New Hire Orientation Blog
The Best New Hire Orientation Timeline
Your company’s onboarding process is a chance to set the stage for success among new employees. But what is the best new hire orientation timeline? There has been a surprising amount of debate and divided opinions on this over the years. Companies are all over the map on the length of onboarding. This article will present research and ideas to help you decide the right length of time for your onboarding program.
The High Stakes of Onboarding
Too many companies fail to realize just how high the stakes are when it comes to onboarding. New hire orientation and training is by far the largest factor that affects new employees, not only in terms of whether or not they will stick around for the long haul (retention) but also in terms of how soon they start showing the results you need from them (productivity). Take this loud-and-clear message to heart:
Your onboarding program drives both retention and productivity among new hires, which means it pays big dividends when you get it right!
The Brandon Hall Group did a study about bad hires back in 2015 with a survey to which 153 companies responded. One area it explored was the role of onboarding. The study revealed how companies with strong onboarding programs experienced an 82% improvement in retention and a 70% improvement in productivity. The takeaway here is that onboarding matters!
The Worst New Hire Orientation Timeline
I’ll start with what your company should definitely not do, which is skimp on new hire orientation and training. In terms of how long your onboarding should last, one thing that’s clear is that anything less than a month is, without doubt, doing more harm than good! Companies with onboarding programs lasting less than a month are 9% less likely to retain first-year employees than companies with longer orientation programs (source). Anything less than a month means you aren’t doing enough to set your new hires up for long-term success.
You’re probably already painfully aware of the high cost of turnover, right? More onboarding over a longer period of time can greatly reduce your employee churn. And yet back in 2016 only about 37% of companies had formal onboarding programs that lasted longer than a month (source)! A more recent 2017 survey of 2,300 hiring managers and HR professionals by CareerBuilder revealed an even more dire set of statistics around the new hire orientation timeline:
- 25% of companies have onboarding programs that last only one day or less.
- 26% of companies take about a week to complete their onboarding program.
- 21% claim their onboarding takes about a month.
In spite of research that shows onboarding programs lasting only a month or less do more harm than good, 72% of companies surveyed are doing exactly that – using the worst new hire orientation timeline possible. Given the clear benefits for retention, reduced turnover costs and faster time-to-productivity, it’s hard to understand why companies aren’t paying more attention to onboarding and extending the timeline well beyond a month.
Conventional Wisdom About the New Hire Orientation Timeline
Most people will tell you that 1-3 months feels like the right length of time for new employees to be fully onboarded into a company. But only about 28% of companies are doing that, which means most companies aren’t even following the conventional wisdom about onboarding.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve always found it useful to question anything that carries the label of “convention wisdom.” I immediately question whether the oft-mentioned 1-3 months for a new hire orientation timeline is adequate. What makes me question this conventional wisdom? A lot of companies have a “probationary” period for new hires. This is a certain amount of time they need to prove themselves before they get full benefits and are considered a permanent hire. The most common timeframe for a new hire’s probationary period is 90 days, which just so happens to be three months. I question the conventional wisdom about 1-3 months for onboarding because I think it’s just what matches up with the typical probationary period. I don’t think it has anything to do with what might be the best new hire orientation timeline.
A Full Year is the Best New Hire Orientation Timeline
I am making the bold claim that every company should have formal onboarding programs that last for an entire year for each new hire. I don’t have any scientific studies to back this up because very few companies take onboarding that seriously. But if you think about the fact that most new hires are on the fence about whether to stay or leave your company for at least their first six months, I think it makes sense to think of new hire orientation over the course of a whole year. But I also think that the onboarding in the second half of that year might look a lot different from the onboarding that takes place in the first half of the year.
Initial onboarding programs have to be all about orienting the new hire to company policies and culture and giving them the training needed to perform their duties to the best of their ability. It’s all about making sure they fit in and know what they’re doing. But after all that’s squared away, there should still be much more onboarding activity, but of a different nature. If your onboarding keeps them in place past that crucial six-month mark, then it’s time to really solidify their valued place in the company with additional support and learning opportunities. After the first six months, you’ll have a fairly good picture of their performance capabilities and can start building on that knowledge, creating opportunities to improve in challenge areas or maybe start grooming them for higher positions in the company. In this sense, you should be thinking about a year-long onboarding process that launches them onward and upward in your company.
Pre-Boarding Before the On-Site Onboarding Begins
Here’s a simple idea that more companies should be taking advantage of: Your onboarding program can get a jumpstart before a new hire ever walks through the door. This pre-boarding concept can make a huge difference. Going silent between the time of offer and start date is a big mistake. But if you use that time wisely, you’ll reap major benefits. In fact, companies that do pre-boarding retain 81% of first-year hires (source). Go ahead and send them your electronic employee handbook so they can take their time reading it and flagging anything they want to ask about. Everyone knows the employee manual typically delivered to a new hire when they actually start working get shoved in a drawer never to be seen again. What a waste!
If it’s time for your company to establish the optimal new hire orientation timeline, I hope you’ll seriously consider setting up formal programs that take place throughout a new employee’s first year. The benefits you can reap in terms of retention and productivity will be worth all the time, effort and resources you put into it.