Remote Employees Say Onboarding is Offtrack

If you thought the brunt of the Great Resignation took place near the end of 2021, think again. Despite the fact that the year ended with the most resignations in the 20 years that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has tracked such data, a recent survey by Resume Builder found that one in four employees plan to leave their job in 2022.

All the while, research from Eagle Hill Consulting revealed that new hires are more likely to leave a job sooner than their peers, with half of employees who started a new job during the pandemic saying they expected to stay just two years or less at their new jobs. This seems to beg the question: Can employers raise new hire retention by improving the onboarding process, and what needs to change with onboarding at a time when job seekers have the advantage and hybrid environments have made onboarding exponentially harder for organizations?

Research from Glassdoor, for its part, links strong onboarding to a 70 percent boost in productivity and an 82 percent jump in retention, suggesting effective onboarding helps new hires ramp up faster, feel more productive and stick around longer. Yet more than a third of companies recently surveyed by hiring software provider Workable acknowledged that remote onboarding has been a pandemic-related challenge, while a Gallup survey conducted before COVID-19 found only 12 percent of employees thought their employer onboarded people well.

To get a better understanding of what employees think about the effectiveness of pandemic-era onboarding, Eagle Hill Consulting and Ipsos surveyed more than 700 U.S. employees across several industries who started a new job either with a new or current employer in the last 18 months. Nearly half received their onboarding through either virtual (31 percent) or hybrid (18 percent) approaches.

“Not only do 58 percent of new employees say that starting a job during the crisis was harder than before, their views signal that employers are not evolving onboarding two years into the pandemic,” said Eagle Hill analysts.

New hires, for example, said the onboarding they received did not adequately cover many of the basics, from organizational culture to technology, benefits and policies. Coming out of their onboarding experience, a plurality of new hires reported that they didn’t have a clear idea of the individuals with which they should build a relationship (71 percent); didn’t have a clear idea of the organization’s culture (62 percent); didn’t have a clear idea of the organization’s core values (53 percent); and didn’t have a clear idea of the organization’s goals (47 percent).

“If virtual and hybrid work models continue – and the consensus is that they will – companies will need to rethink onboarding to meet employees where they are,” said Eagle Hill executives.

“To give new hires what they need to be successful, and to get the outcomes they want, employers should pivot to more human-centered and team-oriented onboarding,” they continued.

When Eagle Hill asked what new employees would like more of in the first month on the job, for instance, 83 percent said they are interested in learning more about how performance is measured. Likewise, 74 percent of new hires want to know how to be successful in the corporate culture.

“These responses suggest that even from their first weeks on the job, employees are assessing longer-term viability of their role in terms of career growth and cultural fit,” Eagle Hill executives surmised.

This, of course, puts the onus on employers to deliver on these expectations. “While performance management is more difficult in a hybrid or virtual work environment, there still must be clarity early on about expectations, career pathing and what success looks like,” said the Eagle Hill report. “This is key to keeping employees from leaving in the first six months for opportunities that offer more career growth.”

Just more than three-quarters (76 percent) of new employees, meanwhile, want to learn more about mental and physical health resources during onboarding. If there are any silver linings of the pandemic, one is that employee experience has come to the forefront, becoming the norm rather than the exception. Employees now want to know that they can be open about their well-being and can count on their employer to provide self-care resources.

“For employers, this is a signal to think about employee experience strategies more broadly than they have in the past and to communicate them early and often,” advised the report. “Supporting employee well-being is the right thing to do as it can prevent employee burnout and improve productivity, connection and engagement. It can also result in significant positive bottom-line results for companies.”

Making Connections

New hires also express interest in developing personal connections and understanding the corporate culture, which tend to go hand-in-hand. A full three-quarters of respondents said they want more opportunity to connect with people on their team, and 69 percent are interested in starting to build relationships outside their team during onboarding. A clear majority (70 percent) want more information about the core values of the organization.

“The challenge for employers is that relationship-building and cultural immersion is much harder in a virtual or hybrid work environment,” Eagle Hill executives advised. “There is no natural tail of in-person events – informal meet-and-greets or watercooler talks – following traditional onboarding activities. So, they need different ways to help new hires feel, see and experience the culture of the organization.”

In most cases, the responsibilities of onboarding largely fall on the human resources department, yet new hires said they are interested in getting help, training and guidance from a broader group of people, including their supervisor (63 percent) and teammates (46 percent). That compares to the 30 percent of respondents who said they are looking for more from human resources during onboarding.

“This suggests that employees want to feel immersed in the organization as part of onboarding so that they understand how their role and team fit into the larger picture,” said Eagle Hill researchers.

Considering all that must go into an effective and fulfilling onboarding process – from responsibilities to culture – having onboarding led by a single group is less than ideal, particularly as employees settle into their day-to-day routines and get busy.

“Assigning responsibilities and providing tools to other groups creates a more distributed onboarding process that engages the rest of the organization where it makes sense,” concluded the study.

Tips from Eagle Hill on How to Improve Virtual and Hybrid Onboarding

Go beyond paperwork. Rethink onboarding to create a sense of belonging for people. Hold virtual events to bring the company culture to life through activities that reflect the core values. Plan to have new joiners work on real activities with teams either in-person or using collaboration tools. Organize virtual team lunches to create informal relationship-building opportunities.

Make it personal and meaningful. Help new employees not only see how their role supports the organization’s purpose but how the organization is dedicated to their well-being and success. Highlight the unique value proposition for employees and how you help build careers, provide development opportunities and maintain a focus on people’s mental and physical wellness.

Build a longer tail to onboarding. Extend onboarding beyond a single event and create a series of events and experiences that employees need to have to feel connected to the organization. Consider what onboarding should look like for the whole first year and regularly offer experiences that continue to build employees’ affinity for the organization.

Pinpoint the right people. Create repeatable processes and frameworks to engage managers, supervisors and team members in onboarding new employees. This ensures that people know what their role is and can clearly show employees how their day-to-day work and team connects to the larger business. Thread both in-person and virtual connection points into the framework.

Employees’ needs and expectations will evolve, so organizations should take the pulse of their needs. Periodically mapping the onboarding process from start to finish, identifying the moments that matter, and collecting data and adjusting processes is important to ensure onboarding is effective as possible.