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Employers Risk Driving New Hires Away with Poor Onboarding

Research finds that onboarding programs typically fail to meet primary goal

A woman is sitting at a desk with her head on her head.

​Onboarding—the process in which new hires are integrated into the organization—is a missed opportunity for most employers, according to a recent study.

The survey of 350 HR leaders in the U.S. found that organizations are not effectively onboarding their new hires at 76 percent of respondents' workplaces. Slightly less than half (47 percent) said their onboarding program successfully retains new hires. Nearly a quarter (24 percent) of respondents said that they have no onboarding program at all.

The survey was conducted by Kronos Inc., a workforce management technology provider, and the Human Capital Institute (HCI), a talent management association based in Cincinnati.

The rationale for investing in onboarding is strong. "Starting a new job is exciting … yet it's also a time of apprehension and uncertainty where new hires meet colleagues, learn new processes, and understand how to make an impact at their new organization," said Malysa O'Connor, senior director of the HR and payroll practice group at Kronos. "Organizations that succeed in capturing that enthusiasm while minimizing other challenges will gain a competitive advantage."

Employers report that the absence of an onboarding process leads to lower productivity, higher employee turnover and lower employee engagement, said Chris Lennon, vice president of product management at BirdDogHR, a talent management software and services provider based in Des Moines, Iowa.

Leaving new hires in a "dead zone"—not communicating with them between the time they sign the offer letter to the first day on the job—can lead to disengagement before they even begin, said Marc Solow, managing director of Deloitte Consulting LLP's human capital practice. "These new recruits may fill those silent gaps with their own thoughts and start questioning their importance to the company and the fit of their new role." And the door is left open for competitors to swoop in with a better offer, he added.  

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Orientation Is Not Onboarding

But even when organizations develop onboarding programs, most don't meet their top goal, the research found. Although 62 percent of respondents said their primary goal with onboarding is to integrate employees with the workplace culture, this is not proportionally reflected in the programs' results. Culture integration accounts for just 30 percent of the onboarding process for managers and just 27 percent for nonmanagers, according to respondents.

Instead, about 40 percent of their onboarding activities consist of completing paperwork, such as filling out benefits forms and going over compliance documents. Respondents ranked reviewing rules and regulations (75 percent), providing an overview of the company (73 percent), and resources orientation (62 percent) as the most practiced onboarding activities. 

Fewer respondents rated highly the more forward-looking people or proficiency activities such as setting up meetings with key stakeholders and teams (47 percent), providing access to training resources (42 percent) or assessing future training needs (37 percent).

Both paperwork and human interaction are important, said Sharlyn Lauby, speaker, author and president of ITM Group Inc., a consulting firm in South Florida that helps companies improve employee engagement and retention. "Paperwork is necessary for compliance and it gets new hires paid, which employees like. Human interaction builds trust and engagement. It's about doing both strategically."

Get paperwork out of the way by completing it online prior to Day 1 so employees can focus on their role and other things that matter, Lauby said.

Solow agreed, adding that "engaging employees before their first day and allowing them to start on pre-work training, enroll for benefits, learn about the culture, set up their e-mail and select their hardware, can help them feel like part of the team and put them at ease that they chose the right job."

Jenna Filipkowski, head of research for HCI, recommended beginning the onboarding process immediately at offer acceptance. "This immediacy and consistency ensures clear messaging and supports a strong employer brand," she said.

Automate the Process

The main reasons for neglecting onboarding include managers not having the time to undertake it (57 percent), the absence of tools to measure its effectiveness (55 percent) and the lack of digital onboarding technology to automate the process (39 percent).

"Don't forget that today's workforce is made up of digital consumers who expect the same conveniences of on-demand, flexible, and simple processes and innovation at work that they experience in their personal lives," Solow said. "Even before they step foot in the office, they can access a dashboard that provides information about deadlines, processes and resources."

How Long Is Long Enough?

More than half (53 percent) of employers with onboarding programs have set them up to last between 30 and 90 days, according to the study. For 37 percent of respondents, onboarding ranges from a few hours to a week. Just 10 percent have onboarding programs lasting a year or that are ongoing.

Longer onboarding programs are associated with stronger talent and business outcomes such as employee engagement, employer reputation, percentage of diverse hires, quality hires, and internal hires and promotions, according to HCI.

"Part of doing onboarding well is ensuring it lasts long enough to see an employee beyond the initial week of learning how to use the photocopier," Lennon said. New employees need support "over a number of months to ensure they feel socially connected at work and to ensure their managers are adequately supporting them in the period of transition."

He recommended surveying new hires and other employees on the length of the onboarding process and how it could be improved.

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