Employee Onboarding & Offboarding

Employee onboarding and offboarding are the bookends of the employee life cycle. That cycle begins the moment a candidate accepts your offer, and it ends on the last day they work for your organization. In between lies the bulk of the employee experience—relationships with coworkers, projects attempted and completed, successes and failures, career progression and personal growth. But as with any long-term partnership, the beginning and ending have a huge impact on the entire experience, including what happens after the relationship.

Employee onboarding and employee offboarding are critical processes that, when done effectively, can deliver provable value and a positive return on investment. Likewise, ineffective employee onboarding and offboarding can harm almost every measurable metric of an organization. Employee onboarding and offboarding deserve HR’s close attention, with careful planning, execution, and analysis to ensure they are both being done right.

What Is Onboarding and Why Is It Important?

Onboarding isn’t one thing; it’s a whole series of events and tasks designed to transform a chosen candidate into an integrated and functioning member of your organization.

Employee onboarding begins when a candidate accepts your offer, and while formal new-employee training tasks may be completed in a few days or a week, onboarding only arguably ends when the new hire is contributing at full speed—which could be months or even a year after their hire date.

That time-to-contribution variable is your first hint as to the importance of onboarding. The longer it takes for an employee to reach their expected level of performance, the longer it’s taken for your organization to realize the full return on its investment. Likewise, the more time an employee spends before they are working to their full potential, the longer they have to deal with that feeling of coming up short. The first is a direct financial outcome; the second is an emotional outcome that can cause disappointment, frustration, and disengagement—all of which can lead to financial and organizational outcomes like lost performance and higher turnover.

That’s not to say you should rush through onboarding; in fact, it means the opposite. Research shows that longer employee onboarding processes, statistically speaking, are more effective. And effective onboarding can do more than simply train new employees to meet a baseline performance level: numerous studies, including our own survey research, suggest that employees who are exposed to a highly effective onboarding process outperform those who receive poor or even adequate onboarding—not just because their time to contribution is shorter, but also because better onboarding results in lower turnover, higher engagement, and higher job satisfaction, even months and years down the road.

Why Is It Important for an Employee to Have a Good Onboarding Experience?

The first question you should be asking is, “what is a good onboarding experience?” After all, if every organization, every job, and every industry is going to have a different onboarding process, no two experiences will be alike. But while that’s true, it can also be said that every element of a good employee onboarding experience comes from a single best practice: caring about the employee.

To show how care makes a difference in the employee onboarding experience and why that matters, let’s compare two hypothetical situations: first, the experience of a junior analyst joining a major investment banking firm, and second, the experience of a newly hired summer camp counselor.

Investment Firm: The Newbie

Imagine you’re fresh out of business school and you’ve landed your dream job at a major metropolitan banking firm. You’ve recently moved to a new apartment in the city, and although you’re just a bit nervous about your first day, you show up dressed for success and ready to take on the challenge. You walk in the door, greet the HR representative, and…you’re handed a stack of paperwork as you’re shown into a big meeting room with 20 other new analysts.

You spend your first few days of your new job watching hour after hour of slickly produced corporate videos, reading thick handbooks, and filling out mountains of forms. There aren’t any group discussions or introductions; it’s up to you to introduce yourself to your new coworkers during your free lunch hours—when you’re not setting up your own workstation. You’d love to ask questions, but there aren’t any Q&A sessions. Besides, the HR representative was hired a month before you and your classmates, the videos and handbooks are all recently overhauled, and nobody seems to know anything.

At the end of the week, it’s time to begin your real job—the one you were hired to do. You show up on time (eight o’clock, right?), walk down the hall to your team’s area, and...walk right into the monthly executive update, which has been going on for an hour. Every face turns to look at you, the newbie. You’re already late, and it’s only your first day.

Camp councelor

Summer Camp: All-Aboarding

Now, forget about the investment bank. Imagine instead you’re fresh out of high school exam week, summer break has begun, and your parents made you get a job as a counselor at the local day camp to earn money for your college fund. You’re bummed you can’t spend the summer with your friends, and you’re not exactly a fan of babysitting a bunch of little kids, so you show up on your first day dragging your feet and...you’re handed a frisbee, a new tee shirt (in your size; they sent you a questionnaire a week ago), and a book: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

You spend the first week of the summer with 20 other new counselors, getting to know them all as you break out into small groups for training activities, a camp tour, interactive learning sessions, and skits produced by the senior counselors, some of whom have been there for decades. By the end of the week, you’re exhausted but excited—much more than you thought you’d be. You’ve learned all about the camp, your job, your new friends (sorry, “co-counselors”), and even a bit about yourself. When you show up on Monday for the first real day of camp, the camp director greets you by name, gives you a wink and a handshake, and asks if you’re ready, or if there’s anything you need. “I’m more than ready,” you respond, “This is going to be a great summer.”