Employee retention

Onboarding and Retention: How Can You Do It Best?

Elle Mason
April 8, 2019
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First impressions matter. What do you want your new employees to think about your organization when they walk through the door?

When you’re welcoming new employees into your company, you have a valuable opportunity to make a strong first impression about how your organization operates.

Do you want to give off an organized and efficient energy? Perhaps you want new hires to feel they’re in a place where people can have fun. Conversely, you might want to create an aura of polished sophistication.

Whatever vibe you’re aiming for, the first few interactions your employees have with you will be crucial to their impression of you. Most companies understand this, so they strive to put their best foot forward during the recruitment and interviewing processes, but fall short when it’s time to deliver. The way you onboard and integrate employees at your company will plainly show them how you work and what you do best. Strong and thorough onboarding can make or break employee engagement—truly.


Why Onboarding Matters to Retention

Among the 31% of workers who quit within the first 6 months of starting a new job, the primary reasons they give for leaving are a bad onboarding experience, lack of role clarity, or subpar managers. Unfortunately, employers often onboard new employees to fill roles that differ from the ones they interviewed for, don’t properly explain their organizational goals, or fail to provide them the necessary resources to be effective.

Great onboarding has a long-term impact on hires. Based on research from Professor Talya N. Bauer, 52% of organizations perceived effective onboarding as improving retention rates. And for good reason—effective onboarding keeps top talent.

At Corning Glass Works, new employees who attended a structured orientation program were 69% more likely to remain at the company up to three years.

It’s normal to lose new hires who just aren’t a good fit or can’t perform at the right level. However, it becomes a serious problem when good employees leave after having an uncomfortable, lonely, or disorganized onboarding experience.

Onboarding isn’t just for signing HR paperwork and sharing manuals and documentation; it’s a time for helping employees understand your core values and learn how their work can be aligned with those values.

When companies do it well, onboarding builds connections between new employees and helps them feel a sense of belonging in a new community. Recognizing new employees right away helps them feel included and engaged. When companies fail to make a positive first impression during onboarding, new employees are more likely to feel confused, demoralized, surprised, and disengaged in the long run.

In order to retain the people you’ve hired and invested resources in, you’ll need to streamline your onboarding and make it as meaningful as possible.


Following the Four C’s

According to the Society of Human Resource Management, employee onboarding encompasses selecting the right people for your team, fostering a sense of self-efficacy in your new hires, and supporting them as they seek role clarity, social integration, and an understanding of your organizational culture.

From that lens, there are four "C's" of onboarding:

  1. Compliance
  2. Clarification
  3. Culture
  4. Connection

Unfortunately, many employers stop after the first C, viewing onboarding as a way to check all the HR function boxes (e.g. setting up payment structures, completing tax forms and documentation, and going over rules and procedures). In order to make onboarding meaningful and successful, you can’t stop there.


It’s important that your new employees know precisely what their role entails, what their core activities and tasks are, how their work fits into the broader organizational structure, who relies on them, and when key milestones occur. They should know who to bring their questions to and what success looks like when they’ve completed a task or a project.

If you’re wondering how to clarify these kinds of details, remember that it’s never too early to start recognizing your new hires. As it stands, 66 percent of workers are likely to leave their job if they feel unappreciated. By recognizing your new hires as they complete every stage of onboarding, you’ll help them feel included and engaged right away.


Onboarding is a time to get employees acquainted with your company’s identity: your core values, desired behaviors, and what makes your organization unique in the broader landscape. Nike and Adidas, for example, are both sports apparel companies but each has their own unique culture, which is emphasized through their brand, that creates a sense of loyalty.



In a recent webinar we co-hosted with Sapling, we discussed how employers can use standard milestones, like meeting new team members, as an opportunity to build deeper connections by having coffee together instead of a quick meet-and-greet. Even compliance practices, like setting up direct deposit, can be reframed as team achievements that you can cross off your checklist together.

When you celebrate those achievements as a group, you can help new hires feel a sense of accomplishment, recognition, and belonging.


Giving Onboarding Enough Time

Another recommendation? Make your onboarding period longer than a few days. Although “onboarding” can span different lengths of time depending on roles and organizations, the first 90 days of an employee’s tenure are generally considered a “ramp-up” period.

Throughout this ramp-up period, there are a number of onboarding best practices that employers should know and implement, including pre-boarding, early introductions, and buddy systems. There are also onboarding tools you can leverage to streamline the process even further.


Pre-boarding starts after a candidate accepts your job offer and before they start their first day. During the pre-boarding period, you can share background information about your company and communicate logistics so your new hires know exactly where and when to show up on their first day. By keeping open lines of communication during this period, you can assuage any concerns that new hires might have.

Early introductions are also crucial. Those first few days and weeks at a new company are tough for new hires who don’t know who people are, what they do, or how to ask them for help! The sooner you introduce new hires to their coworkers, the sooner they can feel like they’re a part of a team. Early introductions will also help your current staff know about new team members so that they can proactively reach out and introduce themselves.

Forward-thinking companies grow more intentional and creative about onboarding when they understand the impact it has on employees’ success, engagement and retention. Some are making small but powerful changes, like posting pictures of new employees somewhere in the office so long-serving employees know who to connect with and assigning buddies to new hires who can act as key touchpoints for any and all questions. Other companies are creating year-long onboarding experiences that focus on the organizational, technical, and social dimensions of their workplaces.


How Successful Companies Onboard Employees

Let’s look at what LinkedIn, DigitalOcean, and Buffer are doing to make their onboarding strategies more personal and effective.

At LinkedIn, every new hire gets assigned a personal mentor and participates in a broader new hire orientation with their peers on their first day. They receive branded swag, go on a tour of the company campus, and engage in collaborative ice-breaker activities to learn about the company’s culture and values. Over the course of their first few weeks, new hires attend 10 onboarding talks designed for continued learning and development.

DigitalOcean believes in making “Day One” inspirational, and they have an expansive process for doing this. On the first day, new hires receive:

  • A bottle of champagne
  • A handwritten welcome note
  • Balloons attached to their desks so that tenured employees can introduce themselves
  • Company swag

The company makes sure new hires’ computers and workstations are fully functional prior to Day One so that new hires can spend their onboarding time focused on understanding their role, connecting with their coworkers, and excelling.

Buffer uses a three-buddy system for onboarding, assigning new hires a Leader Buddy, a Role Buddy, and a Culture Buddy, all of whom have distinct roles.


The Leader Buddy is a very experienced member of the Buffer team who has experienced handling tough conversations to help bootcampers—that’s what new hires at Buffer are called—live the Buffer values. Leader Buddies have gone through one of the most challenging aspects of Buffer’s discipline to having a strong culture: they have had to let an employee go because it wasn’t a perfect fit. The Leader Buddy mentors the other buddies and leads conversations with bootcampers to get them ramped up and validate that they’re great culture fits.

The Role Buddy is someone on the team who understands the roles bootcampers are joining the team to play. They are there to answer the bootcampers’ questions, teach them about their roles, and encourage them to deliberately think about their role and how they can improve during their first 45 days.

The Culture Buddy is an experienced member of the Buffer team who has shown that they’re consistently able to give great praise and feedback around the culture-fit of new and existing team members. Their role is to help bootcampers learn what makes the Buffer culture unique and encourage them to take the steps necessary to feel like a great and natural fit within the team.


No matter how well your company retains employees, every business can benefit from improving their onboarding practices. How do you plan to use onboarding to enhance your ability to connect with your new employees, demonstrate positive growth to your tenured employees, and tap into deeper levels of engagement, belongingness and satisfaction?

Let us know in the comments!

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