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Here’s how to avoid all too common onboarding pitfalls

By Nick Wilson | |8 minute read

Onboarding begins sooner than most think, and it continues well after getting the candidate into the office. Here’s how to get new starters to full productivity as soon as possible (and how to keep them there).

First impressions

The employee experience (EX) begins long before the contract is signed. Indeed, it begins as early as the first phone call, text, or email. All of these preliminaries serve to colour a candidate’s impression of their prospective employer.


“They’re making a decision from the moment they have the first phone call with you, from the moment they have the interview, from how quickly you respond back to them after the interview with feedback, to how quickly you issue the offer,” said Lauren Karan, director at Karan and Co.

“All of these little pieces of a puzzle are painting a picture to them about what you’re going to be like as an employer. And so putting the effort into all those small parts of the process leads to a better pre-onboarding and then overall onboarding, which we all know leads they’re making their decision in those first few months as to whether this company is for them or not.”

The danger zone

When does onboarding begin? According to Ms Karan, it is as soon as the contract is signed. As soon as the candidate inks the page, it’s up to the employer to get the onboarding process rolling – and it’s about more than niceties.

“The danger zone is that part where they’ve signed the contract. They’ve likely been counteroffered by their current employer, and they haven’t developed a relationship yet with you [or] with their manager, so they don’t really know you yet or feel comfortable asking questions,” explained Ms Karan.

This “danger zone” refers to the post-signing, pre-starting period, where new starters are often left in the dark as communications tend to cool. It’s this period, said Ms Karan, that is too often overlooked and should be seen as an opportunity to deepen connections before the first day – when socialising can seem a steep hill to climb alongside other onboarding requirements.

“So we do things like encourage our clients to, before they start, do a little morning tea, do something to introduce them to the team and start to build that connection and engagement as almost like a pre-onboarding process,” she explained.

The pre-onboarding experience affords the new starter an opportunity to get to know their team without juggling the other first-day challenges.

“Once you’ve done that, they’ve already met the team, they’re less nervous on their first day and they start to build that connection with you,” said Ms Karan.

Day one

Contract signed, first impressions made, and your new hire has walked through the door. What now? Ultimately, what every new hire wants is a sense of order and structure. From having their IT ready to go to making clear who to look for, should questions arise – having the right onboarding mechanisms in place is crucial in getting the employee from new hire to productive employee.

One method that Ms Karan has seen success with is providing new hires with a manual for them to work through, which lays out who to talk to, where to find them, and steps for their first day.

“Instead of having to figure that out or sink or swim as you go, it’s a structured process that they go through,” said Ms Karan.

It’s also important that the social aspect is kept alive even if introductions have been made prior to the first day. Getting this right can be as simple as management making sure they have time set aside in the employee’s first days to ensure they are making the introductions and building relationships.

“Even if your diary is hectic, give them in their first week a couple of 15-minute check-ins, even a half hour, book it into your diary with that person to [see] how they’re going, because otherwise the weeks get away with you and the days get away from you,” said Ms Karan.

Often, without making an effort to set some time aside, “you’re not intentionally not being available, you’re just busy”, she said.

Not just HR

Naturally, HR has a big role to play in the onboarding process – but the buck doesn’t stop there.

“When I’ve worked directly for companies and been involved in the recruitment and onboarding, we often, in HR, take that onus on ourselves to own the onboarding,” said Ms Karan. HR should be training managers to take partial ownership of the onboarding process.

“What we want to be doing is training [managers] to understand what are the key aspects of engagement and what touchpoints should I have with my new hire to help make sure I’m going to retain them?” she said.

“Once [managers] know it and they get used to thinking that way, then it’s so much easier. They’ve just got it in their diary. They know when they get a new starter, they have those check-ins.”

This way, said Ms Karan, managers won’t “fall into the trap of believing onboarding is purely HR’s responsibility”.

The benefits

Investing in a smooth, effective onboarding process is about more than just mitigating the usual anxieties of starting a new job. It’s an investment.

Indeed, research shows that in companies with a smooth onboarding experience, 69 per cent of employees are likely to stay for at least three years. A better onboarding experience also means employees can reach full productivity up to 50 per cent faster.

“I called someone this week,” said Ms Karan. “Their onboarding was so good that he said, ‘Lauren, I need more work.’” This was three days into the role.

“Their retention improves because people are getting a feel for the company a lot sooner and feeling part of the business because they’re contributing,” she said.



An employee is a person who has signed a contract with a company to provide services in exchange for pay or benefits. Employees vary from other employees like contractors in that their employer has the legal authority to set their working conditions, hours, and working practises.


Onboarding is the process of integrating new hires into the company, guiding them through the offer and acceptance stages, induction, and activities including payroll, tax and superannuation compliance, as well as other basic training. Companies with efficient onboarding processes benefit from new workers integrating seamlessly into the workforce and spending less time on administrative tasks.


The practice of actively seeking, locating, and employing people for a certain position or career in a corporation is known as recruitment.


Training is the process of enhancing a worker's knowledge and abilities to do a certain profession. It aims to enhance trainees' work behaviour and performance on the job.

Nick Wilson

Nick Wilson

Nick Wilson is a journalist with HR Leader. With a background in environmental law and communications consultancy, Nick has a passion for language and fact-driven storytelling.