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How Long Should Employee Onboarding Take

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6 min read

How Long Should Onboarding Take?

A smooth, professionally designed, and comprehensive employee onboarding process is more important than many people, even HR professionals, might realize! When it comes to increasing retention rates and improving the performance of new hires, and the teams they become a part of, study after study has shown that one of the primary indicators of success is the length and quality of an organization's onboarding process. In fact, organizations with an effective onboarding program have been shown to improve their new hire retention by as much as 80%! 

While the specifics of your process will vary based on your particular industry and other contextual pieces, there are a few general rules of thumb that mark whether or not your onboarding system is effectively preparing your new hires for a successful career with you. These guidelines are flexible, which means that the total length of time it will take for your new hires to be fully onboarded can vary. Still, there are a fairly defined set of upper and lower limits that have been linked to increased rates of employee retention, satisfaction, and job effectiveness. In this guide, we will outline what goes into a successful onboarding process! 

What are the Common Steps of Effective Onboarding?

Four primary steps make up an effective onboarding process. These steps, if adapted to the particulars of your organization, help ensure that your new employees successfully understand their new role and what is expected of them. Additionally, successful employee onboarding will educate your new employees on the ins and outs of your organization, including basic administrative tasks like timesheet tracking and making PTO requests, while thoroughly preparing them for the day when the training wheels come off and they fully transition into their new job.  

Employee Orientation

The first (and arguably most critical) onboarding step is employee orientation. As the saying goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression! Orientation is an important part of the process for two key reasons: first, this is the time to get your new employees squared away with the way your company operates. Besides the new hire paperwork, this includes getting familiar with the layout of the workplace, learning company policies from the HR department, and getting a better understanding of your company culture. The second, more crucial reason is that orientation is an opportunity to make your new employees feel welcome, respected, and valued. Employees have consistently ranked that feeling valued and welcomed significantly impacts their decision to leave or stay with a company, so this is your chance to show them that you're as ready to invest in them as they are in you. 

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Training for the Specific Role

The second step involves thorough, professional, and effective training for your new hires. Whether they’re experienced in their field or not, a new position inevitably comes with some unfamiliar elements, so taking the time to walk them through their new role before the pressure is on will not only help them be more effective down the line but will also reduce their stress and show them that you value their development. Take this opportunity to clearly set expectations, train them on your processes, let them shadow others in similar positions, and address any questions or concerns they have during this part of the process.  

Transition Into Work-Related Tasks

After the training phase of the onboarding process is complete, new hires transition into taking more responsibility for their direct tasks. This is intended to be a gradual process that ramps up their duties, accountability, and expectations, and it should not be overly rushed. A sign of poor onboarding is a rushed or nonexistent transition from training to assuming the full expectations of a new position. Instead, set goals or use other methods to illustrate clear expectations, and check in with your new hires regularly as they ramp up production and become a full-fledged member of the team.  

Ongoing Development Over Time

The fourth and final stage of a good onboarding process is more long-term than the others, and it’s one that’s often neglected. Remember that growth is an ongoing process, and focusing on improving your employee’s ongoing development over time is an incredible way to build your company’s culture while improving overall performance and retention. Consider elements like career mapping, regular competency assessments, goal setting, and periodic reviews for both new and current employees to help your team continue to learn and grow with your organization. 

Factors That Can Affect Onboarding Time

Now that we’ve explored the four key steps to an effective onboarding process, it might make sense when we say that there is no “perfect” amount of time that onboarding should take. For example, the training process for a newly hired cashier may be much shorter than that of a nuclear engineer – this is why studies point to a range for a timeframe, rather than an exact number! There are a number of other factors that can result in an extended onboarding process for your new employees, and exploring those is key to determining how long your own process should take. 


What Role Are They Training For?

As we alluded to earlier, the size and scope of an employee's new role will directly affect how long the training process will take. There are a few other factors, too: how much experience does your new hire have in similar roles? How thorough is your training process? Are other requirements, like state licensure or certifications, necessary to complete the training process? All of these things and more can result in a long onboarding process.  

Does Your Company Have An Effective and Detailed Process?

If you have an outdated, ineffective, or disorganized onboarding process, problems are almost guaranteed to ensue – problems that can result in delays, frustration, and lower retention across the board. This is why a streamlined and professional onboarding process is essential for the benefit of both your organization and your new employees! 

Technology and Infrastructure of Your Business

With the rise of remote work over the past decade, organizations have had to deal with the challenges that come with engaging employees who have never been in the same room together. There are distinct processes for remote onboarding, but technology and infrastructure can play other roles as well. For example, if computers are required equipment, ensure that you have one set up and ready to go for your new employee. If you use proprietary software, have prepared training established before you throw your new hire into the thick of it.  

What's the Ideal Amount of Time for Onboarding?

As we've demonstrated, there is no "exact" time that an onboarding program should take. However, most studies show that, at a minimum, an effective program should have an onboarding time of at least a month, if not 90 days or longer as your business necessitates. This amount of time will allow your new team members to feel confident and comfortable as they step into their new roles, which will improve their efficiency and productivity in the long run while encouraging them to grow their careers with your organization.  


Benefits of an Efficient Onboarding Process

Thorough and efficient onboarding programs can make or break the employee experience, which is why it’s so vital that you take the time to focus on and streamline yours! Studies have shown that effective onboarding processes can increase employee retention anywhere from 60 to 80%, and those same processes have been linked to increased productivity, improved company culture, and many additional benefits. 

Lower Employee Turnover

One of the primary benefits of a streamlined onboarding experience is increased employee retention. Organizations have been battling high rates of employee turnover for decades. In 2023, nearly 1/3 of new hires began searching for a new job within the first six months of starting their current one, and 23% of new hires quit altogether before they completed their first full year! As more and more data links employee satisfaction to an effective onboarding process, the potential that comes from streamlining yours is almost too great to ignore.  

Support New Employees Getting to Know Their Roles

Another main driver of employee engagement is how confident new hires feel about their training and development, both of which are addressed in an effective onboarding process. During a comprehensive training phase, managers can dedicate special time and attention to ensuring new team members have the support they need as they learn how to navigate their new roles. This results in increased confidence and, consequently, higher overall rates of retention.  

Promote Good Company Culture

Finally, a quality onboarding process can and should reinforce your company's values while promoting a positive work environment for your team members. This is where a focus on relational onboarding throughout the process (as opposed to rushing new hires through the pipeline so they can start producing) truly pays off. A thorough onboarding process pays special attention to company culture and helps promote positive development throughout the organizational ladder.  

Horizon Provides HR and Onboarding Solutions for Businesses

Whether you've already built your onboarding program but want better results or you're brand-new to the concept and need help figuring out where to start, Horizon’s industry-leading HR and onboarding solutions can help make all the difference! We’ve been helping organizations of every size and across every industry design and implement an effective onboarding process that works for them and their needs to they can hire, train, and retain a top-talent team through every step of the pipeline, from new recruits to industry professionals.  

Top-Rated Specialists for Payroll, HR, Onboarding, and More

Our comprehensive range of services are designed to cover all of your organization’s HR needs, from payroll to onboarding and more. Our experienced team of HR managers and industry professionals have decades of experience in bringing the best out of the recruiting pool. Let us handle the administrative work so you can get back to focusing on running your business! 

Reach Out Today for More Information

To learn more about our top-rated onboarding solutions, contact us today for a consultation! 

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