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10 Strategies to Deliver the Best Employee Onboarding Experience

Don’t be one of the companies that delivers a boring, unmotivated, unexciting onboarding experience. We share how to ensure onboarding success.
Written by: Penny Swift
onboarding experience
Published: January 18, 2024
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Employee onboarding experiences can pre-define expectations and perceptions of the employee experience (EX) before it’s even begun. While embarking on a new job can be filled with anticipation and optimism, inadequate onboarding can leave enthusiastic employees feeling perplexed, let down, and disappointed. But when new employees have a good experience, they’re more likely to connect with the organization and embrace company culture. This leads to enthusiasm, commitment, and desire to be productive. 

According to a 2022 Paychex survey, 70% of employees believe that the onboarding process can “make or break a new hire’s experience.” Despite this, it found that only 52% of employees who complete onboarding programs are satisfied with the experience. The responses leave a lot to be desired. For instance, only 32% said they found them exciting, 31% found them engaging, and 24% found them boring. 

The chart below shows the Paychex results with graphic clarity.

onboarding experience survey

Additionally, 56% felt disorientated, 52% felt let down, and 46% simply lost interest. 

So, how can companies create a seamless onboarding experience for their employees that aligns with their organizational culture and sets them up for success?

Despite the current economic climate, unemployment rates in the US are still at historic lows, and following layoffs at tech companies, the labor market is still tight. This means companies should get rid of complicated, unattractive, and costly hiring and onboarding processes.

We’re going to explore the significance of the employee experience, define the concept of employee onboarding, and present 10 strategies for enhancing the onboarding process. We will highlight the potential benefits that a well-structured onboarding program offers both employees and employers, supported by examples of good and bad onboarding experiences. Replicating these best practices will help you achieve a higher return on investment (ROI) from your onboarding process and elevate your employee experience.

Why is Employee Experience Important?

Employee experience is crucial for a prosperous business environment. It reflects how employees perceive their jobs and their interactions with the company. This extends from training and development and the work environment to the relationship with colleagues and managers. 

The Paychex survey found that 52% feel inadequately trained, and blame this on a poor onboarding process. The stats are even higher for employees in small companies (66%) and those working remotely (63%). Another hugely negative impact is that when onboarding doesn’t meet the expectations of new hires, it directly affects turnover. Asked if onboarding had influenced their plan to leave their employer, 50% said yes, only 20% said no, and an uncertain 28% said maybe. 

The importance of employee experience is reflected in three key areas: productivity, talent attraction, and employee retention.

  1. Productivity
    A positive employee experience fosters high work engagement and satisfaction, which can significantly improve productivity. When employees are introduced into a nurturing environment they are more likely to excel at their work and produce better results.
  2. Talent Attraction
    A firm that provides a great employee experience generally attracts top-notch candidates. It demonstrates a commendable corporate culture and signifies the value the organization places on employee welfare, health, and well-being.
  3. Employee Retention
    Workers are more likely to stay with a company that provides a high-quality experience. This results in a lower turnover rate, saving the company resources they would otherwise need to spend on hiring and training new staff.

Understanding the importance of employee experience paves the way to an exploration of the concept of employee onboarding and how it contributes to overall employee experience.

What is the Employee Onboarding Experience?

Employee onboarding indicates the process of integrating a new employee (or hire) into an organization. It comprises a series of activities that a new employee engages in after being hired into a company. The aim is to acquaint new hires with the company’s culture, values, objectives, and mission, ensuring that they are equipped with the necessary skills to excel in their respective roles.

BambooHR surveyed employees to find out more about their onboarding experiences. They found that those who had a positive onboarding experience were three times more likely to be engaged and remain in the company. More than 80% of employees who had a positive experience continue to hold their organizations in high regard.

It starts as soon as a new employee signs a work contract — and extends through their first few weeks or months on the job. It’s a transitional phase where the new hire moves from being an outsider to becoming an integral part of the team. It encapsulates the initial education, training, and socialization needed to hit the ground running.

