Onboarding and engaging employees: Are you doing everything you should?

March 1, 2019
Too often onboarding is an afterthought. Here’s how to do it right.

“Congratulations, you’re hired,” you say to the applicant. You’ve set the date for the new person to begin working, and everyone is hopeful and excited. Now what?

Too often, onboarding is an afterthought—or given no thought at all. The person is thrown into the job, and it’s sink or swim. Chip and Dan Heath said it well in their book The Power of Moments: “The lack of attention paid to employees’ first day is mindboggling. What a wasted opportunity to make a new team member feel included and appreciated.”1

How can anyone expect hiring success, employee engagement, and long-term retention when little is done to help the process?

“Onboarding is a magic moment when new employees decide to stay engaged or become disengaged,” says Amy Hirsh Robinson, principal of the consulting firm The Interchange Group. “It offers an imprinting window when you can make an impression that stays with new employees for the duration of their careers.”2

Truly effective onboarding programs are more than your basic orientation program that lasts for a couple of hours. They are well-designed programs that are developed prior to hiring someone. They engage many parts of the organization and may last as long as a year.

According to Talya Bauer, PhD, author of Onboarding New Employees: Maximizing Success, there are four distinct levels of onboarding, listed here in order of increasing effectiveness:

  1. Compliance—Examines legal and policy-related issues
  2. Clarification—Ensures new employees understand their new roles along with related expectations
  3. Culture—Exposes new employees to the organizational values and norms
  4. Connection—Connects new hires with personal relationships and information networks

Start the design process by determining what objectives you have for the program. What is critical for the new person to know about the organization? What is the role? What is the job? What is the culture? These objectives help create structure and content.

It’s also important to enlist others to facilitate the onboarding process. This can be done a variety of ways. For example, other people within the organization can play a role in creating the onboarding program. Ask them: What should the program involve? Who should be involved? Key people within the organization can be part of the onboarding process by being subject matter experts and presenting training seminars or webinars. They can also be mentors or coaches to ensure employees get the tools and resources they need to become successful.

If you have access to automation tools, consider using them if it makes sense. Automation should not overrule the human component, but it can be used to streamline areas of the onboarding program. For example, an online method for completing new-hire paperwork and reading the policy manual can be easier and better than handing someone a stack of paperwork to complete.

Make sure the onboarding program is long enough to be meaningful. Also, consider having different onboarding programs for different positions. Some positions may require longer programs, whereas others not so much. Ask participants for feedback and make improvements as needed.

Finally, a quality onboarding program should be designed to create immediate engagement with new hires. A good way to keep that momentum going is to facilitate ongoing conversations with new employees. These conversations can keep employees on track with their progress as well as identify problems early on that can be quickly solved. At a minimum, follow-up conversations should occur at the 30-, 60-, and 90-day intervals.

It’s no mystery that employees will leave when they’re not engaged. And as we all know, turnover can be costly. Do you want this to happen to you? A truly effective onboarding program that engages employees and maintains that engagement over time takes some thought and effort. The benefits are well worth it. There are resources available that can help. Try something new by starting small. Learn from your failures and build on your successes. You have only good things to gain from your efforts.


1. Heath C, Heath D. The Power of Moments. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster; 2017.

2. Hirsch A. Don’t Underestimate the Importance of Good Onboarding. Society for Human Resource Management website. https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/talent-acquisition/pages/dont-underestimate-the-importance-of-effective-onboarding.aspx. Published August 10, 2017.

Tim Twigg is the president of Bent Ericksen & Associates and Rebecca Boartfield is an HR compliance consultant. For more than 30 years, the company has been a leading authority in human resources and personnel issues, helping dentists successfully deal with ever-changing and complex labor laws. To receive a complimentary copy of the company’s quarterly newsletter or to learn more, call (800) 679-2760 or visit bentericksen.com.

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