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From the Great Resignation to great retention: The case for perfecting hybrid onboarding

Research from Eagle Hill Consulting reveals that new hires are more likely to leave a job sooner than their peers. Half of employees who started a new job during the pandemic expect to stay just two years or less. Can employers raise new hire retention by improving the onboarding process?

Everyone is talking about the Great Resignation, the voluntary workforce exodus that began last year. According to The New York Times, more than 4.5 million employees left in November 2021, topping the 4.2 million who quit in October. This was the most resignations in the 20 years that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has tracked the data. The Great Resignation shows no signs of stopping soon. A Resume Builder survey reports that one in four employees plans to leave their job in 2022.

The Great Onboarding

What’s not being talked about is the surge in employee onboarding as employers race to fill these vacancies. In a job seeker’s market where finding and retaining skilled employees is critical, onboarding should be a top priority. Effective onboarding helps new hires ramp up faster, feel more productive, and influences whether or not they stay. Research from Glassdoor links strong onboarding to a 70% boost in productivity and an 82% jump in retention.

Source: Workable

Yet in a Gallup survey conducted before COVID-19, only 12% of employees thought their employer onboarded people well. The pandemic has made onboarding harder and impacted the quality in some cases as well. Human resources teams not only have administrative tasks to complete, but they must also cultivate feelings of connection to the organization and help new hires create relationships with colleagues in virtual or hybrid work environments.

The irony is clear. Onboarding has gotten exponentially harder at a time when organizations have more of it to do—and more riding on its success.

Employees say onboarding is off track

To learn what employees think about the effectiveness of pandemic-era onboarding, we surveyed more than 700 U.S. employees across industries who started a new job either with a new or current employer in the last 18 months. Nearly half received their onboarding through either virtual (31%) or hybrid (18%) approaches.

Not only do 58% of new employees say that starting a job during the crisis was harder than before, their views signal that employers are not evolving onboarding two years into the pandemic. 

New hires say the onboarding they received did not adequately cover many of the basics, from organizational culture to technology, benefits and policies. Coming out of their onboarding experience, new hires report that they:

People and culture

Don’t have a clear idea of the individuals they should build relationships with

Don’t have a clear idea of the organization’s culture 

Don’t have a clear idea of the organization’s core values

Don’t have a clear idea of the organization’s goals

  Technology and productivity

Don’t have a clear idea of how to use technology to do their job

Don’t have a clear idea of how to be productive in their job

Benefits and policies

Don’t have a clear idea of benefits related to their job

Don’t have a clear idea of COVID-19 protocols

If virtual and hybrid work models continue—and the consensus is that they will—companies will need to rethink onboarding to meet employees where they are. This matters for the organization and for new hires. It is also key for retaining current employees who often bear the brunt of poor retention with more pressure and bigger workloads. 

What employees want from onboarding

To give new hires what they need to be successful—and to get the outcomes they want—employers should pivot to more human-centered and team-oriented onboarding. Here’s how employees say onboarding can be improved:

Emphasis on career development and performance management 

When asked what they would like more of in the first month on the job, new hires are most likely (83%) to say that they are interested in learning more about how performance is measured. In addition, 74% of new hires want to know how to be successful in the corporate culture. These responses suggest that even from their first weeks on the job, employees are assessing longer-term viability of their role in terms of career growth and cultural fit.

However, this puts the onus on employers to deliver on these expectations. While performance management is more difficult in a hybrid or virtual work environment, there still must be clarity early on about expectations, career pathing, and what success looks like. This is key to keeping employees from leaving in the first six months for opportunities that offer more career growth.

Attention to employee well-being

Just over three-quarters (76%) of new employees want to learn more about mental and physical health resources during onboarding. One of the silver linings of the pandemic is that employee experience has come to the forefront, becoming the norm, rather than the exception. Employees want to know that not only can they be open about their well-being, but that they can count on their employer to provide self-care resources. 

For employers, this is a signal to think about employee experience strategies more broadly than they have in the past, and to communicate them early and often. Supporting employee well-being is the right thing to do as it can prevent employee burnout and improve productivity, connection, and engagement. It can also result in significant positive bottom-line results for companies.

Top 3 things employees say they want in the first month on the job

Knowledge of how performance is measured

Information about mental and physical health resources

Opportunities to make personal connections with team members

Connection to people and culture 

New hires are also very interested in developing personal connections and understanding the corporate culture, which go hand in hand. In fact, 75% say that they want more opportunity to connect with people on their team, and 69% are interested in starting to build relationships outside their team during onboarding. A majority (70%) want more information about the core values of the organization. 

The challenge for employers is that relationship-building and cultural immersion is much harder in a virtual or hybrid work environment. There is no natural tail of in-person events—informal meet and greets or watercooler talks—following traditional onboarding activities. So, they need different ways to help new hires feel, see, and experience the culture of the organization.

Responsibility outside of human resources

In many organizations, onboarding is largely the responsibility of the human resources department. However, new hires tell us that they are more interested in getting help, training, and guidance from a broader group of people including their supervisor (63%) and teammates (46%). This suggests that employees want to feel immersed in the organization as part of onboarding so that they understand how their role and team fit into the larger picture. 

63% of new hires want more guidance from their supervisor during onboarding while just 30% are looking for more from human resources.

With so much to pack into onboarding—from responsibilities to culture—having onboarding led by one group is not ideal, particularly as employees settle into their day-to-day routines and get busy. Assigning responsibilities and providing tools to other groups creates a more distributed onboarding process that engages the rest of the organization where it makes sense.

How to improve virtual and hybrid onboarding to meet employees’ needs

Go beyond paperwork. Rethink onboarding to create a sense of belonging for people. Hold virtual events to bring the company culture to life through activities that reflect the core values. Plan to have new joiners work on real activities with teams either in-person or using collaboration tools. Organize virtual team lunches to create informal relationship-building opportunities. 

Make it personal and meaningful. Help new employees not only see how their role supports the organization’s purpose, but how the organization is dedicated to their well-being and success. Highlight the unique value proposition for employees and how you help build careers, provide development opportunities, and maintain a focus on people’s mental and physical wellness. 

Build a longer tail to onboarding. Extend onboarding beyond a single event and create a series of events and experiences that employees need to have to feel connected to the organization. Consider what onboarding should look like for the whole first year and regularly offer experiences that continue to build employees’ affinity for the organization. 

Pinpoint the right people. Create repeatable processes and frameworks to engage managers, supervisors, and team members in onboarding new employees. This ensures that people know what their role is and can clearly show employees how their day-to-day work and team connects to the larger business. Thread both in-person and virtual connection points into the framework.

Employees’ needs and expectations will evolve, so organizations should take the pulse of their needs. Periodically mapping the onboarding process from start to finish, identifying the moments that matter, and collecting data and adjusting processes is important to ensure onboarding is effective as possible.  

Employers that shape virtual and hybrid onboarding for employees’ needs—and the realities of work—can take full advantage of the direct line between onboarding and retention. 


The Eagle Hill Onboarding Survey 2022 was conducted online by Ipsos the week of February 3, 2022. The survey included 782 respondents from a random sample of employees across the United States who started a new job over the last eighteen months. The survey polled respondents on aspects of their onboarding experience.