How Long Should Employee Onboarding Last?

Posted in Best Practice

Some traditional approaches suggest employee onboarding is done and dusted after a few short weeks, or even days. Today, armed with better research and a greater understanding of the modern workforce, we know better.

From our experience, onboarding should last at least seven months total – one month before their first day at work, and at least six months after.

The first six months of employment is critical when it comes to employee retention. To illustrate this, it’s time for a neat statistic:

The 2017 Brandon Hall “Evolution of Onboarding” study showed that 51% of organisations report most new hire attrition happens during the first six months of employment.

This gives us an implicit target – we have to get those employees past the first six months! But, how?

The answer is a targeted, experience-driven onboarding strategy underpinned by strategic points of engagement throughout the entire onboarding time frame.

This sounds easy enough, but two things make this a bit more difficult.

Firstly, how will you (or your hiring managers) ensure that for all those new hires, critical touch points actually happen on time?

And secondly, employee engagement levels are not constant – they rise and dip over time. How can you detect when an employee starts to disengage, and take action in time to head off more serious issues?

To give you an idea of how engagement levels can change over time, let’s look at something called the Hype Cycle. Although originally applied to the process of technology adoption, this model offers useful insights into human reactions to certain emotionally-charged situations (such as starting a new job), and how these reactions apply to employee engagement.



There are four stages of the Hype Cycle that we can map to different stages of an employee onboarding journey:


Stage 1: Peak of Inflated Expectations

Day -30 to Day One: Preboarding and preparation for the new role.

Unfortunately, for many organisations, this stage is the peak of employee engagement – and it only goes downhill from here.

Some companies overpromise on their employee experience, when reality is not nearly as shiny.

Others drop the ball during this stage by not engaging with their new hire until a few days before they’re due to start.

Either way, many new employees exit this initial peak disillusioned, dissatisfied and disengaged.


How employee onboarding software boosts engagement during preboarding

The role of employee onboarding software here is to welcome, prepare, and excite new employees in order to maintain their engagement level, and address any worries or concerns they may have. In practical terms, this means:

  • Sending timely (encouraging) messages from hiring managers (and nudging managers to do so);
  • Introducing the employee to your team, culture, and values;
  • Ensuring that the new hire’s team are aware that they are starting, offering them the opportunity to send a personalised welcome message before they start;
  • Giving the employee a clear idea of what to expect on Day One; and
  • Going beyond the mundane, perhaps by inviting the new hire to a social lunch for their manager and teammates, and scheduling other key events with them in advance.

Stage 2: Trough of Disillusionment

Day One to Day 30: Discovering the realities of the job.

This period is the true danger zone, with attrition more likely to occur here than at any other time.

Turning up to the new job only to be left waiting for an unprepared manager, or facing an empty desk because IT did not have your equipment ready, can really impact on engagement levels.

Beyond the first day, if new employees are further disappointed by the reality of their roles, then engagement levels can reach critically low levels, and they can become at risk of leaving.

How good onboarding preserves engagement during and after Day One

Good employee onboarding software will enable a great welcome experience during Day One, then provide the support to help a new employee build a sense of connection to their manager, team and the organisation. In practical terms, this means things like:

  • Ensuring your hiring managers and team are fully prepared with a personalised welcome for the new hire on Day One;
  • Getting all IT provisioning done in time, so the new hire can settle in ASAP;
  • Maintaining the employee’s engagement by creating regular touch points with their manager;
  • Avoiding information overload by providing the necessary materials as and when the new hire is ready; and
  • Connecting new hires to their peers including mentors and/or “buddies” that can take them under their wing.

Stage 3: Slope of Enlightenment

Day 31 to Day 60: Made it to month two!

With a little luck, your employee will make it past the toughest part of getting acclimatised to their new environment. They are settling into their role, gaining a better understanding of the scope of their job and beginning to establish their personal work routines.

How smart onboarding software can fast track productivity and deepen engagement

Employee onboarding software will continue to engage and provide support and will help manage the employee’s ongoing development. It will also help the employee define effective ways of working and deepen their support networks with their colleagues and managers. In practical terms, this means things like:

  • Ensuring all necessary touchpoints like one-on-one meetings and performance review sessions between the manager and the newer employee happen on time
  • Using timely nudges, activities and information drips to improve employee learning outcomes and overall retention;
  • Keeping track of your employee’s engagement levels, all the while collecting feedback and identifying potential issues; and
  • Keeping track of your manager’s engagement levels when it comes to interacting with the new employee.

Stage 4: Plateau of Productivity

Day 60 to day 180 and beyond: In for the long haul.

This stage sees your employee reaching full productivity, after having become familiar with their role.

Don’t breathe a sigh of relief, as employees still need the same level of support you have given them so far, with the addition of further development opportunities.

How employee onboarding software maintains engagement into the future

Your employee onboarding software should continue to support, educate, and regularly touch base with your employee, while stretching them to set further goals. It will keep an eye on your employee’s engagement “pulse” to make sure all is going smoothly. In practical terms, this means things like:

  • Obtaining regular feedback from the new employee about their aspirations and what you can do to help them toward their next stage of development;
  • Cultivating your company’s culture of learning in the employee’s mindset; and
  • Giving your employee the opportunity to help others along the same path. (You might be surprised how much your employees enjoy this!)

And off into the sunset...

What you should have achieved by this point is a sense of wholesome integration, where the employee strongly identifies with the company, and even becomes a potential resource for other, less experienced employees to draw on. When they’re at this point, it’s fairly safe to say that the employee is effectively “on board”, and some employers like Canva will even start them on the path towards becoming a mentor for future newcomers.

Do you need even more reasons to convince the bigwigs in your organisation to pony up and take on some decent onboarding software? Check out how Canva maximises engagement during onboarding and see how employee onboarding software featured in their journey to become Australia’s #1 place to work.

Become an Enboarder insider!