Onboarding tactics for engagement, equity, and retention

Written by: Kelli Karanovich
Published on: Jul 12, 2021

onboarding group woc in tech

(Image: Women of Color in Tech)

Since 2000, employee turnover has increased incrementally every year, with 2021 representing an all-time high. Experts agree that the pandemic has contributed to rising resignation numbers, but its biggest impact on the workforce may be the way it has inspired people to re-evaluate how, when, and where they work. 

This brings us to the importance of onboarding. 

Often confused with orientation, onboarding is an ongoing process for integrating new hires into the workplace environment and providing them with all the resources needed to succeed. SHRM reports that 90 percent of turnover happens within the first 6 months of employment, so implementing a successful onboarding strategy during this time period is essential to long-term retention. 

With Disability Pride Month, LGBTQIA+ Pride Month, and Juneteenth celebrations fresh on our minds, it’s also worth considering the role that onboarding plays in ensuring equity and access. Remember: An inclusive process doesn’t just benefit individuals from historically marginalized groups, but everyone in your organization. 

Here are a few onboarding practices that will help ensure retention while promoting equity and access for all. 

Streamline “paperwork” by consolidating it, bringing it online, and asking meaningful questions. 

Some aspects of onboarding – like signing a contract, completing tax documents, and selecting benefits packages – are fairly basic and largely universal. However, making slight changes to how you handle these tasks can make a world of difference for new employees, especially those with unique needs. 

For example, facing a stack of paperwork on the first day can be daunting and exhausting. Receiving a series of email messages that require new employees to print documents themselves can be even worse. Both procedures risk setting a foundation of frustration. 

Instead, cultivate an atmosphere of confidence and respect by making this initial period as smooth as possible. You can simplify the process by consolidating everything you can into a single email and investing in software that allows employees to sign documents digitally. Ideally, you could send this before your hire’s first day on the job so they can get it out of the way; if that’s not possible, send a clear outline of the process to let them know what to expect. 

For an even more successful start to your working relationship, be sure that the forms new hires are completing ask meaningful questions. For example, it’s becoming a standard practice to state your pronouns, so go ahead and make it a standard ask – and be sure to respect the answers you receive.  

Remember that orientation and training are both a part of onboarding, not substitutes for it. 

Virtually all new hires will experience some form of orientation and training. While approaches differ – integrated into day-to-day job functions, delivered through a series of virtual workshops, consolidated in a special one-time event or retreat – all businesses benefit from making sure that onboarding doesn’t end when orientation is over and training complete. 

Effective onboarding practices include a transition period of up to a full year, during which employees receive guidance and feedback for implementing what they learned in orientation and training as they integrate with your organization. 

In fact, the higher the quality of the orientation and training, the more important this year-long process becomes: Giving new employees a robust and supportive introduction to your organization only to abruptly leave them to their own devices can feel like abandonment, and set them up for failure. 

Pair new hires with genuinely well-matched mentors. 

A good mentor can be the key to effective, full-term onboarding. However, pairing a new employee with a mentor that isn’t a proper match could send them right out the door. 

First of all, make sure that the mentor you select feels comfortable in the role. Mentors should genuinely enjoy serving as educators and guides. To avoid fears of being replaced by new hires, mentors should also have a very clear understanding of the differences between their professional responsibilities and those of the mentee. 

Finally, the mentor should be someone who is willing to treat mentees with respect, and even be an advocate for them when it comes to issues like the proper use of pronouns, workplace accessibility (in the event that the mentee has unique physical needs), and other issues of workplace equity. 

Keep checking 

Even the most progressive and compassionate organizations are at risk of falling into old patterns that shortchange new employees during the onboarding process. By checking in with new hires throughout their first year, as well as continuing to nurture mentor/mentee relationships over time, you will build strong teams that lead to greater retention, workplace satisfaction, and productivity for all.

Kelli Karanovich is an editor at Work for Good, as well as a professional copywriter and educator who also publishes as Kelli Lynn Grey.