Bad Onboarding Experiences: How They Harm Employee Retention

Posted in Talent & Onboarding

Starting at a new company is something that almost everyone has to do, at least once in their career, but that doesn’t mean people don’t get nervous about new starts. And it turns out, at a lot of companies, they are right to be nervous! Some companies onboard their new hires well. Some… are a disaster. 

As onboarding experts, our jobs are sometimes like being a therapist or bartender. “Oh, you guys are in onboarding? Have I got a story for you!” People love to regale us with their horrific tales of nightmare onboarding — and we are still shocked at how many companies skip the most common sense onboarding best practices

We’ve got some unbelievable — and a few unpublishable — anecdotes of subpar and outright bad onboarding experiences that would send shivers down the spine of any self-respecting HR pro. 

  • ✅ Dropped in the deep end with no training? Check.
  • ✅ Yelled at and called stupid by a boss for not knowing things? Check.
  • ✅ Crying in the bathroom on the first day? Check.

In fact, we’ve seen and heard so many cautionary tales that we decided to put the word out and share some of the worst ones we could find! 

Image by wayhomestudio on Freepik

The Reality of Bad Onboarding Experiences

Here are some fun-to-read, but bad-to-have onboarding experiences, with tips on how to avoid them. 

Lack of Structure and Planning in Onboarding

The Waiting Game 

From a LinkedIn contributor: “I once worked for a company where the pre-boarding process was so dragged out — it left me questioning if I was still meant to start there. It took four weeks to get confirmation of my start date and when I turned up on day one – I was directed to a meeting room where I waited 30 minutes for my manager to show up. The remainder of my first day was spent at a random desk, setting up my own phone, laptop, and even VPN connection while my ‘buddy’ was sitting behind me browsing social media.” 

Lesson: Effective pre-boarding is SO crucial. Use automated onboarding software like Enboarder to keep new hires engaged and informed before day one. Preboarding checklists can streamline the confirmation process,  automate and speed up pre-boarding tasks, and ensure all necessary equipment and access are ready before day one, making new hires feel truly welcomed.  For an example of GREAT preboarding, check out our T-Mobile story.

Walkabout Woes

One respondent told us that they had been given a day and a particular start time: Monday at 9am. Then they received a call just before 9, saying the team weren’t ready yet, and could they walk around the block for 30 minutes before coming up!

Lesson: A lack of preparation on Day 1 can make new hires feel undervalued and uncertain. Automated onboarding software that focuses on creating human connections can help ensure the first day wows:  by keeping both teams and new hires in the loop about start dates and changes, ensuring everyone is ready and eager to welcome the new member.  Ideally, your whole team will be there to greet a new employee at the door (or on a video call)!

Ineffective Communication and Support

Security Standoff  

From Reddit:  “Everyone forgot I was starting that day and I got held up at security (highly secure area) for hours trying to prove that it was my first day. Finally, one of my interviewers found me and dumped me into an empty office. They didn’t have a laptop for me to use. They wouldn’t even give me pen and paper for weeks, as it had to be “ordered.”

Lesson: Being held up at security is no way to start a new job. Ensuring arrivals, clearances and accesses are arranged before day one across departments can prevent such nightmares. Onboarding software that orchestrates all stakeholders involved – from HR to facility management, IT and security —  can ensure no critical step is missed behind the scenes.

Lost in Production 

Here’s another one from Reddit: “I was hired on a Friday afternoon and was to start the following Monday. The people who work on the production floor start about two hours before the office people. So I came in on Monday and explained to the production manager who I was and he said he had no idea what I was talking about. No one told them they were hiring a new office worker or that he might have an extra hand for a couple of weeks. When he tried calling some people nobody seemed to answer.”

Lesson: Cross-departmental communication is essential for a smooth onboarding process. Avoid surprises and frustrations by using onboarding software that keeps all relevant parties informed and engaged in the onboarding process. Simple notifications, automated provisioning forms, clear workflows, and checklists for HR and hiring managers should fix these sorts of problems. Motorpoint is a great example of enabling managers and nailing the onboarding communication flow.

