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ATD Blog

Create Belonging and Increase Retention During Onboarding

Monday, September 18, 2023

Employee engagement is foundational to workplace outcomes from the moment an employee accepts a job offer. I work for a global leader in technology solutions that is reimagining the entire customer journey process, beginning with evaluating and redesigning our strategic approach for onboarding. We have set our sights on enhancing the customer experience, increasing engagement, retaining talent, and accelerating the time to proficiency rate in efforts to better serve our employees, our most valuable asset.

Upon much analysis and surveying on the onboarding process, we found that the highest percentage of new hires leave the organization within the first three to six months of employment, indicating that successful onboarding is more than providing new hires with the tools needed to do their job. It is also about establishing trust, ensuring that we can create an emotional connection with employees, allowing them to feel safe and develop lasting relationships within the organization.

To create a successful onboarding program, psychological safety and a sense of belonging must be at its foundation. With this understanding, we instilled these five vital elements in our onboarding program:

  • New Hire Contextual Understanding – Ambiguity can make any person uneasy. The unknowns of starting a new job can make it challenging for new hires to stay engaged. Recognizing that people have an inherent need for firm answers, we sought to equip our employees with comprehensive resources to guide them through the process and put them at ease. A robust pre-boarding site, integration guide, and onboarding dashboard and checklist are tools we leveraged to ensure the new hire has a contextual understanding of the organization and the organization’s expectations of them at each step of the journey.
  • Structured Onboarding Experience – Information overload is a common occurrence during many new hires’ first days. They are often inundated with best practices, rules, and procedures, leaving them feeling intimidated or incompetent. To avoid this, we elongated the onboarding experience and broke the program into more consumable experiences. Starting with the essentials and layering in more complex concepts in bite-sized learning allows our employees to prioritize and retain critical information without feeling overwhelmed.
  • Social and Cultural Integration – Everyone wants to feel as if they belong and are a part of something bigger. Social and cultural integration is a crucial aspect of our employee onboarding program, starting at the earliest stages. Providing outlets to our employee resource groups and onboarding champions gives our new hires a safe platform to connect, get involved, and ask questions. Not only is it meaningful and memorable for new hires, but it also allows them to understand and adapt more effectively to our values, norms, and practices. It helps shape how they interact, communicate, and collaborate.
  • Psychological Safety – Just as we, the employer, have expectations of our employees, our employees have expectations of the organization. Establishing a psychologically safe environment is imperative. It allows an organization to better understand and deliver on employee expectations. We address this by giving our new hires the tools and resources they need to advocate for themselves. Our multi-faceted psychological safety program helps empower them to reveal their true selves and opinions without fear of repercussion. Our goal is to ensure that everyone can bring their best authentic selves to work, take risks, ask questions, and unleash their full potential.
  • Leadership Alignment – Our leaders play a crucial role in engagement and retention; they inspire their employees to execute their jobs well and find purpose. Their buy-in is critical for establishing an environment of psychological safety. Our leaders make a direct impact on harnessing or inhibiting a new hire’s ambition. To ensure our leaders walk the walk alongside these new hires and demonstrate a culture of support and belonging within the organization, we have implemented psychological safety training for leadership and guided reinforcement points throughout the onboarding process.
About the Author

Alexandra Fagone leads the Employee and Career Excellence team at WEX. She is responsible for overseeing the success, design, development and implementation of enterprise learning practices and solutions for career development, onboarding, social and informal learning, and content curation to ensure they are aligned to business needs.

Upon graduating college, Alex quickly found her passion for the L&D industry, fulfilling a number of different roles in that arena. She believes in forming strong partnerships and serving as a business consultant with all stakeholders. It is among Alex’s top priority to deliver valuable learning experience while staying current with learning trends.

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