Build a strong foundation for your new hires with employee onboarding

Susan Hurrell
Woman smiling slightly with brown, chin-length hair and glasses.
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Pity the new person

No one likes being the new person – no matter the scenario. First day of school. Meeting “the parents” of your new love interest. Starting a new job. Especially starting a new job – because work provides us with income to pay our rent and live our life with all the necessities like food, clothing, transportation, and potato chips (or chocolate if that’s more your thing.) 

The first day is the worst day

Think back to your first day at your current job. Remember the slight confusion, the raging uncertainty, and the deeply seeded hope that you would be good enough, smart enough, and that dog-gone-it, they would like you? You didn’t know where anything was; you may have barely known what tasks you were required to do. What about how you fit in the company culture – all completely new to you? So many new terms to learn. And even worse, you didn’t know where to go for lunch!

Now that you are a seasoned veteran whose role is to welcome and onboard new employees, you may ask yourself, “How can I do this onboarding thing better? How can I give every new employee a strong start that starts building loyalty and sparks their ambition to do their best for us?” 

Understanding and delivering proper, robust onboarding to new hires sets them up for success, builds trust, and reduces stress. Then there is the hidden bonus of how a solid onboarding program sets up all your future training or “everboarding” for success for the tenure of your employee's work life.

This article will help you understand what onboarding is, how to deliver an effective onboarding program in person and via online platforms, and what to focus on to ensure a smooth transition to your everboarding program. 

We’ll also share how we here at Neovation “eat our own dog food” – no – really – it's much better than it sounds – that experience gives us the insights and competencies to help you understand how important onboarding is to the success of your new hires. I’m one of the first five employees here at Neovation, and I was part of the onboarding process for so many of our new hires for many years until we got big enough to have an HR department and to build our online onboarding content. I’ve been part of our transition to a more formal onboarding process, which is now delivered almost 90% via online platforms. And - most importantly, I still remember what it's like to be “that new hire.” 

What exactly is onboarding?

Onboarding is the initial training a new hire receives, either in person, using an online training program, or a hybrid model. Usually, this happens during the first week of work but may continue as part of their work-day for weeks or even months, depending on the knowledge required to acquire a basic competency in the skills needed to do their job. 

A circle chart showing the levels of employee training. In the very center is a ring representing pre-training, which takes up a quarter of the ring; the second ring is onboarding, which takes up one-half of the ring; the third outer ring is on-the-job training, with is three-quarters of the ring; and the final outside ring is everboarding, which fills the full ring, indicating it is an ongoing, continuous process.

Onboarding can be delivered to one new hire at a time or to many new hires – especially for industries with seasonal employment trends. Onboarding content can be delivered to learners as synchronous or asynchronous training through instructor-led training, an eLearning platform like an LMS or microlearning application, or a hybrid of in-person and online training. This hybrid approach is especially applicable for jobs with a “hands-on” component, such as working on a manufacturing assembly line or being a front-line team member in any service-based industry, from healthcare to restaurants. 

Why should I create an onboarding program? 

That’s an easy question to answer. It’s all about employee retention and ROI – the return on your hiring investment. Not to reduce people to mere dollars and cents as economic units that benefit your company, but payroll is an expense on your P&L that has to account for itself in the overall fiscal health of your business. 

Employee turnover is expensive 

Retaining an employee starts on their first day. Employee turnover is costly; replacing workers costs about a third of that employee’s salary, according to the Work Institute’s 2020 Retention Report. That’s an average of $15K per employee. 

There are additional costs, even if you are not replacing someone – you have to advertise or pay a recruiter, it takes time to review applications and interview candidates, do background/reference checks, and other screening tests. It can add up to thousands of dollars PER HIRE.

So once you find a good person for the role, you want to keep them. More scary statistics. Zippia reports that 33% of employees leave within the first 90 days of employment. Over 16% don’t last a full week. Some of this churn may be due to a bad fit; however, these numbers include a lot of voluntary departures. The LinkedIn Workplace Learning Report found that 94% of employees are more likely to stay with an employer who invested in their skills and professional development. 

A formalized onboarding process ensures that every new hire starts with the same foundational knowledge. Gone are the days of Fred training a new hire one way and Ethel training a new hire with different information. A new employee is only as good as their training, and you want to give everyone an equal start, well armed with knowledge and prepared to do the job correctly, as part of a team. Incorporating performance support (job aids), glossaries, and other resources that are also part of your everboarding suite ensures that the consistency of training is maintained over time when employees access those resources to ensure their understanding and knowledge retention. 

