In the race for talent, attracting the right employee is only part of the equation. Companies also need to retain their best workers — and keep them engaged. Onboarding can play a major role in retaining talent and motivation. However, a Gallup report found that nearly 88% of organizations don't onboard well.

According to Keith Kitani, CEO of GuideSpark, there are three specific reasons why organizations don't succeed with onboarding:

  • Overloading employees: The average onboarding experience consists of 54 activities for new hires.
  • Communication fatigue: U.S. employees receive 576 billion emails annually and don't see nearly 40% of them. Imagine how overwhelming this is for new hires.
  • Inconsistent application: A number of organizations have competing priorities, insufficient resources and lack the campaign structure that onboarding should have, which makes the process confusing for new hires.

We asked him to explain how these problems can hinder the onboarding process, and how organizations can overcome these challenges.

Overloading employees

We get it. You’re excited to have new employees, and you’re trying to get them up to speed as soon as possible. However, Kitani says that most onboarding programs try to deliver too much information in a short period of time. "Companies have so many important programs that they often overwhelm employees with information, which has the negative effect of causing employees to disengage,” he warns. “Also, organizations often focus onboarding on process and forms — and not on the employee experience and making employees feel like valued members of the company.”

Instead of thinking of onboarding as some sort of checklist of paperwork that needs to be completed, he recommends designing the process around what’s best for the new employee. “Of course, the usual paperwork and benefits sign-up will be a part of this experience, but it won’t be the driver.” And by taking this approach, Kitani says the end result will be employees who are more engaged, productive, and aligned with the company.

“Onboarding is a time to build a great relationship between the employer and employee while increasing retention, so it’s critical to deliver a great experience that includes the things that sparked them to join the company — culture, people, and programs.”

Communication fatigue

Everything is new to your new employee, and they’re trying to digest all of the verbal and written communication. But it can be too much to consume in such a short period of time. “There is so much to learn and share, and with digital it’s so easy to click and send materials that all departments are sending more and more information,” Kitani says. “Internal communications are skyrocketing — in fact, a Microsoft survey reveals that the number of emails delivered is up by 40.6 billion in the last year — and with all the information needed to send to a new hire, it becomes overwhelming very quickly,” he explains.

“Effective communication is about getting through to employees, and the right way to do that is to focus on delivering relevant information to the new hire; in other words, getting the right information to the right people at the right time.”

Kitani provides three tips for doing this:

  • Target and personalize information for new hires whenever possible. One-size-fits-all communications often create irrelevant and easily missed digital “noise.”
  • Spread it out over time. Cramming information into one or two messages may improve delivery, but not communication. Deliver information at a pace that’s right for the employee, and make it timely (for example, provide information on unique social programs after the more urgent information is delivered, not at the same time).
  • Measure your communications. The only way to really know whether you are getting through to your employees is to measure the ways they’re engaging — opening emails, clicking on links, and viewing content.

Inconsistent application

When using traditional in-person onboarding sessions, employees may have a wide range of experiences. Kitani says some employees may be in the office, while others may be in different locations. “For example, an employee in a small sales office onboarded by the HR business partner will likely get a completely different experience than an employee at corporate headquarters onboarded by experts from each HR group.” Also, he says remote employees may not be as informed about key programs and strategies that could affect long-term retention and short-term productivity.

“To make onboarding a more consistent experience, consider leveraging digital tools to automate the delivery of core onboarding information in the same way to everyone,” Kitani recommends. “A series of videos, infographics, and documents ensures consistent information delivered in a culturally consistent way for every employee — no matter location, role, or start date.” However, he says not all of the information should be the same. “Your consistent program should also customize information to specific employees and groups when appropriate.”