Best practices for new employee onboarding

It is estimated that 50% of all senior outside hires fail within 18 months on the job. Talya Bauer outlines the critical role onboarding can play in making career transitions much smoother.

Best practices for new employee onboarding

It is estimated that 50% of all senior outside hires fail within 18 months on the job. Talya Bauer outlines the critical role onboarding can play in making career transitions much smoother.

Why Does Onboarding Matter?

For the working population as a whole, a total of 25% of the entire working population undergoes career transitions each year.[i] In Fortune 500 companies alone, it has been estimated that 500,000 new managers transition into new roles or companies each year.[ii]  Managers begin new jobs every 2 to 4 years on average. Yet, it is also estimated that 50% of all senior outside hires fail within 18 months on the job.[iii] Common wisdom and research indicate that new employees get about 90 days to prove themselves in a new job. For hourly workers, turnover is a major problem in the first 120 days where approximately 50% leave their new jobs.[iv]  One of the important ways that HR can impact the workforce and effectiveness of organizations is through the strategic use of the process termed onboarding.

What is Onboarding?

New employee onboarding is the process of getting new hires adjusted to the social and performance aspects of their new jobs quickly and smoothly. It is the process through which new hires learn the attitudes, knowledge, skills, and behaviors required to function effectively within an organization. The bottom line is that to the degree that organizations can make new hires feel welcomed into the organization and prepared for their new jobs, the faster they will be able to successfully contribute to the organization’s mission. While all employees experience some type of onboarding, the formality and comprehensiveness of onboarding program varies widely across organizations. For example, benchmarking studies show that organizations considered “best in class” for onboarding have formal onboarding programs.[v]

Some organizations prefer a more structured and systematic approach to new employee onboarding, while others follow a “sink or swim” approach in which new employees struggle to figure out what is expected of them and the existing norms of their new organization. Onboarding can vary on many dimensions including in its formality, sequencing, size of new hires onboarded at once, and how supportive the process is of new hires.[vi]

Onboarding Tools and Best Practices

In onboarding both the “big things” and the “little things” matter. Having a formal orientation program and a written onboarding plan are key best practices. However, other more subtle factors matter as well. Is the new employee greeted warmly on his or her first day? Does the new employee have a functioning workstation right away? Does someone take them to lunch the first day? The most important day on the job for a new employee is the first day.  The CEO of a major organization recognizes this and takes every employee to lunch when they arrive at the new company within their first month.  This is part of their company culture and employees proudly share this observation.  Since research shows that the trajectory of a new hires success is set as early as the first two weeks, it is important to make the first day a special one for new employees.[vii]   For hourly workers, many do not come back otherwise. Orchestrating their first day can pay large dividends in the long run. It may be just another day for you as an established employee but not for the new employee. Below is a list of organizational best practices for onboarding.



Organizational Best Practices for Onboarding:


  • Implement basics prior to the first day on the job
  • Make the first day on the job special
  • Design and implement formal orientation programs
  • Create and use written onboarding plans
  • Be participatory in nature
  • Consistently implement onboarding
  • Monitor progress over time
  • Utilize technology to facilitate the process
  • Recognize onboarding takes place over time- use milestones- 30 – 60 – 90 – 120 days on the job up to 1 year post-organizational entry
  • Engage key stakeholders in planning
  • Include key stakeholder meetings
  • Be clear in terms of the who, what, when, where of onboarding


Effective Practice Guidelines

My report Onboarding new employees: Maximising success, is a guide for HR managers to proactively manage onboarding. The report delineates where onboarding fits into the larger human resource management (HRM) context, what new employees can do to help facilitate their own onboarding process, and why onboarding is important.  It covers the empirical research on onboarding in terms of inputs and HR practices that can maximize success for both new hires and for organizations.

About the author

Talya N. Bauer (Ph.D., Purdue University) is the Cameron Professor of Management at Portland State University. Dr. Bauer is an award winning teacher and researcher and is keynote speaker at the APS 10th Industrial and Organisational Psychology Conference in Perth, 3 – 6 July 2013

 This article is based on highlights from the following:

Bauer, T. N. (2011). Onboarding new employees: Maximizing success. SHRM Foundation’s Effective Practice Guideline Series. SHRM. The full white paper report can be downloaded here




[i]Rollag, K., Parise, S., & Cross, R. (2005).  Getting new hires up to speed quickly. MIT Sloan Management Review, 46, 35-41. 

[ii]Watkins, M. (2003). The first 90 days. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

[iii]Smart, B. (1999). Topgrading: How leading companies win by hiring, coaching, and keeping the best people.  Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

[iv]Krauss, A. D. (2010).  Onboarding the hourly workforce.  Poster presented at the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP), Atlanta, GA.

[v]Martin, K., & Lombardi, M. (2009).  Fully on-board:  Getting the most from your talent in the first year. Boston, MA:  Aberdeen Group.

[vi]Van Maanen, J. & Schein, E. H. (1979). Toward a theory of organizational socialization. Research in Organizational Behavior, 1, 209-264.

[vii]Liden, R. C., Wayne, S. W., & Stilwell, D. (1993). A longitudinal study on the early development of leader-member exchangesJournal of Applied Psychology, 78, 662-674.



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