Making Onboarding Work

Think about your first 90 days in your role. Remember the anticipation, the ambition and dedication you felt. Who greeted you at the door? How did you learn about the company’s products and business model? When did you meet your teammates? Did you fill out benefit forms, tax forms, and review the handbook? What kind of training was offered to help you learn the expectations of your new role and navigate through a new organizational culture?

Individually, these are small details, but collectively they provide a picture of how an organization met—or mishandled—the innate excitement that new hires offer. Initial onboarding activities set the tone for employees and have a critical effect on their success.

At Human Capital Institute (HCI), we recently conducted a study on the importance and prevalence of onboarding programs. We found 76% of HR leaders and practitioners say onboarding has been underutilized at their organizations, suggesting a clear opportunity to create experiences for new hires that enable them to be more successful and engaged at work.


Onboarding is more than an hour-long orientation and a tour of the building. People, performance, and paperwork are three key components, and each needs to be addressed in a meaningful and strategic way. If you find yourself emphasizing one or two of the 3Ps at the expense of another, your organization will not reap the full benefits of a robust onboarding program. For example, we found organizations that overemphasized paperwork reported weaker business and talent outcomes. Balance is crucial.


One best practice is providing a consistent, standardized onboarding experience to all new hires, regardless of their role. As you build your onboarding program, think about how different levels and functions of new employees could benefit from additional personalization.

Another important message validated by our research: don’t forget your internal hires! Nearly a quarter of organizations do not have an onboarding process in place for internal hires. While an internal hire may have a better understanding of the company culture than an external one, remember that they are still new to the role and to the team and require support to be successful.

The ideal length of an onboarding program depends on your guiding strategy and the participants in the program. The people, performance, and paperwork activities should be tailored to the needs of the new hires, and this will determine how long onboarding lasts. In our study, most organizations implement 30-90-day onboarding programs. We recommend kicking off pre-boarding activities the day a candidate accepts an offer; continue to build momentum and excitement up to that first day on the job and beyond.


The market for top talent is very competitive and that trend continues to grow. Increasingly, employers are seeking ways to invest in and improve the candidate and employee experience. A critical component of these is onboarding. It is a significant inflection point where the candidate journey transforms into the new hire experience.

So, what can organizations expect if they invest in designing an onboarding program that incorporates people, performance, and paperwork? Retention and performance are two immediate results and additional studies find onboarding programs that emphasize culture and connection result in higher levels of job satisfaction and organizational commitment.

We would love to learn about your onboarding success stories and how your organization used the 3Ps. Email us at or to continue the conversation and check out our session at the 2018 Workforce Development Conference in June!

Jenna N. Filipkowski, Ph.D. is the Head of Research at the Human Capital Institute (HCI). Over the past five years at HCI, she has authored over 40 research papers on a variety of talent management topics such as coaching, leadership development, talent acquisition, and employee engagement. She received her M.S. and Ph.D. in Industrial-Organizational Psychology from Wright State University and her B.S. degree from Ursinus College.

Because of her passions for improving people’s experience in the workplace and helping others find meaning and purpose from work, Jenna has trained at an International Coach Federation (ICF) Accredited Coach Training Program at the University of Texas, Dallas. Her business, Movement Leadership Coaching LLC, helps leaders move with intention and possibility. She resides in Cincinnati with her husband, toddler son, and two dogs.

As the Senior Director of Learning and Enablement at the Human Capital Institute, Aubrey Wiete supports the design and development of materials that help HR practitioners manage and improve every aspect of the talent lifecycle. Previously, she produced research on topics including career management, emotional intelligence, talent mobility, and employee engagement. Other areas of interest include onboarding programs, effective team-building practices, and exploring ways to build creative and sustainable employee workplaces and cultures.

Aubrey earned her master’s degree in Organizational Communication from the University of Kentucky (Go Cats!) and is currently based in Cincinnati, Ohio. When she is not busy designing HR content, she enjoys reading, singing, Scrabble, (occasionally) running, and spending time with her family.