Culture-focused onboarding programs support new employee retention

Brian Elizardi

The numbers don’t lie. And they’re alarming.

Nearly one-third of new employees leave their jobs within 90 days of being hired.

The statistic comes from a study conducted by Jobvite, a talent acquisition site, in 2018—before the COVID pandemic—and it’s highly unlikely the numbers have improved since then.

With an unemployment rate of just 3.8% and companies competing hard for qualified workers, the employment market is skewed heavily in employees’ favor. Don’t like what they see or feel? It’s on to greener pastures, leaving those companies with the time—and considerable expense—of returning to recruitment.

Many employees may leave organizations because they are dissatisfied with their supervisors, but Brian Elizardi, an adjunct faculty member in the Daniels College of Business Executive Education department, believes an increasing number of new employees are leaving because they’re not brought in (or “onboarded”) in a way that substantively connects them with the organization.

“There continues to be a mindset of wanting new hires to fit in versus wanting them to belong to the organization,” said Elizardi, who teaches in ExecEd’s Accelerated Leadership Experience. “Where I see organizations fall short is they focus on just the ‘fitting in’ piece. They want the employee to adapt to the organization.

“Having a process in place that facilitates a deeper sense of belonging is the gold standard these days.”

“Buying in” instead of “fitting in”

Elizardi believes that companies are placing too much emphasis on human resources policies, company practices and procedures rather than the things that encourage employees to buy into the company’s culture and values and achieve success.

“Most organizations rely too heavily on the knowledge transfer piece, which manifests itself in some form of an HR-type training for the first few days,” Elizardi said. “It’s all about the policy manual and trying to impart that knowledge. I think that’s a mistake.

“Those things aren’t unimportant, and we all need to know where the bathroom is. But I would like to see more of that happen in a pre-onboarding process, where you get your laptop, your parking pass and learn your way around the building before the start date.

“When Day 1 hits, the focus should be on culture,” he continued. “The mindset should be about creating meaningful experiences to get employees connected with the people they’re going to be working with, understanding the product and the customer base, and how things are accomplished in the organization, both said and unsaid.”

Designing an effective onboarding process

Elizardi suggests that companies should put themselves in the shoes of new employees and create onboarding experiences that focus on the things they really want and are eager to learn.

“Ultimately, an individual wants to figure out who they are going to be working with and how to build that sense of personal connection to the work so that they can be successful,” he said.

While some organizations continue to conduct several-day or week-long onboarding processes, Elizardi says some data concludes that effective onboarding programs can last anywhere from eight months to two years. While that’s not the norm, many leaders are using a 90-day time frame divided into three, one-month segments.

“Leaders are beginning to think past just what the first week looks like and more to creating touchpoints for the first 90 days,” said Elizardi. “For example, the first month is all about discovery, getting the lay of the land and analyzing where the opportunities exist. The second 30 days is beginning to translate that discovery into a plan of action. And the third 30 days is beginning to find some key early wins and learning to manage expectations to achieve long-term success.

“Getting to such a program requires incisive thinking and reverse engineering to understand what’s truly important in terms of process and culture,” he concluded.

Elizardi points to some corporate onboarding leaders such as Airbnb, which encourages new employees to stay at an Airbnb as part of its process. The practice, he says, gives new employees empathy for the customer’s experience. Google assigns each new employee a buddy—someone often at a different level and in different department—to provide a safe place to learn about company culture.

Will a culturally focused and needs-based approach to onboarding help reduce new employee attrition? The numbers suggests that it will. Gallup found that only 12% of employees strongly agree that their organization does a great job of onboarding new employees. There is plenty of room for improvement.

Learn More About Executive Education’s Accelerated Leadership Experience

The Accelerated Leadership Experience at Daniels is a leadership program which includes both classroom and experiential activities designed for new, high-potential managers. The next session, in April 2024, is open for enrollment.
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