The investment in your new hire needs to start on Day One. High turnover erodes morale and reduces efficiency. No manager wants to see a current or future “star employee” leave the company. Building employees’ skills has become a top priority, especially in tight labor markets with low unemployment. If your business struggles to find new workers, offer new hires something that your competitors may not. An easy win would be to reduce the immediate churn of an overwhelmed new employee. Starting with employee onboarding, you set the tone that should continue throughout each worker’s time at the company (everboarding). Training says, “the quality of your work matters – from day one.” 

An infographic laying out the following stats from Zippia: As of 2021, the average turnover rate in America is 57.3%. 31% of employees have quit within 6 months of starting a new job. In 2022, the overall cost of voluntary employee turnover amounted to $1 trillion. However, organizations with an onboarding process retain 91% of their first-year employees, and highly-engaged employees are 75% less likely to leave.
Click image to zoom in.

The benefits of onboarding

Let’s take a moment to sum up the benefits of onboarding:

  • An immediate sense of security, value, and inclusion in the company culture
  • Consistent training for new hires, not dependent on an individual trainer’s knowledge.
  • Exposure to all the information they will need to do their job, presented for maximum retention, delivered in a way that closes knowledge gaps and introduces new vocabulary.
  • Familiarity with and the immediate adoption of any safety practices, including awareness of the location of vital resources like first aid kits and fire extinguishers – making the workplace safer and reducing accidents because “the new person never knew what hit them.” 
  • Giving each new hire a strong, confident start, reducing stress, and setting the tone for the rest of their employment. 

And more. Can you think of anything specific to your company that you might add to this list? 

What should I cover in my onboarding program? 

New hires have a lot to learn. Here are some examples:

  • Company culture, history, and the corporate reporting structure
  • Values and best practices central to the company’s brand and mission
  • Location of the first aid kit, fire extinguisher, and emergency exits
  • Where to find the supplies and resources needed
  • Rules, dress codes, and other behavioral guidelines
  • HR policies for sick days, vacation time, and payroll
  • Familiarity with IT and physical security policies
  • Hiring paperwork, including signing up for benefit plans, health care deductions, or retirement/pension plans
  • Technical or industry-specific vocabulary
  • How to submit expense reports, timecards, or access petty cash
  • Who their new colleagues are, their roles, responsibilities, and ability to function as a resource for the new hire (Can you imagine asking an unfamiliar colleague, “Which way to the washroom?” to find out they are a senior-level vice president?) 

You may have an employee handbook – but that can be easily misplaced or outdated as policies and information change - and expensive to reprint and redistribute. You’ll never know if it's ever been read! All this and more – on top of the information and training your new team members will need to do their day-to-day work – that component will vary depending on the new hire and their role. 

There is no restriction on what can be included in an onboarding program. Some companies include more informal training topics, like public transit routes, great lunch spots, and social event calendars, to help new hires feel more welcome.

How long should my onboarding program be? 

I know you’ll hate this answer, but here it is. “It Depends.”

Every company has different requirements, so the best answer is this. Your onboarding program needs to be as long and extensive as it needs to convey all the information your new hire needs. You want to give them that solid start, engaging their loyalty and improving the chances of retaining them. It needs to be as short as possible to get people working and producing value for your company.

For most companies, onboarding starts the first day an employee works and may last for the first week, sometimes two. In addition to “book learning,” there may be hands-on training, job shadowing, or job pairing as part of the training process. Every business’s actual plan is unique to them. Make sure you build your onboarding program to deliver on the end goal – a prepared new employee – rather than an arbitrary number of hours or days, or activities that your new hire must complete. 

Adopting online training programs has allowed some companies to train their new hires “before” the first day they show up to work by making online courses available to their new hires. If the new hire isn’t paid for their training hours, it may be unfair to expect them to “complete” these pre-start date courses, so keep that in mind. 

I know of a couple of companies that make optional microlearning training available that is focused mostly on company culture, identifying fellow employees with a picture and bio, and providing some of the local resources for public transit and meals to help ease the transition into an unfamiliar physical workplace. It’s a good idea – and one I wish was more widely adopted. The idea of starting your first day of work and knowing “who” some of your new colleagues are and how they fit is a big stress reducer. 

Onboarding can morph seamlessly into “everboarding” – the continued retention training for existing hires, but that’s a topic for a different article – read about how everboarding for employees delivers ongoing training and improves retention.

A venn diagram of 2 overlapping circles. The left circle represents onboarding and the right circle represents everboarding. The two circles overlap each other by about 75%, and this middle area represents the approximate percentage of engaged employees.

How does onboarding help with employee satisfaction and retention?

A new employee is eager to start strong, to learn how to perform their job. Effective onboarding immediately makes new hires feel like they are part of the company. It sets them up to succeed by giving them the tools and information they need, encouraging them to learn at work, and sending a clear message that the company supports a strong learning culture. They feel supported, not thrown into the deep end of a mysterious new role, and afraid to fail. They become confident they will succeed. 

