By Becca Trippe
Melanie is a new accountant at a firm in Colorado. She was offered this position four months ago, but up until her first day, she received little information from her recruiter.
On her first day, Melanie is shoved into a room, along with fifty other new hires. One person welcomes her in and asks her to sit down. The leaders of the new hire orientation assist each of the new hires in completing their I-9s, run through the company’s benefits, and explain the leave policy. Then, at the end of the meeting, Melanie is escorted to her desk by a member of the staff and is given a stack of thirty papers to fill out before working.
After Melanie arrived at her desk, Melanie’s manager walks by and chats with her for ten minutes before apologizing for needing to run off to a meeting. Feeling a bit overwhelmed, she wondered where her excitement had gone and what working at this company was really going to be like. Melanie, feeling hopeful for the future, starts on her paperwork and tasks.
Focus on the Anchor
While reading that story, did you relate to Melanie? Did you see any similarities between your own experience or your company’s current onboarding situation? If so, you should focus on the anchor of the onboarding process for hew hires—relationships.
Too often, the onboarding experience for new hires is dictated by the amount of paperwork they need to complete, rather than the company’s leaders getting to know the new hires. On average, a new hire has fifty-four activities to complete to start a new job, such as papers to sign or accounts to set up. While the paperwork is critical to hire a new employee, some of those tasks can wait for another day. They could even be done before the employee officially begins the job.
The Harvard Business Review stated that “up to 20% of new hires leave within their first 45 days,” leaving companies to start all over again with sunk costs from its previous recruiting efforts. Just as a boat can be sucked back into the ocean without a proper anchor, a new hire without any real relationships can begin drifting away, looking for other, more meaningful opportunities.
Gallup’s 2017 report, entitled State of the American Workplace, explained that “workers want to feel connected to their job, manager, and company. If those ties are not there, workers have all the more incentive to quit, leaving their organization to start the costly recruitment, hiring, and onboarding dance all over again.”
Having new hires leave can be avoided by making the onboarding process more than just filling out paperwork; building relationships with the new hires through pre-boarding, one-on-one meetings, and introducing them to other employees can increase employee engagement and belonging while decreasing turnover and sunk costs for companies.
Build from the Start
Begin by Pre-Boarding
Once candidates accept offers, companies should jump right into the onboarding process. As we saw with Melanie, the silence between accepting an offer and starting on the first day will only decrease the excitement that a candidate has for joining the company.
To make the new employee’s first day even better, start the paperwork right after the offer is accepted. Jill Chapman, SPHR, explained that “when you get all (or most) of the paperwork checked off before a new employee’s first day, it allows for a great deal of interpersonal interaction with new coworkers from the get-go.” Those relationships, especially with their teammates, can increase employee engagement and satisfaction within the office.
In addition to getting paperwork out of the way, use the pre-boarding time to send the new employees’ congratulatory swag, set up a phone call with them and their hiring managers, and outline their new roles in greater detail. By adding all these elements, the new hire will be ready to dive in on the first day with more excitement.
Meet with the Manager
On the first day of work, the new hires should sit down with their hiring managers for a one-on-one meeting. Even if the employee is remote and cannot be there in person, this should be done through a video-conferencing tool to create the same effect.
In a 2017 LinkedIn survey, employees were asked to identify which part of the onboarding process was the most useful to them. Of the survey respondents, 72% said that they most valued a one-on-one meeting with their direct manager. The article discussing the survey results explained that these meetings will “lay a solid foundation for [a new hire’s] most crucial work relationship.” Managers can become advocates for their direct reports, but that won’t be the case unless there is some kind of relationship built between the two parties.
This initial meeting should focus not only on getting to know the new hire but also talking through the responsibilities and expectations that each party has for the job. During interviews, employee expectations are generally only mentioned briefly and can easily be forgotten before the new hire’s first day. By going over expectations and job responsibilities, new hires can become more excited about what they will accomplish in their roles.
