In some ways, onboarding is like a first date – it’s your new employees’ first real look at what a relationship with your company looks like. It can be the moment when doubts begin to flood in, or the moment they start planning their long and happy future together with you. How can you be sure to put your best foot forward and set a positive tone for what your new employees should expect?

According to Insperity, onboarding is “A series of events that helps [employees] understand how to be successful in their day-to-day job and how their work contributes to the overall business.” Your onboarding process should be engaging and informative but too often it’s boring, long, and outdated.

It’s tempting to just do what we’ve always done, but the statistics on onboarding illustrate how critical it is to get it right.

According to the Wynhurst Group, as much as 22% of staff turnover happens within the first 45 days of employment and that begins with onboarding. Employee turnover is expensive – it can cost anywhere from $3,000 to $18,000 to replace an average employee. No one wants to lose good talent, particularly when unemployment is at historic lows. It’s important you consider evaluating your onboarding process to make sure it’s driving retention and not encouraging desertion. Here are some ways you can improve onboarding in 2019.

Make Introductions Fun

Walking into a new job and meeting new people can be a nerve-racking experience, one that incites fear and anxiety. Meeting your team, your boss, and company leadership are important, but it can frequently feel overwhelming. One way to combat first-day introduction jitters is to familiarize your new employee with their team members beforehand in a fun way.

Cornerstone Onboarding allows you to personalize your onboarding process and custom content to fit your needs. For example, when I was hired at Bluewater, one of my actions during the onboarding process was to read up on the leadership team. I wasn’t expecting much besides their professional history and titles. Fortunately, Bluewater uses Cornerstone’s Recruiting and Onboarding system.  The system has the option to include an engaging Q&A section with graphics and interesting questions like:

  1. What is the most hilarious and embarrassing childhood memory you can think of?
  2. If you were on a deserted island and you could only put one topping on your burger, what would it be?
  3. If you were magically transformed into a breakfast cereal cartoon mascot, who would it be?

Seeing the answers of senior leaders before I met them allowed me to see their personalities and helped my pre-introduction nervousness. It gave me a good impression of the company culture and showed me they were open and completely approachable.


Onboarding can sometimes feel like drinking from a fire hydrant because of the sheer amount of information you need to learn. With everything you’re taking in on your first few days, it’s easy to forget what you’ve learned. A great way to improve retention during your onboarding courses is gamification.

Gamification is gaining popularity as a more engaging and enjoyable training method. It’s proven to help deal with cognitive overload by presenting information in a challenging format divided into smaller pieces. SAP is an example of a company that uses gamification during the onboarding process. The simulation game SAP Career City helps new employees learn their job responsibilities and prepare them for their roles.

When we think of gamification it’s often done digitally, but it doesn’t have to be digital to be effective. For example, Rackspace, a cloud computing company, utilizes “games, skits, costumes, thumping music, and a limbo bar in their onboarding process”. Austin-based marketing company Bazaarvoice implemented a week-long scavenger hunt designed to introduce new hires to the company culture and history. These examples also serve as team-building activities when new hires can get to know other members of your organization.


With pre-onboarding, you have the opportunity to set a good impression before new hires step into the door. Pre-onboarding activities engage new hires and are an opportunity to prevent ghosting before their first day on the job.  You could send them links to personalized videos on the company culture and history, an introduction gift, or have them complete paperwork that may take up time on their first day.

“Smartsheet employees receive a personalized gift at their home address a week before their first day. It reminds them that we’re excited for them and gives a peek into our culture. Our ‘box full of happiness’ contains a personalized note from each of the new employee’s interviewers, chocolate, a mug, and a slew of Smartsheet swag. At the same time that this gift arrives, the new employee also gets an email describing everything needed for a successful first day: their agenda, where and when they need to arrive, and what to expect.” – Smartsheet

IBM invests in onboarding with their program Succeeding@IBM which offers pre-start date learning and training. New hires who attended Getting Oriented within their first two weeks at IBM demonstrated higher engagement scores. And those that participated in their pre-hire community were 80 percent less likely to leave during their first year.

Pre-onboarding activities can get new hires excited about their first day of work, engaged in the process, and can help solidify their decision to work for your company.

Gifts for New Hires

Giving gifts to new hires may sound like an unreasonable expense to those with low budgets but it doesn’t have to be. A small welcoming gift can be a great way to let new hires know that you appreciate them for joining your organization. They are also an opportunity for you to showcase your company’s culture. Whether it’s company swag like a branded notepad, t-shirt, or a coffee mug, gifts stand out as a way to let new hires know that they are welcome. You can further personalize it by offering the products or services you sell as a gift.

Industry disruptor and eye-glass retailer Warby Parker has creative and unconventional gifts that they give to new employees. These include a copy of Dharma Bums (where the company name comes from), gift certificates for a free eye exam, free glasses, Martin’s Pretzels, and a gift certificate to the founder’s favorite Thai restaurant.

Not every organization has the resources to do this, but you can find ways to welcome new hires to your organization with something that fits both your budget and your company culture. Here at Bluewater, we welcome new hires with foam shark footballs – a nod to our oceanic branding and our desire for employees to have fun.

Goal Setting

New employees choose your company for a reason, but will they stay? One of the top reasons employees leave their jobs is the concern that they have little growth in their role and/or no opportunity for advancement. Unfortunately, 60% of companies indicated they don’t set any milestones or goals for new hires. That’s a huge mistake. Goal setting is a way to show employees that you’re focused on their future, success, and development from day one. Younger workers lacking experience are even more eager for opportunities to learn and grow.

You can come up with goals for the first 30, 60, and 90 days and discuss what meeting or exceeding expectations looks like. Whether it's personal, professional, or technical, goals can keep employees engaged in their careers. Encouraging goal setting during the onboarding process demonstrates to new hires that you care about their future with your company. Recognize employees when they reach goals or milestones and celebrate their progress.

A great onboarding process will increase retention and drive performance, in addition to making new hires feel welcome and prepared for their roles. You never get a second chance at a first impression.

Interested in learning more about Onboarding Processes?

Feel free to reach out to us directly!