Mentoring for Onboarding: Increase New Hire Retention and Maximize Hiring Investment

June 28, 2010

At a time when "employees" and "human capital" are synonymous in the eyes of both HR and non-HR leaders, there seems to be an easy formula for "people success": invest the money to attract the best people, then make them stay for as long as possible and generate a return on investment. Complicating this formula, however, is the fact that retaining employees, especially new hires, is not quite so simple.

The Problem

Human Capital Losses
Far from becoming reliable and profitable "human capital," many individuals actually lose money for their employers as soon as they come on board. According the Wynhurst Group, 22% of staff turnover occurs in the first 45 days of employment, and the cost of losing an employee in the first year is estimated to be at least 3 times salary. Considering that 46% of new hires leave within their first 18 months of employment, leaders must take action to address the various causes of voluntary employee turnover.

New Hire Expectations
All new hires want to know what the organization's culture is really like. But this question often goes unanswered, and organizations who fail to answer it pay the price. According to Maertz and Campion's International Review of Industrial and Organizational Psychology, organizational culture, job realities relative to expectations, and individual characteristics that clash with perceptions of the organization are among a number of factors that cause employees to leave an organization. Such factors are exacerbated by the gap in understanding between the individual and the organization. This is of particular concern regarding new hires, who are filled with expectations for their new role, yet lack knowledge of how things "really work."

Mentoring: Bridging the Gap of New Hire Understanding

Mentoring for Role Understanding
Structured mentoring programs that support individuals in the onboarding process provide organizations with the opportunity to give new employees a better understanding of its workplace and culture faster. New hires need to know how their own positions and careers fit into the overall organizational structure, and how their envisioned role links with their own career goals and preferences. Mentors offer mentees the opportunity to gain an understanding of the organization. Mentors also help new hires accelerate the onboarding process and reduce the likelihood of turnover early in the employment lifecycle.

Handling Employment Baggage
Perhaps the biggest hurdle facing new hires is adjusting to and fitting into a new organizational culture. According to Nancy Rothbard, Professor of Management at Wharton, an experienced new hire often carries “employment baggage” – a set of attitudes, norms and experiences that apply only to his/her previous workplace. This “baggage” can actually cause work experience to have a negative effect on performance at a new workplace. Having a mentor with considerable experience at the organization enables new hires to quickly learn the culture so they can be as productive as possible in their new jobs.

Aligning Expectations with Reality
Having a mentor during the onboarding process also helps new hires align their expectations with the realities of the job. New hires benefit from mentoring partnerships with mentors who have experienced being new to the organization, have been "in their shoes" at their current role, or mentors who currently inhabit the roles that they will take on in the future. Well-selected and well-matched mentors can paint an honest picture of the new hires’ roles, answer their questions and concerns about those roles, and offer advice on how they can make the most of those roles. Such dialogue creates a culture of honesty and understanding, which not only garners appreciation but improves employee engagement and retention from the start.

Supporting Onboarding through Mentoring

Whether an organization successfully addresses an employee's career and personal preferences from the beginning can make or break her/his desire to stay.

Through an onboarding mentoring program with well-matched mentoring partnerships geared specifically toward career development, organizations instantly brand themselves as employers who truly care about their employees. Mentoring partnerships should be strategic relationships that take both organizational and individual goals into account. This may mean pairing a new hire with a mentor who has the ideal skills or experience for the mentee's development, but who may work in an entirely different team, office, or department.

Ultimately, organizations that provide a structured, formal onboarding process with mentoring support avoid losing their greatest assets. By incorporating a structured mentoring program within the onboarding process, organizations can address the early causes of turnover by signalling to new hires that they are committed to mutual understanding.

Up next: "Creating an Effective Onboarding Program"


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