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Posted on September 11, 2013

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Most of us can easily remember our first day at every company we've worked for (in my case, 7 companies, if you count internships!). The first day is often exciting, filled with get-to-know-you chats with new colleagues, formal orientation sessions, lunches with your boss, and more. But what happens after that? Who helps you navigate the in's and out's of the company during your first month? And what about the second or third?

It's not surprising that our recent Employee Experience research found that employee engagement levels begin to drop off steadily from the first day of work, through orientation, and then during the first three months on the job. But what was rather surprising was the clear effect a well-planned, structured onboarding process can have on long-term employee engagement. In fact, our study found that if the onboarding process is organized, structured, and inspiring, and if it provides relevant and helpful learning, employees are more likely to be (and remain) engaged down the road. But unfortunately, nearly half (44%) of our respondents reported little or no structure during the onboarding process, and as many as 43% felt their first three months on the job were disorganized and/or uninspiring (36%).

So, what do these findings mean for companies? If a company wants to build, improve and maintain employee engagement, it should look carefully at its onboarding process. Some things to consider:  

  • Does an ongoing, structured onboarding process continue through employees' first few months on the job? Aim for the three-month mark for maximum engagement.
  • If it exists at all, what does the onboarding process focus on? To make the biggest difference in driving engagement, make sure the onboarding process helps employees learn how to navigate the company to get needed information and resources. This correlates with the highest levels of engagement.
  • How does the onboarding process involve managers? Our research affirmed the critical role managers play in driving engagement, so providing them with resources, tools and direction to support the onboarding process can make a big difference.
  • Does the onboarding process include a focus on the company's mission and values? Our study found a clear link between employees' understanding of and connection to the company's mission and their level of engagement, and respondents told us they want their onboarding process to be inspiring.

What have your current and former employers gotten right (and wrong) about onboarding? Share your ideas and feedback in the Comments section below.

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