Is Your Onboarding Process Sending the Wrong Message?


Bringing on new employees can be stressful for both managers and the new hires. The post-acceptance paperwork is substantial, and the IT department must ensure the new hire is equipped with all the appropriate technology and has all the necessary credentials to access the system and accounts. These processes increase the time it takes to get a new employee up and running.

The accounting department establishes payroll and possibly orders the new hire a credit card for business expenses. Marketing orders business cards, while facility or building maintenance sets up furniture and orders a nameplate. To establish the optimal work environment for your new employee, you need to ensure all of these onboarding processes flow smoothly and efficiently.

The way you complete the onboarding process doesn’t just influence internal attitudes. It also affects a new employee’s early assimilation into your team, and that has a lasting impact on their productivity and long-term success.

According to an SHRM Foundation study, 32 percent of global executives had experienced poor onboarding processes. Additionally, 20 percent of new employees leave jobs in the first 45 days because of failed onboarding processes. The cost of a single unsuccessful executive-level employee can be as much as $2.7 million, and that failure starts with flawed onboarding.

Onboarding Influences Early Morale

Inefficiencies in traditional onboarding processes, which rely on paper or manual procedures, contribute to poor outcomes. “The onboarding process can leave employees feeling undervalued right from the outset,” says Nora Burns, SPHR of HR-Undercover in Denver, Colorado. That can lead to what she calls the “I’m just a…” perspective from employees within an organization, which is recognizable by their bland responses to questions about their roles in the company: “Oh, I’m just a….”

[Related: The Cost of Paper Processes in the Workplace]

It’s also important to note that employees treat your customers the way you make them feel. That means a poor onboarding experience filters down and affects customer relations.

Onboarding Affects Employee Retention

The “I’m just a…” response rarely comes from executive-level hires. They respond to poor onboarding by leaving for another company; this is especially true of Gen-Xers and Millennials.

Burns, who acts as an undercover employee for corporate clients, work to determine where that breakdown in the retention process occurs. She worked as an employee for five Fortune 500 companies over the course of 15 months. In that time, she experienced morale-killing onboarding practices from an employee perspective.

“I acted once as an HR Manager for a large corporation, and the client sent me to a specific location to work,” remembers Burns. “I arrived to a district manager who didn’t know I was coming, so there was no office, no computer, nothing set up for me to begin work.”

Burns has seen new hires in that situation not return after the first week. “When an employee arrives on site and doesn’t have the basic tools to do their job, or even to complete their new hire paperwork, you’re communicating you’re disorganized, and they’re not a valuable resource,” Burns asserts.

Sending employees this message at any time is dangerous. “For new hires who are top talent, it adds a unique challenge since they likely still have offers coming in from their job search,” Burns adds. “When they get a call from your competitor during their first two weeks at your organization, you don’t want them staring at a blank desk where a computer should be,” she states. “You don’t want them facing a blank screen on their computer because they can’t log in yet.”

Automate Your Onboarding Process for Efficiency

Negative results occur most often when the onboarding process isn’t automated. “There are too many moving parts to the process to not have automated workflows,” says Burns, who has seen more misses than hits in manual processes. “Many aspects of onboarding require lead time, like ordering and setting up technology or ordering credit cards,” she continues.

“I am not a fan of systematizing all aspects of the employee relationship,” Burns explains, “but automating onboarding processes allows the hiring manager to focus on the human element of team development.” Using a system that automates workflow and streamlines the onboarding process centralizes procedures into a single system. This prevents missed tasks and eliminates the stress of micromanaging the process across multiple departments. “That frees managers to spend time on the other activities required to strategically prepare for a new hire to join your team,” Burns says.