Gone… in the First 44 Days

New research suggests new hires are deciding to bolt at a superfast clip these days. Why is onboarding not working?

Most companies shower recruits with attention, enthusiastically motivating them to join the firm. And then those new hires are handed off to their managers for their first month of work—where they might spend much of their time communicating with the help desk, especially if they’re working remotely.

Then comes the shocking news for hiring managers: the new hire has left after just weeks or months. 

A new study suggests that—despite extensive and expensive onboarding efforts by many firms—people are deciding to leave pretty fast. Indeed, 29% say they make up their minds within the first week, and 70% within a month, according to new data from BambooHR. In all, the survey of 1,500 workers says, companies today have just 44 days to influence a new hire’s long-term retention.

“When people leave too soon, it means that either something awful happened, or nothing happened,” says Andrés Tapia, global diversity and inclusion strategist at Korn Ferry. Both are a problem, he says—symptoms of companies pulling back onboarding efforts.

This is an expensive problem for companies. Hiring a new employee costs an average of $4,700, according to 2022 data from the Society for Human Resources. And this figure doesn’t include the salaries of the hiring managers and other employees who spend hours vetting and interviewing job candidates. In fact, one interview alone can easily eat up a cumulative 8 hours of employee time. 

To be sure, the tougher job market, with its limited options, lends itself to candidates accepting jobs that aren’t a great fit. According to the data, 23% of workers say they have cried about their decision within the first week of hiring. Experts say statistics like that highlight poor onboarding at many firms. Other experts say that hybrid and remote schedules contribute to the onboarding problem: even companies with three-day-a-week in-office policies provide new hires with 40% fewer interactions with coworkers; meanwhile, 100%-remote employees might experience only video meetings, and not the camaraderie between teammates. “They might not be getting a true sense of the culture,” says Tanya van Biesen, managing partner for board and CEO services at Korn Ferry. 

Experts note that many companies are quite good at selling employees on why they want the job—which, counterintuitively, can make it seem dull once they’ve got it. The shine and excitement can disappear on the first day: employees are plunged into a team shouldering its workload, and all that talk of vision and motivation disappears, along with the long lunches. “It’s essential to carry that into onboarding and beyond,” says Kristi Drew, global account leader for financial services at Korn Ferry. “It really matters.” 

Managers commonly overestimate new hires, say experts, by assuming these employees, who are often veterans of other companies and corporate cultures, will figure things out for themselves and thrive. This is not necessarily the case. “We may be overestimating how adaptable people truly are,” says HR expert Ron Porter, a senior client partner at Korn Ferry. He says that two strategies prevent early quitters: the first is making sure the person is a good fit, which includes running psychometric assessments of the candidate’s match with the culture, as well as interviews with many people at the company—coworkers, other bosses, HR. That’s a two-way street. “The fewer the people, the harder it is for the candidate to make a good assessment,” says Porter.

The second strategy is to enable candidates to make good decisions for themselves by providing them with the most realistic possible picture, at the earliest possible point in the recruiting process, of the day-to-day realities of the job. “We bring some of that into the acquisition stage, so they know from the beginning,” says David Ellis, vice president for global TA transformation at Korn Ferry. 


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