover and can help companies recoup the significant investment often made in recruitment and hiring. 

"When onboarding is overlooked, it almost always results in lower levels of engagement and retention and this costs organizations,” says Brandon M. Smith, senior lecturer in the Practice of Management Communication in Emory University’s Goizueta Business School.

“One organization I worked with recently had a shortened onboarding process amongst other communication and culture-related issues. As a result, they experienced a nearly 50 percent voluntary turnover in 2009 (in the midst of a tough economy) and turnover expenses of almost $1.5 million annually,” he notes.

Another study by Hewitt Associates revealed that companies who invested the most and greatest resources in onboarding enjoyed the highest levels of employee engagement.  In turn, engaged workers are far more likely to add to the profitability of a company.  “When an employee understands the unspoken rules of the organization, they have more confidence to make decisions quickly and to ask for help when necessary. Poor onboarding efforts result in slower decision-making and a hesitancy to ask for help resulting in a drag on productivity,” Smith adds.


Utilizing online technology effectively in onboarding

Experts advise using a secure, online portal to facilitate interactive communication in three main areas of onboarding: forms management, workflow, and socialization.


Forms management:  smart forms

On average, there are between 18 to 20 forms and documents a new employee must complete or read and acknowledge during the onboarding process. Smart forms on a secure online portal facilitate the reuse of the information entered by the applicant – so there’s less time spent filling out forms and more time to begin actively participating in the workplace. Since information is entered once and then automatically filled in on all subsequent forms, there is a reduced risk of data entry errors.

“With few exceptions most documents in the hiring process can be signed electronically, even I-9 forms. The first step is to explain the signature process and have the applicant agree to the process and then acknowledge that these signatures are as binding as though they physically signed the document,” Lamb explains.



Using an online portal, workflows can be attached to smart forms, job classifications, specific dates, and even to specific locations. For example, Lamb points out that a job offer acceptance can trigger a workflow that assigns tasks such as getting the new employee a computer, security badge, office space, phone, email, and other software access; a start date can trigger a variety of task assignments like benefits enrollment and training. A completed W-4 form can be routed to payroll and a task automatically assigned and then monitored through to completion.



A state-of-the-art onboarding portal engages new employees by providing them with tools to interact with their new colleagues through the use of a corporate directory, discussion groups, blogs, and the ability to submit questions that get routed to subject matter experts. In addition, the portal can provide information about medical and retirement benefits and wellness and other corporate programs – and even give specific information about nearby daycare facilities, restaurants, fitness clubs and more.  A welcome video from the organization’s owner or CEO can also help welcome the new hire via the portal.


The Person-to-Person Advantage

While best practices for onboarding in the 21stcentury should incorporate the newest secure portal technology, the human element that engages new hires on a one-to-one level remains critically important.

“For large organizations, video messages from the CEO and other senior leaders can be effective in communicating the values of the organization. However, technology can only go so far in onboarding an employee effectively if the goal is to increase the employee's level of engagement and retention. Engagement and retention are byproducts of connection. The only way to fully bring connection alive is to have personal contact with respected leaders, managers, and peers throughout the on-boarding process,” saysthe Goizueta Business School’s Smith.

“The biggest 'do' when it comes to the onboarding process is to get senior leadership involved as much as possible in the process early on. The best onboarding processes involve senior leaders giving presentations to new hires, networking with new hires, and exemplifying the values of the organization in person. This goes a long way in educating new hires on the 'real' values and rules of the organization that just simply can't be communicated by HR in a PowerPoint presentation,” he adds.

“Peers and other recent hires who have been with the organization for between one and three years are not used nearly as frequently as they should be in the onboarding process. These are the individuals who are 'most like' the new hires and will be viewed as trusted and respected almost immediately. In addition, new hires are more likely to view peers as approachable when they have a question versus asking a senior leader or even their manager."  


Sherry Baker is a health and medical journalist whose work has appeared in Psychology Today, Newsweek, Discover and many other publications. She is also the former Director of Public Relations for the Emory Heart Center. Any opinions expressed within this document are solely the opinion of the individual author and may not reflect the opinions of Ebix or its personnel.