Five Ways to Keep Your New Hires from Failing

June 2, 2014 Darcy Jacobsen

Flowers dying on the vineAccording to SHRM, most employees get about 90 days to prove themselves in a new job.

What may be less obvious is that a job also gets about 90 days to prove itself to a new employee. Or that a shared perception of Employee/Employer fit over the initial onboarding period is critical for both turnover intentions and larger organizational success.

Onboarding is often considered HR’s problem. Many rank and file employees don’t trust new employees until they are fully up to speed, and the more complex the job the more reluctant the onboarding process tends to be. New employees are an unknown quotient, and spending time on training a newbie can be a pain and a risk. Often new employees are handed a binder or a stack of intranet links and they sink or swim on their own.

Here are eight frightening statistics SHRM has gathered about onboarding:

  1. Nearly 4 percent of new employees leave their new jobs after a disastrous first day.
  2. A significant percentage of new employees quit their jobs within the first 6 months.
  3. Half of all new hires in leadership positions last three or fewer years.
  4. New employees decide within the first 30 days whether they feel welcome in the organization.
  5. 1 in 25 people leave a new job just because of a poor (or no) onboarding program.
  6. 40 percent of senior managers hired from the outside fail within 18 months of hire.
  7. Fewer than one-third of executives are satisfied with the onboarding process – calling it below average or poor.
  8. 64 percent of new executives hired from the outside will fail at their new job – in fact the average CEO is in the job less than 4 years.

And according to a recent survey discussed in this article from Sharlyn Lauby at HR Bartender, companies lose 25% of all new employees within a year, largely to bad onboarding.

Scary, right?

Organizational psychologists call the process of onboarding “entry and socialization.” There are basically three types of tactics that can be used to orient and bring people up to speed and socialize a new employee.  Sociologist G.R. Jones has identified them as: social, content and context tactics.

  • Social Tactics: Who you are socialized by and connected to. (peers, mentors, superiors)
  • Content Tactics: The content of that socialization. (policies, culture, norms)
  • Context Tactics: How you are socialized. (face-to-face, group training or informal, isolated training)

In his research, Jones found that social tactics are the greatest predictors of fit perception and turnover. (Interestingly this is particularly true for new grads). He found that that social tactics help to reduce role ambiguity, role conflict, and intentions to quit, and positively influence job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and a custodial role orientation.

In a 2006 study published in the Journal of Vocational Behavior, researchers from the University of Toronto reaffirmed Jones’s findings that “the social tactics are the strongest predictors of newcomer adjustment.”

The authors of that study advise:

“Managers may want to focus on providing an experienced member of the organization to act as a role model when newcomers first arrive, and also focus on a affirming the identity and personal characteristics of the newcomer to show how the newcomer might fit into the organization. Newcomers should have frequent opportunities to meet, interact, and work with members of the organization.”

All of this fits with two recent pieces of research that we have unearthed, about the fragility of the onboarding period and the importance of social connections and social recognition.

The first is how critical recognition is in the face of the “second year slump”. In our Spring 2014 Workforce Mood Tracker report we found that while people come into an organization with hopes and satisfaction high, often the experience of onboarding and settling in can be highly disillusioning.  When the first year honeymoon ends, (Figure A) we see an across-the-board drop in job satisfaction and engagement. 

Figure A:
First year honeymoon

However, if those same employees are recognized in that period, the picture changes drastically.  (Figure B) Recognition shows employees how they fit within the organization and encourages them with positive feedback. It also has a tremendous power in not only preventing this drop off but in fact setting satisfaction higher in the first year, and maintaining it.

Figure B:

Honeymoon work period

Figure C:

New Hire Performance

Our second piece of research reinforces this. One of our (fantastic) engineers at Globoforce did a study of customer data to show what happens when people get an award within 30 days of being hired vs. what happens when they are not recognized during that period.

To the right (Figure C) is a graph of recognition activity at one of our typical clients. Of people who were hired in 2013, around 2,000 received awards within 30 days.

Around 20,000 did not.

Now, look what happened in Figure D. What’s amazing is how those employees who were recognized went on to perform over the course of the next year. By a factor of 13.8, they were more likely to receive additional awards and recognition than their colleagues with the slow start. That’s the blue bar, below.


Figure D:

Recognized vs. Not

Sure, skeptics could argue that these recognized folks are probably the cream of the crop, and that’s why they are getting both early and consistent recognition. But remember, that this is all within the first 30 days, when few employees have been given the opportunity to show real results.

And also, look at the green bars. That’s the amount of recognition based on company values that the employees gave others. Look how much more engaged the recognized employees are. In this company it actually surpassed the recognition they received!

Because they got early recognition, these employees have been welcomed into the fold and they feel like fully functioning members of the company. They are obviously experiencing strong fit perception, and colleagues agree.

And lest you think that this example is an anomaly, here are three other companies, of varying sizes (Figure E). You can see the pattern is consistent. Those who are recognized within the first thirty days perform in a way that consistently wins recognition, and they are exponentially more likely to participate in the culture by recognizing others.


Figure E:

Supporting stories

Why? Well, it is in part because of the social aspects of social recognition, and the power of the social tactic that Jones identified in helping to quickly make employees feel like an important part of the organization.

It is also because recognition is a powerful way to make values real to new employees. It inculcates them into your culture–helping them to understand exactly what behavior tracks to which values and what it means to practice or see others practicing them. For this, onboarding is an absolutely critical period. You can’t afford to have new hires met with closed doors or leave them to figure out for themselves how their job fits into the bigger picture. You must work to socialize them to your values and culture as quickly as possible.

So how can you safeguard your employees against the perils of onboarding, protect them from the honeymoon period, and get them up and running and part of the team quickly and seamlessly?

Here are five suggestions:

  1. Show them how to walk the talk: Quickly inculcate newcomers into your values by showing what it means to practice them.
  2. Use the buddy system: Assign a mentor for each new employee.
  3. Accentuate the positive: Increase trust and show a new employee’s relevance and fit with your organization through positive feedback.
  4. Drop them in the deep end: Focus on building affective social connections and relationships by offering newcomers ample opportunities for professional interactions.
  5. Recognize early and often: Offer recognition within the first 30 days.

5 Ways to Keep New Hires from Failing
Click To Tweet

Have you got any pointers to share about successfully onboarding employees? We’d love to hear them.


If you enjoyed this post, you might like these posts:

Previous Article
Team Culture and Positivity: What We Can Learn from Kids’ Basketball
Team Culture and Positivity: What We Can Learn from Kids’ Basketball

We can learn a lot about business from kids sports. It all begins and ends with the quality of the coaching.

Next Article
On Technology and Authenticity: Our Latest Workforce Mood Tracker Report
On Technology and Authenticity: Our Latest Workforce Mood Tracker Report

Do employees find gamification or eThanks rewarding? What contributes to employee happiness? These and more...


New Workhuman content delivered direct to your inbox.

Thank you!
Error - something went wrong!