What is employee onboarding?

Why companies are rethinking—and digitizing—how to welcome new hires

Companies have struggled for years to win over disengaged workers, but recent studies suggest they’re turning a corner. Roughly a third of U.S. workers today say they’re enthusiastic about their work and their workplace, according to Gallup. That’s the highest figure in nearly two decades. Another positive: Just 13% of workers are actively disengaged, down from 20% in 2007.


of employees say that their companies offer a strong onboarding program

However, many companies are becoming aware that the very start of an employee’s experience—onboarding—might be handicapping that progress. First impressions matter: Just 12% of employees say that their companies offer a strong onboarding program, according to Gallup. Other studies show that employers who don’t deliver a positive onboarding experience are at risk of having top talent walk out the door just a few weeks into a new job.

To address the risk, many companies today are rethinking their approach to onboarding and the technology they can use to improve the onboarding experience for workers.

In the following articles, we explain the complexity of modern onboarding, the risks and challenges inherent in traditional onboarding management, and the advantages of digitizing the onboarding experience to simplify the experience for everyone.

Here is a brief look at each element:

1. The onboarding process

Modern onboarding entails far more than traditional employee “orientation.” Preboarding, for example, allows companies to establish a personal connection with an incoming employee between the job offer and start date, as well as get a jump on policy sharing and paperwork that might otherwise clutter their first week.

Activities and information sharing on Day One remain central to the onboarding experience. The key is ensuring that everything an incoming employee needs is ready for them, but that the volume of new information doesn’t feel like drinking from a firehose.

Viewed holistically, the onboarding process extends for months. Team activities months after a start date help solidify connections to company culture. Mentoring and evaluative check-ins help identify employees who aren’t transitioning well and may be flight risks.

2. Employee onboarding challenges

The employee onboarding process can be fraught with challenges. The job market is tight and fluid, and employees are leaving new jobs earlier and earlier if their initial experiences are poor. Recruiting talent is expensive—for executives, it’s upwards of 200% of salary.

Mass adoption of digital and mobile technologies have shifted workers’ expectations. Consumerized, customer-focused experiences are everywhere, and digital natives don’t understand why the workplace shouldn’t offer the same.

Many HR departments are poorly equipped to create the arrival experiences employees crave. Onboarding tasks span multiple departments, including HR, IT, facilities, and legal. Manual processes create the risk of costly mistakes. HR teams often lack the benchmarking data to help them chart a measurable path to process improvement.

3. The case for digital onboarding

Digital workflows are improving the onboarding experience at many companies. Companies that digitize key onboarding processes can realize huge benefits. Onboarding tasks can be collected in a single self-service portal. Incoming employees and their managers can complete multiple onboarding tasks by swiping their way through mobile apps.

Paper checklists and email chains are replaced by an automated cadence of triggers and status alerts. As a result, HR pros spend less time on frustrating manual processes, freeing up time for more strategic and creative work.

Automation also creates opportunities to set benchmarks, capture data, and measure performance, allowing for iterative improvements to processes and empowering supervisors to act when employees show signs of churning. The bottom line is not just an onboarding process that employees and managers are happy with, but one that strengthens teams by prolonging the tenure of key employees.