Good Leaders Should Have Good Onboarding

Onboarding is an opportunity not to be missed, whether it virtual, personal, or a combination of both. Student employees and student employee supervisors may have some nervousness traditional for a new employee or one moving into a position of greater responsibility. With warm welcomes, a strong show of enthusiasm, and a streamlined process, it shouldn’t matter whether a new employee is nervous or, on the other hand, if there’s an opportunity to capitalize on their excitement. Good onboarding is an enabler for a satisfied employee and  employer. Here are a few numbers to prove it: 

  • Onboarding software company Click Boarding reports that 69% of employees are more likely to stay with a company for three years if they experienced good onboarding. New employees who went through a structured onboarding program were 58% more likely to be with the organization after three years. A standard onboarding program helped organizations experience 50% greater new-hire productivity compared to those with no onboarding. 
  • The Aberdeen Group found 66% of companies with onboarding programs claimed higher rates of successful assimilation of new hires into company culture, 62% higher time-to-productivity ratios, and 54% reported higher employee engagement. The survey also found that 83% of the highest performing organizations began onboarding prior to the new hire’s first day on the job. 
  • The Society for Human Resource Management has found that only 20% of all companies onboard their new employees at the most strategic level, covering four critical components: compliance (rules and regulations); clarification (roles and responsibilities); culture (organization personality and values); and connection (relationships with existing staff, supervisors, and mentors). It also found that employees who undertake longer onboarding programs gain full proficiency 34% faster than shorter ones (most companies spend less than two months onboarding). 

There’s no excuse not to be conducting some standard onboarding work prior to a first day of employment with the help of either a course management or project management system. All of the following paperwork can be completed virtually: Temporary employment certification, direct deposit information, I-9, W-2 and W-4 tax forms, explanation of benefits, emergency evacuation and operations plan review, Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act sign-off, information security acknowledgment, and emergency contact information. 

New hires and those requiring recertification can review and sign-off on policies and procedures manuals virtually, and they can register and view workplace training films and violence and sexual harassment training films. 

Initial onboarding via technology need not be paperwork and procedural drudgery. Consider a new hire welcome video introducing them to the portal. A personal welcome in video form can be fun, informative, and serve as a virtual introduction to members of the team. 

Since technology has now allowed for a significant portion of onboarding to occur, don’t pass up an opportunity to make the first day of on-the-ground onboarding an interesting, enjoyable, and dynamic event that can be collaborative, experiential, and ultimately rewarding for both employee and employer. There will still be a need for going over role training, rules of conduct, actual workplace tours, and reviewing institutional culture and team structure, but there are some fun ways to approach each of
those areas. Scavenger hunts can be conducted either on site or virtually, offering a series of tasks and questions designed to expose new hires to any and all areas of the union operation. It’s a great way to be sure new hires gain familiarity with other departments and meet employees. One online scavenger hunt asks new hires to find people in the company directory after being given a single clue or factoid. 

One survey found that 83% of the highest performing organizations began onboarding prior to the new hire’s first day on the job.

Give an entry interview that seeks to determine what you, as the unit leader or employer, can do to keep every new hire happy. It’s an opportunity to learn what is important to them and to quickly offer a means of support. 

Conduct a weekly or monthly lunch roulette, where an app randomly selects groups of four people in the unit to go to lunch together on the company tab. The app ensures that every person in the group is from a different department or has not been selected to dine together before. 

A few other ideas are boot camps that gather staffers together, having some free swag in place at a new hire’s desk or workspace, giving them a 100th day party or recognition, and trying gamification to award and recognize a new employee’s achievements through virtual leaderboards and reward systems. Gamification is also becoming a leading tool for continuous onboarding, which has been shown to improve employee longevity and enthusiasm. 

When asked recently about how to keep onboarding efforts fresh for returning employees, Dillon Deffinbaugh, associate director for student activities, involvement, and leadership at Binghamton University offered these tips: 

  • Frame some training sessions as mentoring and mentee opportunities that allow returning employees and more-experienced staff to assist
    in leading some of the sessions. 
  • Incorporate some breakout sessions so that while some students are on-boarding, others can spend time reflecting on their experiences from the previous year and how they can actively support new team members. 
  • Don’t require returners to attend the fall training
    or condense some of their sessions and label them as refreshers. 
  • If you have guest trainers or presenters, bring
    in someone new or ask returning presenters
    to change up their content. 

A positive “get to know each other” onboarding program should improve retention and reduce the expense of rehiring, empower and leave employees feeling valued (and more productive), and in the end, strengthen internal and external branding for your operation as both staff and clients experience consistently positive interactions.


  • Steve Chaplin

    Steve Chaplin is managing editor of ACUI’s The Bulletin and manager of the ACUI College Union and Student Activities (CUSA) Evaluation Program. A former newspaper writer, editor, and manager, he has volunteered as a student mentor as a member of the National Association of Science Writers, and received awards for his writing and reporting from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, the Kentucky Education Association, and the Kentucky Press Association.

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