Why effective onboarding is critical to employee retention

Tara Milburn is the founder of Ethical swaga company that helps brands achieve their ESG goals through sustainable onboarding initiatives.

Recent changes in the labor market have given both workers and business leaders the opportunity to rethink the role that work plays in our lives. For an increasing proportion of people, work has become a way of expressing their commitment to promoting social and environmental change. This was revealed in a 2019 survey three quarters of millennials would accept a lower salary to work for an environmentally friendly company.

When social and environmental goals are treated as a foundation rather than an afterthought, a positive feedback loop is created in which employees internalize the company culture and, in turn, act in ways that reinforce and promote that culture. Effective onboarding strategies are critical to starting this process.

As a founder of a sustainable brand company that works closely with People & Culture professionals to help companies achieve their Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) goals, I have witnessed the profound impact effective onboarding can have on the culture of a company. I believe in the power of using business as a force for good and have seen that companies that put employees first can benefit people and the planet without sacrificing profit.

Starting at the beginning

Employee onboarding experiences are reliable indicators of their long-term relationship with a company. Unfortunately, a recent survey by Gallup found only that 12% of employees strongly agreed that their organization did an excellent job of onboarding new employees.

A recent Gallup study has shown that companies whose employees feel engaged in their work experience higher profitability, lower turnover, lower absenteeism and higher customer satisfaction. I believe onboarding is critical to fostering engagement because it does the dual job of introducing employees to both their hands-on duties and the company’s overall culture and values.

Onboarding best practices do not treat culture and skills training as two separate considerations, but as integral parts of a single process rooted in the company’s mission. Below are some strategies for embodying your company’s vision in your onboarding practices.

Lead with values

Unlike basic skills at work, attitudes and values ​​cannot be taught. While it’s important to identify and describe company values ​​during the onboarding process, it’s more important to embody them in your day-to-day practices and interactions with new hires. If your company values ​​diversity, for example, having accessible office spaces and onboarding materials in a variety of formats says more than any mission statement.

Using company values ​​as a key pillar of the onboarding process helps ensure that new hires are a good fit from the start. For some people, the values ​​laid out during the onboarding process will not resonate; for others, they may be the deciding factor in deciding whether to stay with the company. Those who see their personal values ​​as aligned with those of the company are more likely feeling they have their job gives them a personal sense of accomplishment and less chance of leaving.

Paving a two-way street

One of the most critical factors in creating a sustainable work culture is ensuring that employees develop a strong sense of trust and a habit of open communication. Research from 2018 showed that employees whose managers clearly communicated their role and responsibilities 23% more likely to stay with an organization, while employees who felt uncomfortable giving upward feedback to managers were 16% less likely to stay. These figures clearly show the importance of making business communication a two-way street.

Effective onboarding programs initiate a dialogue that develops during an employee’s tenure within a company. When employees feel comfortable speaking up and asking questions from the start, they feel like an integral, valued part of the company and are more willing to share their ideas with others. Teaming them up with a colleague who exemplifies the company culture is a great way to start these conversations because it builds bridges between new hires and management, while new hires get a mentor and confidant to support them throughout can support their onboarding process.

Recognize the power of appreciation

Providing new hires with clear, positive feedback and recognition for proactive behavior can build the confidence they need to quickly settle into their new role. When it comes to showing appreciation, it’s good to use different approaches. One of the simplest and most effective is to simply tell employees when they’ve done a good job: the more personal and specific the comment, the better. New hires can become so absorbed in doing tasks correctly that they won’t stop to think if they’re doing it right, so verbally acknowledging their good work can give a huge confidence boost and encourage them to be more successful in their role.

Giving gifts is another effective way to show appreciation. Providing new employees with high-quality branded products from suppliers whose values ​​align with the company’s mission is a wonderful way to help them feel part of a team. In addition, providing useful, durable goods that employees can integrate into their daily lives, such as tote bags and water bottles, tangibly demonstrates the company’s investment in and appreciation for the employee as a person. (Full disclosure: My company offers promotional products for this purpose, as do many others.)


An effective onboarding strategy is one of the most powerful assets a company can have as it positively impacts all aspects of the business. For new hires, strong onboarding practices increase comfort and competence, demonstrate the organization’s commitment to supporting them, and help build relationships. For companies, effective onboarding saves time and money by reducing employee turnover, increasing business stability and solidifying work culture. It also saves time and money, as research has shown that the average cost of replacing a new employee is about 20% of their annual salary.

For all these reasons and more, I believe that onboarding is both a reflection of and a testament to the power of purposeful business practices.

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