Onboarding is not the same as orientation, which is a part of the onboarding process. Orientation involves signing paperwork, reviewing company policies, enrolling in benefits, and so on. Onboarding is an ongoing process that helps employees acclimate to the organization and master their roles.  

So, it stands to reason that investing in a comprehensive onboarding program signifies the first step in creating a positive employee experience. The onboarding experience sets the tone for an employee’s journey within the organization and leaves a lasting impression on them. Therefore, it’s vital to ensure this process is effective, engaging, and represents the company culture accurately.

For a successful onboarding process, businesses often follow a structured approach known as the 5Cs of onboarding.

5Cs of Onboarding Experiences

The 5Cs of onboarding experiences are a set of guidelines that companies can follow to create an effective onboarding program. They commonly comprise compliance, clarification, culture, connection, and checkback.

  • Compliance: The most fundamental level of onboarding, compliance entails teaching employees basic legal and policy-related rules and regulations. This can include training on company policies, procedures, and any industry-specific regulations.
  • Clarification: Providing clarity on job roles, responsibilities, and expectations is crucial. New hires should have a clear understanding of what is expected of them, the goals of their role, and how their contributions align with the overall objectives of the organization.
  • Culture: Fostering an understanding of the company’s culture is important for integration. This C involves communicating the organization’s values, mission, and vision, as well as helping new hires adapt to the workplace culture.
  • Connection: Building connections within the organization is essential for a positive experience. This includes introducing new employees to their colleagues, team members, and other key stakeholders. Creating a sense of belonging helps new hires feel part of the organizational culture.
  • Checkback: Regular check-ins and feedback sessions are crucial for ongoing support. This involves monitoring the progress of new employees, addressing any concerns they may have, and providing the necessary resources and support to ensure a smooth transition into their roles.

The 5Cs are not merely a checklist but a tool that, when used correctly, can yield highly successful onboarding that contributes effectively to a strong employee experience.

Benefits of a Good Employee Onboarding Experience

A successful employee onboarding experience can profoundly affect not only new recruits but also the companies they are joining. With this in mind, we’re going to break down the benefits of a good employee experience as it applies to both employees and employers.

Benefits for Employees

The onboarding experience directly influences an employee’s initial perception of their workplace. It establishes their comfort level, clarifies aspects of their assigned role, and enhances their understanding of the company’s vision and culture.

  • Job satisfaction
    An effective onboarding program can make a new employee feel valued and secure in their workplace, leading to higher job satisfaction.
  • Role clarity
    With well-structured onboarding, employees will understand their roles and expectations better. Clear job descriptions and responsibilities can reduce role ambiguity and job stress indefinitely.
  • Integration into company culture
    Onboarding provides an excellent opportunity to familiarize new employees with the company culture, values, and vision. It creates a sense of belonging and community, strengthening the overall employee experience.

Benefits for Employers

A well-planned onboarding process also has considerable advantages for organizations.

  • Reduced turnover rate
    Engaging onboarding experiences can translate into better employee retention, saving companies from high turnover costs.
  • Increased productivity
    Thorough training and early guidance during onboarding can accelerate a new employee’s learning curve, leading to faster, more efficient productivity.
  • Improved company reputation
    When businesses have a positive onboarding process, it impacts the company’s image, attracting potential talents. In other words, a successful onboarding program can be a powerful recruiting tool.
benefits of a good employee onboarding experience


ROI of a Successful Employee Onboarding Process

The ROI of a successful onboarding process is high. A well-run, effective onboarding program is an investment that can yield substantial returns over the long term. Successful onboarding can reduce the time to productivity for a new hire, impacting the bottom line positively. The recruitment costs, including advertising, screening, interviewing, and hiring, are investment costs that have a much better return when an employee stays with the company longer. 

SHRM indicates that the total cost of losing an employee can amount to tens of thousands of dollars. Therefore, retaining employees through effective onboarding directly impacts the company’s financial health.

