The contemporary workforce is undergoing significant shifts, with unprecedented phenomena like the Great Resignation reshaping the employment landscape. While the media has recently highlighted trends such as ‘quiet quitting’ and ‘career cushioning,’ the root causes of employee dissatisfaction and turnover have long persisted. The pivotal change is employees are now vocalizing their discontent and demanding change, prompting employers to address their concerns.
An analysis of the Workhuman-Gallup Report and other market research indicates high quit rates in 2021 and 2022–the highest on record–are attributed to a myriad of factors. The Pew Research Center's 2022 survey reveals that 63% of respondents left jobs due to low pay, 63% due to a lack of advancement opportunities, and 57% because of feeling disrespected at work. Beyond these factors, childcare problems, inflexible work hours, and inadequate benefits also played significant roles. The survey posits the Great Resignation is not merely a pandemic-induced anomaly but a manifestation of long-standing trends exacerbated by COVID-19.
While grappling with the challenges posed by the evolving employment landscape requires recognizing and addressing the common drivers of employee dissatisfaction within your existing ranks—such as inadequate pay, lack of recognition, and poor work-life balance—this article suggests it is also imperative to draw a line in the sand for your future hires. In this regard, building employee loyalty is about building a quality relationship. It starts on day one–or maybe even before. It requires a strategic and empathetic approach to create an environment where employees feel valued and appreciated for their potential contributions. Doing so will represent a breath of fresh air for the 79% of candidates who left their previous job feeling undervalued and unappreciated–giving you the chance to execute the rest of your retention strategy.
Step 1: Pre-Orientation Preparation: Personalizing the Welcome
Before the official start date, organizations should set the stage for organizational loyalty by personalizing the pre-orientation experience. Providing new hires with personalized welcome kits that include information about the company culture, values, and expectations helps them feel connected before even stepping into the office. This step establishes a foundation for a positive onboarding experience and confirms why they chose to work at your company. Done correctly, the voice and tone of the organization will be captured, and if your new hire is a ‘cultural fit’, this will immediately foster a sense of belonging. Whatever you do, do not simply check the box by distributing boilerplate welcome letters and checklists downloaded from a website or provided by your payroll company. Doing so screams, “this is just a formality—a hoop to jump through—before we put you to work.” This is your first opportunity to shine, so don’t take it lightly.
Step 2: Welcome to the Family: Team introductions
Colleges and universities ask their best student leaders to be docents for campus orientation tours for a reason. As emissaries of their organization, these guides are critical in mitigating day-one jitters, serving as shortcuts to learning the ropes and confirming a new entrant's good decision. They might later serve as mentors or friendly faces among a crowd of relationships yet to be discovered.
This model is well-suited for employers seeking to welcome new employees into their communities. Companies should identify talent across disciplines to join in welcoming new team members. Participants should represent the standard to which the community is held, be high performers, understand the organizational mission, and be enthusiastic about welcoming new team members. While these introductions should ideally be in person, using comfortable spaces, or through Zoom meetings, the objective should focus on personal connections and building alignment rather than formal presentations.
Step 3: Empathetic Benefits Guidance from Experts
A study by MetLife found that 76% of employees believe understanding their benefits is an essential factor in their job satisfaction, influencing their decision to stay with an employer. And while statistics show effective benefits communication and active education are imperative, a Forbes study on the topic showed very few employees take the time to do so. In fact, 42% of employees said they wait until the last minute to enroll, spending less than 1 minute on each of the 18-21 single-point solutions offered by their employers. So, it is no wonder most employees end up with the wrong coverage. This should be a significant concern in a day and age when, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, benefits account for 29.4% of the average US worker’s total compensation at a cost of more than $25K.