Neglecting Cultural Integration

Stranded in the Break Room

From Reddit: “At coffee break, I met this new guy at the coffee machine. He looked slightly disturbed, so I took a moment to have a chat. Actually, no one of his team were there this day. The manager who recruited him was on holidays, and probably forgot about it. So this guy was just there, without [a} place to sit, without [a} computer or access to [the] network, trying to figure out how to talk to [his colleagues] without having to raise big organization issues. Finally, he just left the company after 3 or 4 days.

Lesson: Inclusion from day one is non-negotiable. Onboarding platforms can schedule introductory meetings and check-ins, ensuring no one feels left out, even when key team members are unavailable or away. This is a great place for mentors or a new hire buddy system. Onboarding software can also create surprise and delight moments that show new hires they’re valued, avoiding awkward situations and fostering a sense of belonging from the jump. This is something Arden University does brilliantly.

Not with the In-Crowd

From Buzzfeed: “My first day, within the first hour, they gathered everyone (including me) in the conference room and held a surprise bridal shower for one of their coworkers. They were passing around a card, and I said, ‘Oh! I’ll sign it with some well wishes if you want, even though it’s my first day and I’m not exactly sure who Ashley is just yet.’ The lady holding it stared real hard and said, ‘This is really only for those who contributed to the gift.’ So, I just said, ‘Oh okay, absolutely.’ I spent the rest of the party in the corner trying to be extinct.”

Lesson: It is important that your team understand the onboarding experience you’re trying to build, and their part in it. Cultivate an inclusive environment for all employees, new and old. Onboarding platforms can highlight company values and encourage practices that make everyone feel welcome and valued from the start. Dermalogica’s story is a great example of connecting new joiners on a human level.

Overwhelming Information Load

Desert-Island Onboarding

From Quora: “The worst onboarding experience I have ever seen was when I was hired as a software engineer at a small startup. I was given a laptop and a stack of documentation, and then I was left to figure things out on my own. I had no idea who to talk to if I had questions, and I didn’t feel like I was part of the team.”

Lesson: A structured onboarding program is essential, especially in small startups. Use onboarding software to provide clear guidelines, resources, and points of contact, integrating new hires into their team effectively through connected onboarding. Check out Bayer’s story of setting up engaging and structured onboarding workflows.

Dropped in the Deep End

When starting a new role, your manager is crucial to your success. In one story we heard, a new hire started their remote job on their first day, they were told that it was their manager’s last day! For the next 6 months there was no manager at all. Instead of being walked through the onboarding process, the new remote hire was handed a link to a virtual drive and overwhelmed with information they had to sort out for themselves. The words, “Here’s some information, figure it out yourself” were mentioned. Yikes.

Lesson: Introducing the new hire and buddy prior to the start date can create a point of contact beyond the direct manager, and ensure there is someone to take the new hire through what they need to know. You can also use workflows to introduce that information in digestible pieces. It’s especially easy to overlook the needs of a remote employee in this case, so be sure to use a remote onboarding checklist to stay on top of things.

Absence of Engagement

The Case of the Missing Mentor

From Reddit: “I’m on my 3rd full-time real dev job and I’ve never had an “on-boarding” or mentor. Every time I’ve just had to play “obsessed detective” and study the code on my own and strategically bother various colleagues when I get stuck.”

Lesson: No one should have to feel like they’re solving a mystery to understand their own role and responsibilities. Structured onboarding workflows and an onboarding agenda can guide new hires through their learning process, connecting them with the right colleagues, mentors, and resources without having to “strategically bother” them.

Rooting for Failure

From Bravado: “Showed up [the] first day, was handed a script and told to rehearse it all day. AE’S and management would walk past me and quickly put me on the spot asking me stuff from the script hoping I’d mess up and they’d laugh about it. All the AE’s sat on the opposite side from the SDR’s and placed bets on who would quit first.