In a SHRM article, The Real Costs of Recruitment, Katie Navarra quotes their benchmarking data that found the average cost of just one hire was close to $4,700. She also quotes Edie Goldberg, founder of the Menlo Park, California-based talent management and development company E.L. Goldberg & Associates, who says it can cost three to four times an employee’s annual salary. “That means if you’re hiring for a job that pays $60,000, you may spend $180,000 or more to fill that role.”

Furthermore, it’s not just productivity that is affected. There are also non-sustainable emotional tolls that hiring teams face, she says. 

10 Strategies to Create a Great Onboarding Experience

Having examined why a good onboarding experience is critical, it’s time to explore 10 strategies that can help create a robust onboarding process.

#1 Pre-onboarding

Sending materials relating to company policies, culture, and role expectations before an employee’s first day can help them arrive prepared.

#2 Make the First Day Special

A warm welcome goes a long way. The Tech-Enabled Employee Experience 2022 Culture Report from Achievers Workforce Institute states that being warmly welcomed is the #1 way to help employees experience an even deeper sense of belonging. Arrange a tour, introduce team members, or have a welcome lunch to make the new hire feel special.

“Being warmly welcomed may seem like the simplest of the belonging pillars, but AWI’s research shows it is often the most overlooked.”

#3 Structure Training Programs

Provide clear, organized training modules to help new employees understand their roles better and reduce confusion.

#4 Assign an Onboarding Buddy

Assigning a ‘buddy’ helps new hires assimilate into the company culture faster. This can also promote relationship-building.

Microsoft piloted a buddy program involving 600 employees across the organization to evaluate results on productivity and engagement. These showed that 56% of new hires who met with their onboarding buddy at least once in their first 90 days said their new contact helped them to quickly become productive. That percentage jumped to 73% for those who met two to three times with their buddy, 86% for those who spoke four to eight times, and 97% for those meeting more than eight times.

“Every new employee should have an onboarding buddy,” says Priya Priyadarshini, general manager for employee career and development at Microsoft.

#5 Use Onboarding Software

Onboarding software can help facilitate role clarity and increase productivity by tracking progress, giving reminders, and providing resources.

#6 Periodic Check-ins 

Regularly checking in with new employees can make them feel valued and assist in addressing any issues or concerns they might have early on.

#7 Clear Communication

Open channels of communication encourage interaction and allow employees to voice concerns or ask questions.

#8 Set Realistic Goals

Setting achievable short-term and long-term goals can help new employees understand their roles better and achieve success faster.

#9 Reward Early Success

Recognizing and rewarding initial achievements can boost employee morale and foster a sense of accomplishment.

#10 Feedback

Constructive feedback is crucial in the early stages of employment as it enables new hires to learn, grow, and adapt to their roles more efficiently.

Implementing these strategies can help create a conducive experience that effectively welcomes new employees while adequately preparing them for their roles. And if you miss the boat, Paychex suggests re-onboarding.

strategies to create a great onboarding experience

The Re-Onboarding Bonus

Re-onboarding isn’t only for new hires, it’s a concept that enables employees to start a brand new introductory process for existing employees. It’s the ideal way that you can reestablish and communicate cultural expectations in the workplace.

According to the Paychex survey, the top benefits are:

  • Improved focus 47%
  • Improved employee retention 43%
  • Energized teams 42%
  • Team bonding 38%
  • Productivity boost 34%
  • Improved efficiency 33%
  • Improved workflow 33%
  • Improved work quality 28% 

Examples of Good and Bad Onboarding Experiences

One of the most effective methods for understanding how to enhance your employees’ onboarding experience is examining real-life examples of what works and what doesn’t work. Making a good first impression is crucial to fostering employee engagement and reducing turnover rates, but a mishandled onboarding program has the potential to instill negative sentiments among employees from the get-go.

Examples of a Good Onboarding Experience

Let’s look at some of the best practices that can transform an ordinary onboarding process into a remarkable employee onboarding experience.