New hire onboarding may be the only opportunity to leave a lasting impression of the value of total compensation and establish a cultural standard of active benefits consumerism among its employees. Neglecting this work is a missed opportunity to mitigate inertia, address confusion, and overcome widespread deductible aversion and confirmation bias. However, in most cases, there are liability concerns stemming from HIPAA, and there is often no one to do the heavy lifting. In small companies, those who usually inhabit the title of human resources lack the pedigree or comprehensive understanding to deliver effective benefits education. And, in larger employers, there are issues with scale and prioritization as understaffed and overwhelmed teams are consumed by daily functions ranging from recruiting and compliance to benefits procurement (and, in some cases, payroll). As such, most efforts consist of little more than a packet with a leftover benefit guide and marketing materials left over from the previous open enrollment or direction to a company microsite with a deadline for completion.
The answer is outsourcing. By incorporating 3rd party empathetic subject matter expertise, employers mitigate liability concerns while giving employees the opportunity to share medical, family planning, or mental health issues transparently without fear of reprisal. These external experts can break down the complexities of benefits, such as healthcare options, retirement plans, and other perks, ensuring employees comprehend the full spectrum of their compensation. This approach goes beyond a standard benefits overview, providing new hires with personalized consultations that address their unique needs. The result is not only informed decision-making but also a sense of appreciation for the organization's commitment to transparency and employee welfare, leaving them feeling cared for and supported. And at what normally costs less than 1% of the annual benefits spend–it’s a no-brainer, especially when select insurance carriers will cover some or all of the expense.
Step 4: Building Relationships: Ongoing Support, Mentorship, and Check-Ins
A study by Gallup reveals the significant impact of close work friendships, participation in mentorship programs, and access to peer support networks on employee engagement: individuals with these connections are seven times more likely to be engaged in their roles. Given the tight link between engagement and retention, forward-thinking organizations should promptly integrate these findings into their onboarding strategies. This entails assigning mentors swiftly, introducing a calendar of activities designed to foster workplace friendships, and establishing a regular, well-defined cadence of check-ins.
Recognizing the crucial role mentors play in this modern onboarding approach, it is imperative to consider the unique dynamics shaped by organizational culture, the nature of the work, and the personalities of the individuals involved. Various mentorship methods exist, such as managerial assignments for alignment with organizational goals, peer matching for relatability and positive team dynamics, and skill-based assignments for targeted skill enhancement. The effectiveness of each approach hinges on the nuanced interplay of organizational culture and individual preferences. Some organizations may opt for a blended strategy, utilizing these methods in tandem to create a comprehensive mentorship program complemented by ongoing feedback mechanisms to continually refine and enhance the overall onboarding experience.
Step 5: Post-Orientation Engagement - Aligning Goals and Recognition
Recognizing and rewarding employee contributions has long been seen as a powerful motivator that enhances job satisfaction and builds loyalty. Yet, according to SHRM, 81% of senior leaders say recognition is not a major strategic priority for their organization. Even less focus on a cadence of ongoing support, regular check-ins, and transparent feedback–squandering a massive opportunity to build upon early enthusiasm of the honeymoon period.
In the face of growing employee transience and the great reset, a comprehensive approach to onboarding beyond the orientation is more than a nicety; it is a critical driver of short and long-term success. It enables both company leadership and new hires to maintain alignment and transparency, allowing them to address the challenges before they fester, creating a more positive work environment–a key metric in the battle against turnover.
When these efforts are combined with recognition and rewards programs outlined in the new hire orientation process, it sends a clear message that the organization values and appreciates its employees and is committed to them on each step of their journey. And when there is follow-through in the execution of the plan, a culture of appreciation is built that fosters a sense of belonging–dramatically reducing the likelihood of turnover.
Employee retention remains a critical concern for organizations aiming for sustained growth. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reports the cost of employee turnover can range from 50% to 200% of an employee's annual salary. High turnover rates can lead to significant disruptions, impacting productivity, team dynamics, and institutional knowledge.
However, investing in a well-structured new hire orientation program can mitigate these challenges. According to SHRM's research, employees participating in a structured orientation program are 69% more likely to stay with an organization for three or more years. It's evident that investing in the onboarding process can yield substantial returns in terms of employee retention.
By implementing a strategic and empathetic onboarding approach, organizations can build loyalty from day one, fostering an environment where employees feel valued, appreciated, and supported in their journey within the company.