This meeting is also a great time to create open communication between the new hire and the manager. Managers should encourage new hires to frequently meet with them. Gallups’ State of the American Workplace report also mentioned that “recurring one-on-one time between managers and team members allows employees to be recognized and heard, and to share what they need to develop in their role.”3 The goal of these meetings is to create trust between both the managers and employees so that they can develop together and understand each other’s needs.
Expand their Network
If your company follows the previous suggestions, new hires will show up to work on the first day, ready to show you that they can add value to the company. Even though they are willing to do what it takes to prove their worth, they will need along the way.
During the onboarding process, encourage the new hires to schedule “tag ups,” or times to meet with every person on their direct team. Make sure that any remote workers are included in this list. These teammate relationships will be key during their time at work, so they should start as soon as possible to form them.
Introduce the new hires to influential coworkers that can help them succeed in their new roles as well. In the previously mentioned survey done by LinkedIn, 52% of respondents also expressed that receiving a list of people to meet is important during the onboarding process.4 Don’t limit your recommendations to only those that will be in the physical office with them. The new hires should reach out to coworkers that might even be on the other side of the country. Those connections could prove to be invaluable for them further down the road in their careers.
Also, consider providing mentors to your new hires. These individuals don’t necessarily need to be a part of the same department but should be available for the new hires to reach out to frequently.
Building a mentorship program can seem like a daunting task; however, Amber Hyatt, who works for a talent solutions organization, was cited by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) when she said that “mentoring programs can be as simple as assigning a new employee a go-to person or having an elaborate team of mentors for any questions that might arise.” These programs can be very simple or a well-organized system. Both options can provide great support to new hires. Either way, encourage mentors to take on the assignment as a part of their positions so that the new hire they are paired up with is a priority.
Stretch it Out
While there may be a temptation to have the onboarding process last only a week or two, companies should consider having it last at least six months or even a year.
Bill Donoghue, in the Training Journal, explained that many onboarding programs are too short and that if one “is less than a month, it does not offer a new employee any long-term support. It takes the average employee eight months to reach full productivity.” He further explained that the onboarding process should be seen as “the race between the tortoise and the hare” in that the process should be slow and steady so that it can be productive and sustainable. 
In the real world, relationships can’t be rushed, and neither should the process to form them in the workplace. Take time to get to know the new hires, beyond the first week, and find ways to provide support throughout their entire first year.
Anchor the Process
With all onboarding processes, the main focus should be on forming a relationship with the new hire. Don’t speed through it in hopes that the employee will be more productive sooner, but rather take the time to provide the needed support and to create a lasting relationship. Not only will relationships increase productivity in the future, but they also boost employee engagement and satisfaction now.
Explore different options for pre-boarding new employees and engaging them before their arrival. Then, set them up for success by holding one-on-one meetings between them and their managers frequently and by providing them with an enhanced network and a mentor.
Without real relationships in the workplace, a new hire can easily be reeled back into the sea. Instead of letting that happen and having sunk costs, anchor the new hires from the moment they accept the offer and continue to build a relationship with them every day of their careers.
 Jen Dewar, “10 Employee Onboarding Statistics You Must Know in 2020,” Sapling, December 20, 2019.
 Ron Carucci, (2018) “To Retain New Hires, Spend More Time Onboarding Them,” Harvard Business Review
Digital Articles, December 3, 2018, 1–5, https://hbr.org/2018/12/to-retain-new-hires-spend-more-time-onboarding-them.
 State of the American Workplace Report (Washington D.C.: Gallup, 2017), 18, https://www.gallup.com/workplace/238085/state-american-workplace-report-2017.aspx.
 Jill Chapman, “Gaining a Talent,” Strategic Finance 100, no. 3 (September 2018): 44–51,
 Jean Tang, “5 Things New Hires Want During Onboarding,” LinkedIn Talent Blog, September 7, 2017, https://business.linkedin.com/talent-solutions/blog/onboarding/2017/5-things-new-hires-want-during-onboarding.
 Roy Maurer, “New Employee Onboarding Guide,” SHRM, August 16, 2019, www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/talent-acquisition/pages/new-employee-onboarding-guide.aspx.
 Bill Donoghue, “Onboarding: Whys, Dos and Don’ts,” Training Journal, January 2018, 25–27,