Introduction to Retention: Why Onboarding New Employees is Important

How many of us remember being “onboarded” in our first job?  If you’re like this author, then you probably didn’t need to go through an onboarding process to tutor anyone in Spanish.  (Or to make smoothies.  Or to be a receptionist at a freshmen dormitory.  Most of us had those jobs in a simpler time, before we got to our “grown up” career.)  Later, when going through an actual onboarding experience, the value of the process probably wasn’t apparent then.  Now, over a decade later, the usefulness is abundantly clear, and onboarding is seen as integral to bringing on new employees to any reputable and efficiently run business.  In recent years, this process has also been recognized as an effective strategy for retaining employees.  Instead of just onboarding new hires to get to work faster, they are now being groomed and prepared to be loyal and stay with their new company, hopefully for years. 

For that reason, this edition of “Introduction to Retention” is going to come as a two-parter.  First, we are going to discuss what onboarding is and why every company should be deploying an onboarding strategy.  Then, next month, the Intro to Retention series will cover the tips needed to successfully onboard new and recently promoted workers, making it easier to retain these employees in the future.

Onboard, not Overboard

What exactly is “onboarding?”  Formally, the onboarding process is when a new employee starts at a company and they are given basic information, documents to sign, and training to get them acclimated to the business’s atmosphere and responsibilities.  At some companies, onboarding can take up to twelve months, though this does seem to be on the long side of an onboarding strategy.  If you’re thinking that most of the onboarding process can be completed within a few hours, or up to a week, that is now actually defined as ‘orientation,’ which is a small, but vital part of the onboarding experience.  The difference between the two is that orientation is a tour of the facility and a meet and greet with a manager, or even the head of the company, on the first day; it may help keep a new employee from being overwhelmed, but it doesn’t instill any loyalty or trust in the company.  On the other hand, onboarding takes the orientation far deeper, and it does this by not only welcoming the new person, but also by giving them a specific place in the company, as well as the tools necessary to help a fresh employee make their own place within the business.  This process is for new hires to be able to come in and feel welcome, happily gearing them up for success in the future.

Onboarding is usually completed by a member of HR or a supervisor on the new employee’s team.  This person will be in charge of making sure the new person has all of their supplies and that all of their paperwork gets filled out so that they can get paid.  Sometimes, a recently hired staffer will be assigned a peer mentor, a type of buddy system that allows someone to take the newbie around to show them how to use the coffee pot, where to go to the bathroom, and the seating arrangements of their team members.  These people are part of the onboarding team, even if they are not fully aware of it because they are acclimating the newbies to their new work environment.  They should be trained to be kind and courteous and to remember that they are helping someone find their place in a big, corporate pool.  While it is important to not let any of the buddy’s bad habits rub off on the new staffer, it is also imperative to remember that human interaction cannot be replaced with software or other kinds of technology.  When new employees start, they should be met with a front line of friendly and helpful staff, people who will make sure the fresh workers are welcomed.  According to one study, a company with a great onboarding program is 69% more likely to retain these new employees for three years or more.

The Harvard Business Review has three major prongs to focus on for onboarding:  organizational, technical, and social onboarding.  Organizational onboarding is where a new worker starts and gets the feel for the company that hired them.  This is where the “buddy system” would helpfully come in, and it is also where HR can get all their forms filled out by the new person.  Onboarding in a technical sense helps ease a new employee’s mind by clearly delineating their responsibilities; this will also teach them what they need to know to understand the full extent of their authority and boundaries.  Social onboarding means giving new workers a community to be a part of in their new realm.  This includes creating activities and goals that bring an onboarding employee together with the other people in the company, all working towards the common good of the business.  With social onboarding, giving new employees a team to work with, including peers, supervisors, and others, will set everyone up for success. 

Onboarding can be as simple or as complex as your company needs it to be.  Our next article on the subject (coming next month, October 2023), will cover the best methods and strategies in building an onboarding program.  For now, you just need to know why this onboarding is so important. 

Why Your Company Should Be “Onboard” with This

If your company’s goal is to retain employees, then you might be wondering why onboarding new employees is important.  However, this short-sightedness will curse the entire journey of the new staffer. 

New employees that are not onboarded properly will not be fully engaged in the company as a whole.  If they feel abandoned, neglected, or isolated, these new hires will quickly begin to make plans to leave and go elsewhere.  Losing any employee can be difficult, but the costs of a bad retention rate will spiral out of control quickly.  We have discussed the costs of replacing an employee before, and we all know what effects the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent economic fluctuations have had on the costs of finding and keeping employees.  By simply having an effective onboarding process, research studies by companies like Glassdoor and the Brandon Hall Group have found that their new hire retention rates have improved by 82%. 

Along with saving money on replacing employees, there are many other positives to having a working onboarding system that engages new workers.  For companies willing to engage new staffers off the bat, there are higher profits and better safety records.  Engaged employees are also less likely to take sick time and mental health days.  Even customer evaluations are shown to be higher for companies that have a proven and effective onboarding strategy. 


Many companies would be surprised to find that most of their employees do not think they onboard new people well.  A Gallup poll found that only 12% of employees think they were effectively onboarded in their current job.  That’s roughly one in every ten workers!  Continuing on, 58% of companies only see onboarding as a way to show new workers to their desk and have them fill out their starting paperwork.  Another third of staffers say that their onboarding program was informal and inconsistent, leaving them wanting more from the process.  When it comes down to the nitty gritty, one in five new hires are unlikely to recommend their employer to others because they were not effectively engaged and onboarded when they started working for their current business. 

However, all of those numbers are turned on their head when it comes out that an effective onboarding strategy increases new hire satisfaction with their company by 3.5 times.  70% of workers who had a positive onboarding experience report that they have “the best possible job.”  Even a phone call from the hiring manager can improve the experience with the new job by 68%.  While an onboarding program may have seemed like a nice idea before, hopefully now, it will be seen as an integral part of the hiring process, one that is necessary to keep retention rates up for your business.


Meaghan Goldberg covers recruitment and digital marketing for Lionzone.  A Patterson, GA native, after graduating from both Valdosta State University and Middle Tennessee State University, Meaghan joined Lionzone in 2018 as a digital recruitment strategist before becoming the social media manager.



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