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New Hires Skip Out When the Role Doesn't Meet Expectations

New-hire retention is an issue for 90 percent of employers, survey finds

A woman leaning over a counter in a coffee shop.

An employer is most likely to lose newly recruited employees when their job is not what they anticipated, according to a new survey.

Nearly all (90 percent) of the 1,817 executives polled in a recent survey by the Futurestep division of HR consulting, executive search and recruitment firm Korn Ferry said that new-hire retention is an issue for their organization. Over half (52 percent) said that 10 percent to 25 percent of newly hired workers leave within the first six months. Twelve percent of respondents reported their turnover figure for new hires during the first six months as between 26 percent and 50 percent.

"With low unemployment rates and increased need for specialized talent, keeping new hires is a critical issue," said Bill Gilbert, president, North America, Korn Ferry Futurestep. "It's incumbent upon recruiters and hiring managers to paint a clear picture of what will be expected of the candidate in his or her new role and to make sure promises of resources, job structure and reporting relationships are fulfilled."

Nearly one-fifth (19 percent) of respondents said new hires leave because they don't like the company's culture. Fifteen percent said new employees didn't see a path for advancement, and another 15 percent said new employees didn't like their boss.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Managing the Employee Onboarding Process]

"I found that the majority of organizations are not providing candidates with insights into their organizational culture in a meaningful way," said Nora Burns, a Denver-based hiring consultant and founder of HR-Undercover, an advisory practice for which she has "mystery shopped" employers' hiring and onboarding processes.
"One of the biggest surprises I faced while working undercover was reporting to work for my first day and discovering that the team I'd be working with was completely unaware that a new employee was starting, and the manager was completely unprepared for my arrival," she said. "Employers set the tone of culture from the very beginning of the employment relationship, and having to dig out of a deficit that was created on Day 1 can be nearly impossible."  

Burns urged HR to move beyond just providing "the PDF identifying cultural values and/or mission and vision" and to work on better articulating how those elements may impact the new employee on the job from day to day. "There is a lot of sugar-coating, particularly with front-line and mid-level jobs along the lines of promoting how 'fun it is to work here.' Hiring managers may be too quick to move into sales mode and away from providing a realistic job preview in terms of both tasks and team dynamics."

Honest job previews are key to keeping new employees, Burns said. "That includes not only the tasks, responsibilities and physical demands, but also insights into the level of collaboration, expectations of performance feedback and consistency versus change in the role." 

Burns also recommended actively involving existing team members in both hiring and onboarding to help reduce early departures. "It's harder to walk away from a manager and from a team that you like, and it's more difficult to dislike people who help you and clearly want you to succeed."  

Onboarding Should Go Beyond the Basics

Nearly all the respondents to the Futurestep survey (98 percent) said onboarding programs are a key factor in retention efforts, and 69 percent said they have formal onboarding programs for all new hires. Another 10 percent limit programs to entry-level employees.

However, 23 percent of those programs last only one day, and 30 percent last only a week. Nineteen percent of respondents run new-hire onboarding programs that last one month, and 3 percent have yearlong programs.

"Onboarding must be about more than just the basic administrative processes such as entering time, submitting paperwork and logging onto the intranet," Gilbert said. "It should also help new hires understand available development opportunities to help them succeed in the organization."

Nearly all (98 percent) of respondents agreed that mentorship programs for new hires would increase retention, but only 23 percent have a mentorship program for all employees. Another 20 percent have a program for entry-level hires.

"Mentorship programs are not only beneficial for new hires to learn about an organization, [but] they also benefit existing employees by helping them understand the viewpoints and experiences of those new to the company," Gilbert said. "This allows them to have different insights and encourages them to become more agile as they go about their jobs."

Using Data to Onboard

Nearly half (42 percent) of respondents say they use data collected during the recruiting process, such as candidate assessments, to help with onboarding once a candidate is hired.

Assessments that examine competencies, traits, drivers and experiences can provide valuable insights about candidates that can be customized into development and onboarding plans for new hires.

"Ignore prehire skills assessments during the onboarding at your own peril," Burns said. "These instruments, and their results, provide guidance regarding what the candidate already knows and what areas require development."

Candidate information can also be a great source when auditing the organization's recruiting process.

Twenty-nine percent of respondents said they survey new hires about their candidate experience. Of those who conduct surveys, 52 percent routinely examine results to adjust hiring practices. Eighteen percent of respondents said they don't do anything with the data, even though they collect it.

"Checking in with new hires about their candidate experience is critical to enhancing your hiring process," Burns said. "It's best done by someone who wasn't directly involved in the new hire's process, or through a well-written and truly anonymous survey in order to obtain fully candid and truthful information. Make it safe to provide constructive feedback on the process without fear that word will get out that 'Betty complained about how long it took Bob to call her back between interviews.' "   

Of course, if the organization is unwilling to change what is being asked about, don't ask it in the first place, she added. 

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