Lesson: Obviously you’ll want to encourage a culture of human connection and support, not toxic hazing. Great onboarding is a team sport, and a supportive and respectful environment is crucial to that. Foster a culture of engagement and connection from day one using connected onboarding software to connect new hires with buddies and mentors and have people bond  on a human level. This sets a positive tone and helps everyone to understand what is expected of them and how they should be participating in the process.

confused man
Image by wayhomestudio on Freepik

How Bad Onboarding Experiences Harm Employee Retention

Increased Turnover Rates:

As you see in the examples above, a newbie’s excitement about their dream job can instantly turn into a “Thank U, Next” if their onboarding is as welcoming as a cactus hug. According to BambooHR , 70% of new hires decide if a job is the right fit within the first month, and 29% know in the first week. A bumpy start can have folks sprinting for the exits and high turnover not only affects team morale but also significantly increases recruitment and training costs, impacting your bottom line.

Lack of Employee Engagement: 

Onboarding can mean the difference between a new hire being your office MVP or MIA. According to Paychex, 35% of HR leaders say focusing on the onboarding process is one of the best ways to grow overall employee engagement. New hires who don’t get a good introduction to the company are less likely to feel connected and committed to the organization. This lack of engagement can lead to passive job performance, reduced productivity, and an overall disconnection from the company’s goals and values.

Reduced Morale and Job Satisfaction: 

The excitement of starting a new job can quickly curdle if the onboarding process is a disappointment. Without clear guidance, support, and acknowledgment, new hires might feel undervalued and question their decision to join the company. Unfortunately, Gallup’s most recent reporting on onboarding statistics shows that only 12% of employees think their companies have done a satisfactory job bringing them onboard.

Diminished Trust in Management: 

According to BambooHR, 17% of HR teams say a bad first impression with both candidates and new hires is impacting their employer brand.  If new employees perceive that their onboarding is disorganized or that their managers are indifferent, they may doubt the company’s competence and care for its employees, making it hard to build a solid foundation of trust in the future.

Inadequate Role Clarity: 

One of the critical components of successful onboarding is clarifying a new hire’s role and expectations. Without this clarity, employees can feel lost, unsure of their objectives, and how they fit into the larger team and company goals. In research from Paychex, 52% of employees said their onboarding experience left them feeling  let down, 56% felt disoriented and 49% felt devalued as people. This sort of confusion can hinder their performance and growth, leading to dissatisfaction and disengagement. 

Disconnection and Isolation:

Finding your people at work is one of the most important aspects of starting a new job. Recent Nectar research shows that 77.63% of people consider workplace connection important or very important In achieving a great company culture. This is a place where onboarding can really shine, such as the Enboarder solution, which brings people together on a human level as mentors, coworkers, and friends. 

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How to Ensure a Great Start for New Hires 

These are some nutty stories up there, no doubt. But here’s the part we find especially chilling. When we asked people to share their stories with us, the most common response amounted to: “It wasn’t horrific, but it wasn’t good.”  

In most cases, the basics are not being done well. And that’s bad. Make sure that you nail these practices for your new hires:

Developing a Structured Onboarding Framework. 

Create consistent frameworks for provisioning information and resources by automating onboarding. This includes:

  • Having IT equipment and access passes set up and ready to go. 
  • Getting payroll and HRIS systems set up in advance. 
  • Putting in place an actual plan for new hires for Day 1 and Week 1.  
  • Being clear on the start date. 
Enhancing Communication and Feedback Channels. 

Having clear channels of communication and a place to ask for information and give and receive feedback is important. It’s also a great way to remind managers and peers to jump in and help out!

Incorporating Effective Training and Mentorship Programs

Help newbies build up skills and acquire knowledge even after their initial onboarding — with flexible learning journeys that fit right into their flow of work and mentors to guide them.

Fostering a Welcoming and Inclusive Culture

Are you greeting new hires at the door with a huge welcome party? Maybe you should be! A culture that hugs rather than shrugs is one people want to stay at.

Continuously Monitoring and Adapting Onboarding Strategies

The onboarding journey is a lot more fun and a lot less of a horror show when it is kept fresh with feedback and new ideas.  Ask for feedback consistently!

Revolutionizing Your Onboarding: Embrace Change for Better Employee Journeys

Enboarder offers a powerful onboarding platform that can help in all these areas — connecting new hires to the colleagues, information, and programs that matter most, and turning onboarding from something to be dreaded into something memorable that sets them up for success.

Want to see a few examples of onboarding done well? Be sure to check out our 8 Secrets to the World’s Best People Programs ebook. Unlock the potential of your people and embark on a journey to more powerful onboarding!

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