Surprising Ways to Improve Employee Engagement During Onboarding

By Mike Raia Posted November 16, 2021


Improving employee engagement during onboarding is a matter of knowing where to focus attention to ensure real connections are made.


Focusing On Connection to Ensure Engagement

While it can seem trivial to compare the employee hiring and onboarding process to an online dating experience, HR pros can tell you of one similarity worth noting; namely, the goal of making an emotional connection. 

Gallup tells us that only 12% of employees believe their companies did a great job during the onboarding process. More revealing, the failure to forge an emotional connection between the new hire and company is a bond that can make or break retention. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) goes further, saying employee turnover can be as high as 50% during the first 18 months of employment. Turnover costs a company six to nine months of an employee's salary to identify and find a replacement (others in the field estimate the cost to be much higher). 

The opposite experience would be improving a new hire's connection to her work and company, resulting in an engaged employee who is "involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to her workplace and culture." (1)

Similar (in some ways) to the online dating process, new hires arriving at your company have also combed through reams of information searching for ratings and reviews from past and present employees. They've also consulted family, friends, and colleagues' opinions and responded to the many promises your company made during the recruitment process.

Indeed, rational considerations were top of mind as they began their job search—things like company/brand impact in the marketplace, career advancement potential, and training and development opportunities. But their decision to join your company was usually an emotional one accompanied by a decision to leave another with the hope that this role—and relationship—would work out better than the last, meeting an unfulfilled need at their previous employer.

While this can sound touchy-feely to some, HR pros have enough know-how to understand the importance of emotional connection—they know why companies shouldn't lose the energy and engagement generated during the attraction and recruitment of new hires by failing to deliver during the onboarding process.

Like meeting a perfect match for the first time, the onboarding process is a series of firsts for your new hires—first day on the job, first time meeting their managers and colleagues, and their first work projects and opportunities to make a good impression by sharing their talents with your company. What happens during the onboarding period sets the tone for a new hire's relationship with your company. A disconnected and poorly organized on-ramping experience sends a clear message: your company may not be committed to their well-being, much less their ongoing career growth and nurturing. (2)

A renewed focus on employee well-being has become a top priority, and critical plank in the modern employee experience as record levels of stress and worry permeate the workplace in the wake of the COVID pandemic. New and unexpected onboarding challenges now confront HR pros in the wake of the pandemic, such as helping remote workers to cultivate relationships and learn about their roles in a virtual setting. And companies are accountable for making these changes in an environment where nearly one in five employees described their recent onboarding experience as poor or none at all. (3)

Now more than ever, an engaged, productive workforce requires companies to make the right impression with an emotionally-connected employee onboarding process that's focused on people and processes. (4)

Focusing on People to Ensure Engagement

There are several ways HR pros can focus on people to ensure the well-being of new hires during the onboarding process and reduce stress and worry levels in our pandemic workplace.

Onboarding is all about connection, and data from several sources indicate that the human element of the onboarding process was what new hires found most valuable. According to Gallup Workplace, new employees appreciate forming social ties, learning from their co-workers, and generally feeling supported, included, and respected. (5)

engage employeesExpectations for onboarding go far beyond the old paradigms of "Where do I sit" and learning the ropes of the job. New hires value honest feedback and clear communication from managers; they want to ask lots of questions and access mentoring relationships with colleagues who care.

In today's remote environment, many companies use technology in human ways to help new hires feel included and engaged. New hires are encouraged to participate in special threaded conversational groups in Microsoft Teams. For example, they can ask questions and bond with team members in chats and impromptu video conference calls. This can approximate the experience of tapping a colleague on the shoulder in an office setting. 

These conversational threads in Teams can be broken out into special interest groups, too, like "Pets of UX or "Cat Lovers in HR." They can be dedicated to general non-work-related topics, where new hires can interact with colleagues and post lighthearted GIFs (Teams offers a vast array of humorous GIFs) to show their personality and sense of humor. This use of technology to create connections can add a little levity to reduce stress and foster a sense of belonging in a remote workplace.

Other simple ways companies can foster a sense of belonging and connection with new hires include sending a welcome package to their homes with branded gifts or maybe a handwritten welcome note that makes them feel seen and valued. Managers can step up and take a more proactive role in the onboarding process by setting up mentoring relationships with other colleagues, setting up regular check-ins with new hires, and communicating what's expected of them during their first 30, 60, and 90 days on the job. A virtual open-door policy can also be extended to field impromptu questions whenever possible.

Focusing on Process to Ensure Engagement

HR pros may also wish to research workflow automation solutions for employee onboarding to ensure a smooth process. For example, automating the request process for onboarding new employees is becoming more affordable and practical. Customized portals and workflows can be built to handle request/information intake (forms) and the subsequent routing of the information around the organization. The portal can be leveraged by the new employee's manager, the employee themself, or HR, depending on what part of the process they handle.

Requests (hardware, network access, benefit forms, furniture, etc.) that are typically part of the onboarding process can then be initiated online, with IT, Finance, Facilities, and other departments getting notifications and approvals in an automated fashion instead of relying on paperwork, phone calls and back and forth emails/instant messages.

In addition, providing new employees with an online portal gives them a centralized location to track the status of the process and keep up-to-date on when requests will be fulfilled. This type of request portal becomes their window into the company and promotes consistency and stability as they acclimate to their new company.

Potential onboarding processes to automate include:


  • Position request form
  • Recruitment and application process
  • Internal referrals
  • Interview feedback and tracking
  • Offer tracking
  • Background checks
  • Security badge request
  • Business card ordering

During Hire

  • New hire information gathering
  • IT Setup form (hardware, software, network access)
  • Policy/mission review and acknowledgment.


  • A survey of their onboarding process
  • Employee information change
  • Personnel action
  • Hardware and software requests
  • Leave requests
  • Expense and travel requests
  • Performance reviews and acknowledgment
  • Goals tracking
  • Peer and team recognition and awards

1., 2. Why the Onboarding Experience is Key for Retention:
3. 8 Practical Tips for Leaders for a Better Onboarding Process:
4. Improve Business Performance Through the Employee Experience:
5. 8 Practical Tips for Leaders for a Better Onboarding Process:

Additional References Used:
Onboarding New Employees in the COVID-19 Era Takes Extra Planning, Effort (SHRM)
Calculating the Cost of Workforce Zombies:

Mike Raia

Marketing the world's best workflow automation software and drinking way too much coffee. Connect with me on LinkedIn at


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