7 common onboarding mistakes companies make ... and how to avoid them

Last updated:
August 16, 2022
August 16, 2022
min read
Richard Grant
common onboarding mistakes
Table of contents

Onboarding mistakes are common in business, regardless of industry, but that doesn’t make them okay. According to studies, 44% of workers leave within 6 months because of inadequate training or a lack of job guidelines, while 26% leave due to unhelpful coworkers or managers.

However, 78% of companies that do invest in onboarding witnessed an ROI increase, and 64% of HR staff saw their turnover rate decrease after they prioritized training and onboarding.

It’s clear that employee onboarding is essential, but how would you know what onboarding areas you struggle with? Use this article to scope out weaknesses in your hiring process.

7 Popular onboarding mistakes to avoid

You wouldn’t throw a child into a river to teach them how to swim, so why would you throw your employees into the deep end? 

Here are 7 popular onboarding mistakes you should avoid.

1. Zero entry-level training

If onboarding is taking less than a day, that’s a problem. Think about it: what industry has one of the highest turnover rates? Customer service. Fast food workers, hotel receptionists, retail sales associates, and waiters either receive no training or a 15-30 minute onboarding discussion. 

That is a huge problem because 89% of consumers are more likely to make another purchase after a positive customer experience. Entry-level doesn’t equal zero time spent on training.

Here are some other ways customer service training can benefit frontline staff:

  1. Customers are willing to pay more for a great experience.
  2. Good customer service can lead to more loyal customers.
  3. An instant growth in revenue and customer satisfaction.
  4. Knowledgeable staff members can easily sell products.
  5. Employees feel less nervous on the job because they’re knowledgeable.

Employees aren’t incompetent because they work too slow, make mistakes, or don’t know how to calm down an angry customer. If they were not taught how to navigate customer scenarios, they’d be forced to learn as they go. It’s better to train them now to cut back on avoidable mistakes.

2. Overloading your new hires

Information overload is just as detrimental to the onboarding process as a lack of training. Cramming is one of the worst ways to retain what you studied.

According to multiple studies, cramming affects information recall, promotes bad habits (like poor sleep), encourages procrastination, increases anxiety, and decreases performance.

A slow and focused onboarding strategy is the best way to prevent overload and onboarding mistakes. Ideally, an onboarding process should take a minimum of 3 months but shouldn’t exceed a year. Create an internal company library online to aid employees continuously.

3. A total lack of pre-boarding

Companies want to finish the onboarding process as soon as possible, which makes this next onboarding mistake confusing. Few employers have a pre-boarding process that teaches new hires about their policy, workplace, and products before they start their first day. 

You can even send home a welcome package that includes paperwork used when hiring an employee. However, the information packet has to contain the following to be successful:

  • A breakdown of your products and services.
  • A link to an interactive training session on how to use company systems.
  • A guide on company policies.
  • A map of the building, along with where everyone sits and their titles.
  • A contract list (email and phone numbers) for colleagues and managers.

When creating this packet, use empathy. Think about the things that stress new hires and try to remove these fears before they start. Let your employees know they can come to you for questions. Discuss dress code, parking sports, and the materials they need ahead of time.

4. Not addressing generational gaps

Unbiased hiring practices are an essential aspect of equality, but we shouldn’t be blind to what makes us different. Our experiences shape how we interact with the world, so a general onboarding process may leave certain employees ill-prepared or unconfident in their roles.

For example, a baby boomer senior executive won’t benefit from an independent onboarding process (they prefer hands-on training), but a Gen Zer would love to access a knowledge library. A baby boomer may have trouble interacting with a knowledge library without managerial help.

At the same time, you should never take stereotypes too seriously. Instead of assuming, ask hires what onboarding method they prefer and give them the time to experiment with all options.

Always keep in mind that a person’s age can affect every aspect of the onboarding process. For example, Gen Xers need insurance benefits for their spouse, whereas Gen Zers may only need healthcare. How you attract and recruit potential employees can change how you’ll train them.

5. An unstructured onboarding process

Adding flexibility to the onboarding process doesn’t mean you’ll do well without a structure. For example, an unstructured interview can make it difficult to judge candidates based on their job performance, but structured interviews help you find hires based on skills, not personal biases. 

An organizational flow chart will ensure your employees have something important to do from the word go. Be sure to utilize this chart across your company and with every new hire. 

We go more in-depth in this article, but a basic onboarding checklist should include:

  1. New Recruitment: Help your employee understand the company and their role.
  2. First Office Visit: Show candidates around and introduce them to the team.
  3. Send an Offer Letter: An offer letter shows you appreciate your new employee.
  4. Early Onboarding: Share role-relevant information and help new hires settle in.
  5. New Hire Welcome: Offer a welcome kit, plan a team lunch, and schedule meetings.
  6. First Week Welcome: Schedule meet-and-greets and provide hires with a task list.
  7. Ongoing Engagement: Organize team-building events and offer constructive feedback.

When planning for the new hire’s arrival, make sure they have everything they need. These items include but aren’t limited to identification, a workstation, IT equipment, a pack of business cards, headphones, adapters, a travel tag, a journal, an umbrella, and some business swag. 

6. Unclear goals and expectations

Being the new kid on the block is never easy, and a lack of communication only makes it worse. If your employees don’t know who to speak to when they have a question or whether they’re able to talk to you at all, they’re going to start questioning their self-worth and performance.

Unclear expectations are often the route of this anxiety, which is why a positive onboarding process is so necessary. Since onboarding can take a while, set goals to monitor progression.

Employers prefer the SMART goal framework because it helps others set specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timed goals. However, goals are easier to set if they’re broken down into smaller tasks. For example, a new hire could learn how to read a report on their first day.

7. Negative (or not) feedback loop

A 2021 Gallup study found that employees need meaningful feedback weekly to stay engaged. The key word here is “meaningful,” as employers may be tempted to move on to the next task before an employee can assess their performance. This can make it challenging to improve.

If your new hire is doing a great job, you can avoid this onboarding mistake by establishing an effective feedback loop. To start a feedback loop, try using polls or one-on-one meetings.

Capturing the right amount of feedback may be a challenge, so use this formula:

  1. Gather feedback by asking employees directly or issuing anonymous surveys. 
  2. Analyze feedback with analytics software or manually with your management team.
  3. Act on feedback by changing what’s asked or implementing a compromise.
  4. Follow up on feedback to show your employees that you understand them.

A feedback loop is a continuous conversation between you and your new employees, meaning you can start from the first stage or the last. As your new hires move along the onboarding process, take their comments into account and use them to increase your job satisfaction rate.

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