There is a point in every onboarding experience when support drops off and new hires are left to fend for themselves—a phenomenon that has accelerated now that remote and hybrid work routines are the norm.
At many organizations, this point comes when all the paperwork is signed and training is completed—meaning in some cases, on the first day. Employees are then sent on their way, despite not feeling fully up to speed. They drop off what I call the “new hire cliff.” Left unaddressed, the new hire cliff can reduce an employee’s productivity and satisfaction, hinder long-term engagement and connection, and even make them want to resign early.
Now that many hiring freezes are easing up, companies are facing what has been dubbed the Great Resignation, as a record number of employees ready for change leave their current roles in search of new positions. But once an employee makes the move to a new organization, they often find themselves facing the new hire cliff, and organizations risk losing the employees they just spent valuable time and resources hiring.
To avoid the new hire cliff and make the most of their talent, companies must rethink and restructure onboarding as more than paperwork and a few days of crammed-together training sessions. Onboarding is an opportunity to set up your new hire for success, empower them to bring their best selves to work, and ultimately feel more connected to their team and the purpose of their role.
The risks of the new hire cliff
While getting onboarding right presents a massive opportunity, getting it wrong presents a major risk to your organization’s talent strategy. With 86% of new hires deciding how long they will stay with a company within the first six months, onboarding is clearly a critical part of the employee journey.
Managers often forget how overwhelming it can be to join a new company. From learning new policies and procedures to meeting new team members, the onboarding process is full of important tasks and moments that demand new hires’ time and attention. It can be an overwhelming experience—and it’s even more challenging now that many employees are onboarding remotely.
If your organization doesn’t prioritize helping employees overcome the new hire cliff, you risk losing them to other opportunities and competitors. Recruiting and onboarding are expensive: With costs to hire a replacement totaling as much as 33% of an employee’s annual salary, failing to retain new hires can negatively impact your bottom line.
Unfortunately, many organizations believe hiring bonuses and higher wages alone will move the needle on retention and turnover. But while these benefits may help attract talent, they won’t help you retain them unless you focus on empowering and motivating new hires to take purposeful action throughout their onboarding experience and beyond.
3 tips for overcoming the new hire cliff
The key to best-in-class onboarding is to design it from the new hire’s perspective. That means applying human-centered design principles—i.e., connecting, nudging, and engaging your people in a seamless, human-centric way—to your onboarding strategies.
To improve the new hire experience and boost retention, I recommend following a handful of best practices:
- Spark human connection. In a remote and hybrid workplace, human connection is even more important—and at risk. But you can alleviate that risk by encouraging connection from day one. A new hire’s first day should be one of experience, not learning. Don’t risk overwhelming new hires, just give them the information they need to get through day one. Then on day two, they’ll be more relaxed and ready to learn, especially in the hybrid and remote work environments. Ideally, day one should focus on sparking human connection—i.e., getting to know their manager and coworkers. You can foster relationships in the remote and hybrid workforce by matching new hires with mentors, arranging virtual coffee chats, and sharing intro videos. Making friends at work can encourage collaboration, improve retention, and boost productivity and happiness. New hires need to be educated, but they also need to be excited about their new role and company. Ultimately, they’re looking for reassurance they’ve made the right choice in changing jobs.
- Personalize the onboarding experience. At my company, Enboarder, we start the day one experience before the new hire’s first day through highly personalized, exciting, and meaningful content. During pre-onboarding, we send out a questionnaire asking the new hire for their favorite song, food, and perhaps most importantly, their ideal 3 p.m. munchie. When a new hire walks through the door on the first day, they’re welcomed by the team and showered with balloons, with their favorite song playing in the background. For remote workers, this is done over Zoom to ensure a personalized and engaging experience. We also like to take the new hire for lunch to a restaurant that serves their favorite food. If they’re remote, we host a virtual lunch meeting and use a food delivery service to send a meal to their home. And when the 3 p.m. hunger rolls around, the new hire’s favorite snack is ready for them on their desk (or in a care package mailed to them). I’ve found that simple things, like the 3 p.m. munchie concept, can wow your new hires and make a big impact on the employee journey.
- Empower the people manager. To ensure the success of your new hires, you need to remember that it’s not just about the employee, but also their manager. The right technology and rich content media will help create a great first impression. But if you want that impression to last, you need a manager who puts in the work for their employees. To activate and engage new hires, start by activating and engaging your managers. Consistently great onboarding means empowering every manager—whether they’re new or a seasoned manager with years of experience. You need to spend just as much time and effort on training the manager as you do the new hire. A great manager not only has a well-prepared onboarding plan, but they also encourage their team to rally around new hires. Research from Gallup shows that managers account for 70% of the variance in employee engagement, so coaching and guiding your managers is crucial to nailing onboarding.
Onboarding is your biggest opportunity to activate new hires and bring the best out in your hard-won talent. Without a good manager or personalized engagement, new hires are automatically set up to fail. Don’t let your employees succumb to the new hire cliff—support them from day one and throughout their employee journey.
Brent Pearson is the CEO of Enboarder, an experience-driven onboarding and transitions platform.