When a new hire comes in, they can be a little bit like an elephant in a skating rink, struggling to get going. This doesn't mean they're not a good fit or don't have talent--they're just dealing with something unfamiliar for a while. So not surprisingly, standard practice is to onboard and take a few hours to help the newbie get their footing.

But according to a new study by HR tech company Hibob, the way you onboard can have long-term ramifications for whether your new hires stay put in your company.

For the study, Hibob conducted a national survey via Pollfish in May of approximately 1,000 adult workers in the United States. The results showed that the majority (64 percent) of new employees are less likely to stay at their new jobs if their onboarding experience is bad. And hold on to your chair, because according to a Gallup poll, just 12 percent of workers think their companies do a good job of onboarding employees.

That news becomes worse when you consider that companies already have the deck somewhat stacked against them. Leaders now face candidates who don't have the traditional attitude of company loyalty--according to another Gallup poll, 60 percent of millennials are open to different work opportunities, and 55 percent feel like they're not engaged at work. And in that context, it's crucial for businesses to work hard from day one to make the office a positive place, especially considering that the average cost to replace a worker might be more than double a full year's worth of the worker's compensation.

Why bad onboarding makes people leave

Even though workers have some interaction with you before you actually offer them a job, the onboarding hours really serve as your biggest chance to make a solid impression. People don't forget that impression easily, and it can color everything that happens afterward.

"A negative or inaccurate first impression can damage someone's perceptions from day one [and make them feel like they aren't a fit]," says Ronni Zehavi, Hibob's CEO, "[so] it's key to treat onboarding like the beginning of any significant relationship."

How to make sure you get onboarding right

A big part of the problem with onboarding actually starts with job descriptions. 25 percent of employees say they didn't get enough information about their job before accepting the offer, and 40 percent of employees say their current job completely reflects how the position was described during the interview process. So when new hires get to onboarding, they can be left with the feeling of a bait and switch. The first step in improving the experience thus is to spend more time ensuring that descriptions and interviews are accurate and transparent.

But once you're into the onboarding itself, Zehavi has other suggestions.


1. Don't single out new hires. According to the survey, 38 percent of new hires feel most welcome during onboarding when they're included in a group of other new hires. This might be because it increases the hires' awareness that others are going through the same experience, reassuring the hires that they're not alone and that, despite just starting, they have some equal footing with others in the office. They like intro meetings and interactive onboarding groups (31 percent) more than happy hours, too, probably because those opportunities are a little more structured and don't put all the responsibility for interaction on the individual.

"During someone's first day, they are probably unsure of what to work on, who they should be approaching, or other customs of the office culture," says Zehavi. "When that new person doesn't know everyone's names, they may be afraid to approach people they aren't familiar with yet, but when in a group with an assigned manager, strength in numbers will help them to feel more comfortable. When there's a feeling that multiple people are on the same 'team' and grouped together with other new hires, there's less reason for them to feel individually uncomfortable."

2. Create organic meet and great opportunities. "As humans, we naturally connect with people who share common interests, but companies are not necessarily aware of the quirks of every new hire's personality straight from the interview. While an assigned new hire buddy can sometimes be a great match, if a new employee doesn't feel comfortable with that buddy, it could hurt their experience. Hibob's survey showed that about half of new hires (49 percent) feel the best way to get acclimated to a new job is by making friends, which can or cannot work out with an assigned buddy. Give new employees the opportunity to meet several of the colleagues they will be working with, and they will naturally find someone or a few people they connect with and will feel comfortable talking to when they have questions."

3. Give the employee the opportunity to show off their personality. "It can be overwhelming to meet a lot of people on the first day, especially in a larger organization, and new employees may not know where to start. [...Company] leaders can encourage team members to start groups for people who have shared interests, or set up recreational sports teams that employees can join. These types of groups will give new workers a way to show their interests and naturally connect with others."

In sum, onboarding needs to be professional, but it also needs to be human. Think about how you would feel and what you'd want in a new place, and then make a conscious effort to be warm, helpful and patient. Once the new hire feels comfortable and lets their guard down through your effort, they'll be able to learn and perform whatever you need them to.