Or, to put it more succinctly, organizations with a strong onboarding process retain 91% of their first-year workers, according to Zippia. The same study states that it takes approximately eight months for an employee to reach full productivity. If they leave before a year – you’ve lost your investment in that new hire and set yourself back.

Once the intensity of onboarding is done, employees who spend at least an hour a week in some form of training report feeling significantly less stressed and more engaged at work. A good onboarding experience starts building that engagement from the first day. Done properly, it begins a commitment to your team that you will provide them with the things/tools/ideas they need to succeed – from the first day to the end of their tenure with your company - as onboarding segues into everboarding.

Onboarding is just the first step to employee retention; it sets the groundwork for their entire career and makes them more valuable to you – and you become more valuable to them. 

Should I deliver onboarding training online?

Long story to make a point:

One of my early jobs was selling cosmetics for our large local department store with dozens of different departments and likely more than a thousand total employees in our city alone. There were ten of us new hires, all from various departments, huddled in a small, uncomfortable room and given little binders full of double-sided pages in Times Roman 8 point font that explained the rules and regulations of the company.

We listened to our trainer read that binder aloud, page by page, for two weeks. Not all the content applied to everyone - the young man in the warehouse likely wasn’t expected to wear the heels and pantyhose required for my role. But he had to hear all about the expectations that we (meaning me) would come to work with a full face of makeup, perfectly coiffed hair, and manicured nails. I found out he had to supply his own steel-toed boots and hard hat.

If we had been able to take only the training that was relevant to our roles, we could have completed our onboarding in three days, not two weeks. I may still have that binder somewhere as a cautionary tale of what not to do when onboarding a new team member.

Moving your onboarding (and everboarding) to an online platform gives you enormous flexibility. Here’s how:

Employee onboarding for 1:1 or 1:many

You can onboard a cohort of one or one hundred with exacting specificity, delivering only the relevant content that each new hire needs — dress codes, health and safety, etc.

Granular training assignment by title or role

An online training platform allows you to more easily assign the right training to the right employee at the right time. Most eLearning platforms allow you to assign training by job title or role, and many better ones have an automated “learning plan” enrollment process.

Real-time course updates

You can update course material in real-time and deliver it to your employees (new and tenured) immediately. There is no need to replace outdated paper-based training materials, lowering costs and saving resources. 

Make your training content interactive

You can deliver rich media courses, using interactivities, graphics, animations, and simulations to make the training content more valuable – modeling the tasks each role may be required to perform as part of their duties. Photos, drawings, floor plans, and infographics can enhance any course, especially boosting engagement in more text-based training, like company culture or history.

Deliver training to where your learners are

Online courses can be taken anywhere, on any internet-connected device. Remote workers can have the same onboarding experience as in-person workers. Does your company have part of your team working from home or in the field (in roles like sales and service)? The recent Covid-19 Pandemic changed so much about how we “come to work,” - and many companies are now fully remote. Online onboarding can play an important role in building and maintaining cohesive company culture. 

Reference your knowledge base

Your online onboarding courses can be linked to a knowledge base and curated content as an ongoing resource – with items like a glossary, schematics, floor plans, reference documents, and more available to your learners as needed.

Measure results, and progress along the way

You can measure a learner’s progress and retention through gamified eLearning activities, tests, quizzes, flashcards, or long-form tests. Microlearning applications can monitor and improve knowledge retention over time – especially important in compliance-driven industries. An onboarding course is essentially repeated as annual refresher training to ensure ongoing certification.

Save money on physical training costs

You no longer have to access physical classroom space or incur travel and accommodation costs for the trainees or the instructors headed out to your various locations. Trainers are not taken away from other work just to deliver “the same old onboarding course” multiple times during the year – allowing your training team to focus on producing high-quality content, managing updates, and ensuring training engagement. Much better use of these valuable human resources! 

Everyone receives the same training, consistently

Your onboarding becomes more consistent; with instructor-led training, the learner's experience and content can vary by instructor. Bad habits and old information can get easily passed to those who don’t know what they don’t know. Online onboarding ensures that all employees get the same high-quality content, outstanding learner experience, and consistent messaging about company values, culture, and priorities.

Accessible for all

Online onboarding also provides accessibility – increasingly important with our growing diverse and global workforce. Your content can contain built-in accessibility features that make your online employee onboarding materials easily usable to all learners, regardless of disability, technical savvy, prior experience, knowledge, or even native language. 

Robust onboarding makes everboarding a success

A strong start creates a firm foundation and sets expectations. Suppose your company is committed to having a “training culture” approach to your workforce. In that case, you can set the tone for your employees’ continued success by transitioning their onboarding program into an everboarding program.

