Roughly one in four new employees leave their organization within their first year of tenure, according to a recent report from PwC Saratoga. Since the cost of turnover per employee is 1.5 times the average compensation, employers should pay close attention to improving their onboarding process, and how they assimilate and engage employees even before their start date.

Orienting new hires into the company's culture and their new role starts before they even step in the office and should go beyond filling out HR paperwork on the first day. "A lot of what onboarding is about is easing the employee into the organization, setting accurate expectations before they even start," says Sunita Navile, a director of onboarding solutions at Kenexa, an IBM company. "Unmet expectations for new hires are the No. 1 reason they quit early on. It's buyer's remorse."

Since new hires generally have many questions, Navile advises employers to anticipate these questions, handhold the employee in the beginning and connect them with a buddy, a manager, and their work or project team to help assimilate them into the company and their new role.



'Continual process'

Organizational assimilation programs "are targeted toward decreasing the overall time for employees to become productive, promoting behaviors that are aligned with organizational goals, values, objectives and culture itself. And in building loyalty, which demonstrates commitment and builds the foundation for employee retention," said Chris Dustin, director with PwC, in a recent Web seminar.

He added that "people remember their first day of their job," and how helpful their co-workers were, as well as how engaged those co-workers were with the company. Employers must sustain the new hire's belief that they made the right decision accepting this job offer so that the employee doesn't become one of five that leave their company before their second year.

"Assimilation is a continual process," said Dustin, adding this process "should continue throughout the entire lifecycle of the employee."

Employers can monitor employees' engagement across this lifecycle and make improvements where most needed through strategic analysis of employee surveys. With data from different surveys at various employment stages, employers can build and leverage an informational repository for survey content, data and reporting.



3 common surveys

Here are the three most common surveys and the value each delivers, according to PwC:

* Onboarding surveys provide a view into the new employee's perspective. Employers have a unique opportunity to shape engagement as the new hire's employment experience begins.

* Engagement surveys can offer a detailed assessment of which aspects of the employee/company relationship drive employee effort, pride and commitment.

* Exit surveys can provide candid insight into the factors that are driving turnover. They can point to organization's strength, as well as vulnerabilities.

Together, all these surveys can reveal the right onboarding framework for an employer, how to engage employees, and how to communicate the company's mission and goals effectively.

"Things are becoming more transformational. [Employers] are able to influence things much earlier in employees' experience and ultimately drive productivity, retention, better business outcomes," said Robert Tate, managing director with PwC.



Improving onboarding

For example, a professional services firm identified its common strengths and areas to improve by strategically analyzing survey results. It found out that while it held effective orientation sessions and provided robust pre-start information materials, it could improve its leadership communication, career development planning, and rewards and recognition strategy.

The company created action plans to improve the weaknesses pointed out by employee surveys. First, it held more town hall and intranet meetings to communicate company goals and objectives more transparently. The company also improved leadership communication by having managers pass information to direct reports more often. In this way, "messages coming from senior leadership were continually reinforced," said Dustin.

It also improved its career development outreach by launching a succession planning program for all levels of the organization, not just for management. The company implemented a mentorship program, with leaders providing career development roles for each of their direct reports. And the firm now posts new job positions on the company intranet five days before posting externally to give internal employees the first shot at open positions.

The firm also changed direction for its rewards and recognition program. It modified the timing of recognition for longer-tenured employees, creating "a recognition program that started right out of the gate instead of waiting until later [in the employee's tenure]," explained Dustin.

In addition, senior leadership now contacts five to 10 employees a week to thank them for their efforts and contributions through verbal praise and handwritten notes. The employer also provided managers with a small fund to immediately reward employees for their positive behavior and successes, such as pizza parties, gift cards, and movie certificates.

"The longer it takes for an employee to feel like they're impacting the organization in a positive way, the more it detracts from retaining these individuals and from making them feel that they are an integral part of the organization," said Dustin.

Employers need to maintain the engagement momentum of a new hire, Dustin adds "because the first- year employees are a blank canvas." He admits it's a "delicate balance" in getting "them on the job as quickly as possible, but not so fast that they feel overwhelmed."

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