  • Microsoft
    At Microsoft, each new recruit is paired with an “onboarding buddy” to help familiarize them with workplace culture, practices, and norms. Their buddy acts as a guide, helping new hires with the transition and creating a more personalized remote employee onboarding experience to increase engagement.
  • Mastercard
    MasterCard’s Relaunch Your Career program is an excellent example of a structured onboarding process that caters specifically to those returning to work after a career break. The program not only provides transition support but also mentoring, networking opportunities, and an introduction to the business.
  • Total Activation
    Total Activation, a skincare company, offers a unique remote work onboarding experience by mailing new hires a package. The package contains company swag, equipment, and a physical onboarding checklist to kick-start their journey on a high note.

Examples of a Bad Onboarding Experience

By comparison, a poorly executed onboarding program can be detrimental to employee morale and motivation. Here are a few examples of bad experiences.

  • Lack of structure
    Unstructured onboarding is one of the biggest mistakes companies make. A case study involving a high potential onboarding with no formal structure led to confusion, slow knowledge transfer, and eventually attrition.
  • No remote accessibility: In today’s digital era where remote employees are becoming the norm, companies that fail to accommodate remote onboarding are falling behind. A case when a proactive onboarding process was not accessible remotely led to a delayed start date and increased frustration among new hires.
  • One-size-fits-all approach: Guessing that the same onboarding experience would fit all, some companies disregard the individual needs of employees. An example of such a bottom-line misstep was identified in a company, where one new hire didn’t speak the primary language of instruction used in the onboarding program, leading to a sense of isolation and disengagement.

How to Track and Evaluate Your Employee Experience Onboarding

Having looked at good and bad practices, understanding how to measure the success of your onboarding experience is the next essential. Here is a very simple step-by-step guide:

  • Define clear goals
    Before initiating an onboarding process, it’s crucial to establish clear objectives. What do you want your employees to learn during the program? Which skills should they acquire? Remember that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Segment your audience just like you do for effective internal communication.
  • Feedback from new hires
    Regular feedback from new hires is essential to identify any deficiencies in the onboarding process. This will empower you to make necessary improvements in real-time.
  • Use of surveys
    Employee surveys undertaken at regular intervals (30, 60, 90 days for example) can provide insightful data on how well new hires are adapting. These will also help you to evaluate the efficiency of your onboarding program.
  • Retention rates
    A successful onboarding program should increase employee engagement and decrease turnover rates. Watch these metrics carefully.
  • Tracking progress over time
    An ongoing process, it’s important to continuously monitor your onboarding processes as they evolve. Be sure to keep them in line with top employee experience trends.
how to track onboarding experience

Implementing these steps will help you gauge the effectiveness of your employee onboarding checklist and overall program. Remember, the key to success lies in continuously refining your approach based on feedback and changing industry standards.

How does Cerkl make your Onboarding Process Easier?

Cerkl Broadcast is a versatile platform that will help you to facilitate and measure your employee’s onboarding experiences. It enables open channels of communication via its omnichannel capabilities and provides opportunities for valuable surveys and feedback. 

Broadcast’s feedback and analytics tools allow communicators to measure message impact. This improves and adds efficiency to the planning process with data-driven insights that enable team leaders to effectively adapt and improve strategies.   

What’s Next?

Successful onboarding strategies rely on good, solid internal communication programs. How good is yours? You can find out by doing a simple internal communications audit with our help. It’s free, and you can access our audit template here. Then you can reach out to us and we can help you improve your existing program or structure a new one. 

FAQ

What is the employee onboarding experience?

This is the process used to integrate new hires into a company. It encompasses orientation, training, and assimilation into the company’s organizational culture.

What are the 5 Cs of employee onboarding?

Compliance, clarification, culture, connection, and checkback are usually listed as the 5 Cs of employee onboarding. Organizations use them to introduce legal and regulatory aspects, define roles and expectations, communicate values and mission, build relationships within the organization, and provide ongoing support and feedback.

How to create a great onboarding experience?

You need a comprehensive approach that includes clear communication, and proper training, effective socialization, and involves fostering a sense of belonging to the organization.

How can you make onboarding more engaging for new hires?

To make onboarding more engaging for new hires, incorporate interactive elements such as team-building activities, mentorship programs, multimedia resources, and opportunities for open communication to enhance their involvement and connection with the company.

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