We are our own case study

All Neovation employees train with content developed in-house by our team and deployed on our adaptive microlearning platform or learning management system. We use our products to train our team members across all company divisions. In turn, our 70+ employees provide live feedback to improve our training content (and our products, but that’s not really relevant to this discussion.) 

Infographic table with the following Neovation success story stats: Left column - The challenge? To onboard and support remote employees, ensure adherence to company policies, and promote open communication. Right column - The solution? A combination of onboarding and retention training. Below this are three bars filled to various lengths with green. The first bar: Modules Learned - 90%; second bar: Learning Progress - 97%; and the third bar: Engagement - Last 30 Days - 98%. Each bar is filled to the corresponding percentage.

New hires at Neovation Learning Solutions do their onboarding training using OttoLearn. They reach mastery in a “Meet the Neovites” module, which introduces them to all their new colleagues. They get a name, job title, photo, and fun facts about each person (like the fact that I used to be a marriage commissioner). This is helpful for all new hires but is especially important for remote employees, who can look up info on people they might not ever meet in person, but whom they work with regularly. 

Through the onboarding training, new Neovites also learn company policies and procedures and get in-depth cybersecurity training, to ensure that they use the latest practices to keep company and client data safe. We continue our employee training with our everboarding program, delivered as daily microlearning.

We’ve seen the benefits of consistent yet specialized onboarding and everboarding for our team. We have low employee turnover and fill leadership roles almost exclusively from within the company because our people are continually trained and develop the skills and knowledge they need to advance. Everyone benefits from having a unified foundation of knowledge to stand on – to build on – as we continue to build our product and service offerings to earn the trust of new clients and retain our existing ones. 

You can read the entire Neovation Onboarding case study on our website. 

In conclusion: Onboarding is increasingly essential to success

If actions can speak louder than words, then statistics can help identify which actions need to take priority - and from what we’ve seen in terms of employee retention and satisfaction, we know that effective onboarding delivers real value (a value that is compounded like credit-card interest when onboarding is followed by everboarding.) But there’s something else to consider that makes implementing or upgrading your onboarding program even more vital.

For the first time in decades, there is fierce competition across many front-line industries to hire and retain talent. The 2020-2022 Covid 19 Pandemic changed so many aspects of how we work. Those who could, worked from home and telecommuted to the office via video calls, and many will not return to the office full-time, if at all. Those in front-line jobs stayed at their public-facing posts, and many industries - such as hospitality, healthcare, and education, experienced a higher than usual level of burnout or dissatisfaction. Whether you call this “the Great Resignation’ or the “Great Reprioritization,” there have been unusual pressures on the job market that will shape the future of work, according to LinkedIn CEO Ryan Roslanky.

"Right now, all companies, all CEOs, are rethinking the way their company works. They’re rethinking their culture. They’re rethinking their values and about what it means to work at their company," said Roslansky in an interview with Time magazine. "And on the other hand, you have employees globally who are rethinking not just how they work, but why they work and what they most want to do with their careers and lives. And while this reshuffle of talent will most likely play out for another year or two, I believe it will ultimately settle back down in a place that will lead to greater effectiveness for businesses and fulfillment for employees." That means we must assess, improve, and measure every employee's skills development, from start to retirement.

Here’s my take on this. People WANT to work and succeed. They need to feel welcome, feel integral and continually improve their competence in order for them to do their best work – whether it’s making sandwiches at a quick service restaurant or assembling a vehicle on an assembly line. They want to be part of a whole – and feel part of the mission – that their work produces something of value. No one wants to be a cog in a machine. Linkedin Learning’s 2022 report tells us that employees who feel their skills are not being put to good use are 10 times more likely to look for a new opportunity. If all work is honorable and worthy of compensation, setting a tone that says “you are a valued asset and part of the whole” should start as early as day one. As an employer, you can do your part to show your employees they are valued by offering them training designed to ensure they succeed. If you’re unsure where to begin, continue exploring the various topics on our introduction to online training page and imagine how your future training program may take shape.

You can create, build, or improve your company culture and change your HR KPIs with effective onboarding. I’ve seen it happen in several places I’ve worked, including Neovation – and I know that engaging, effective onboarding changes the conversation, increases performance, builds loyalty, and can improve profitability. As your team training program's first and most vital component, onboarding starts every new employee off right. 

And what new employee doesn’t want to have the best first day ever? 

Woman smiling slightly with brown, chin-length hair and glasses.
Susan Hurrell

With 15+ years of online marketing and online learning experience, Susan loves to share insights about where these two ROI-building practices can intersect and complement each other for your business or organization.

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