The urgency of strong employee onboarding practices

After quality candidates for your job postings go through the application and interview process, and your business makes the decision to hire them, the period of onboarding represents the first opportunity for these new employees to get a real sense of your organization. This applies as much to the culture that's developed among your staff as it does to the day-to-day mechanics of the business itself. While onboarding isn't exactly the "first impression" a new employee gets of your company (that would be their interview), the first several weeks (and months) can make or break their tenure with your business.

If you want to significantly help your chances of retaining the most promising talent, your efforts to reach this goal have to start from the ground up, with the various aspects of onboarding. Let's take a look at several practices that can positively contribute to this critical time in an employee's career: 

Don't confuse orientation and onboarding 

Before you get started on the steps toward improving your organization's onboarding, it's critical to note that although this process is often confused with – or considered equivalent to – orientation, the two are distinct parts of an employee's early tenure. As pointed out by the Society for Human Resource Management, orientation should only refer to the initial period of a few days (or maybe a week) in which workers complete essential paperwork for compliance purposes and receive basic training on your company's core equipment, as well as IT software and hardware. These things are important, but they hardly scratch the surface of what onboarding should involve.

A full-fledged onboarding experience should begin well before a new worker's first day on the job, and can last as long as 12 months, per the SHRM. It should involve close collaboration between new hires, their direct supervisors, any applicable upper management representatives and, ideally, a tenured employee or two who have gone through the growing pains of "being the new one." (Senior co-workers functioning as mentors can provide considerable value, as they can readily answer various process questions when managers themselves are locked into other administrative tasks.) Last but not least, periodic one-on-one conversations between new employees and immediate supervisors provide a rolling assessment not only of how someone is fitting into the company, but also of the workforce's overall unity.

Create "road maps" for new hires 

Upon arrival, your new employees should always have a reasonable expectation of what their roles will entail. If they don't, well, you have much bigger problems to face. In all seriousness, the onus of preparation for a new job does lie in large part with the individual. With that said, developing a road map for employees' major assignments during their first several months, such as any contributions they'll be making to key projects for the business, is management's responsibility. More importantly, it's a pivotal aspect of good onboarding, according to Workable. 

The length of time this road map covers depends on your organization's needs and the specific duties of individual new hires. Sometimes three months will be appropriate; in other situations six months are necessary. A year-long road map may even make sense for the future planning of an individual whom your company brought on to handle a highly specialized operation, such as oversight of a companywide overhaul of legacy IT. The important part is crafting a feasible path to success for all involved.

Focus on the long term

According to OfficeVibe, employees who experience a structured onboarding process at the beginning of their tenure with a company are 58 percent more likely to remain with that organization for at least three years. With this in mind, it's critical to plan out onboarding procedures as if any new employee could make a long-term career out of their role at your firm.

People's lives, like the trajectories of modern business, are unpredictable, so even the most satisfied and productive employees may end up moving on to other companies. But from their opening day onward, you should create an environment in which workers feel comfortable and supported at all times. Whether it involves a comprehensive benefits package, the facilitation of a strong work-life balance, tech tools to make employees' tasks that much easier to complete, introduction into the office's social culture or, most effectively, some combination of all of those factors, this category is perhaps the most critical aspect of contemporary onboarding. The strength of your workforce and its value for your organizational bottom line is depends on it.