Onboarding is a series of processes designed to fully integrate new employees into an organization—and it’s key to keeping them engaged and productive. While poor onboarding is a top reason why new hires fail to meet expectations, a quality experience pays off: The Human Capital Institute found that experience-driven onboarding—that is, onboarding that drives engagement and sparks human connection—improves new-hire retention by 82% and boosts productivity by 70%.

But to succeed, the process needs to go beyond sending a new hire some forms and a company tee shirt.

Why Does Onboarding Fail?

Too often, onboarding is mistaken for a paper-pushing exercise that’s all about payroll and tax information, employee handbooks and benefits forms. While these steps are essential and even required by law, they are not the heart of the onboarding process.

Remember: The goal of onboarding is to bring new hires into the company fold. That means making a connection strong enough to stoke an employee’s passion for the job and desire to innovate while ensuring she feels included, welcomed and committed to departmental and company goals.

Anything less does a disservice to both the employee and the company, so HR professionals should advocate for investments. Some ammunition: Organizations with a standard onboarding process experience 54% greater new-hire productivity, says relocation specialist UrbanBound, along with 50% greater new hire retention.

However, 35% of UK and U.S. companies spend $0 on onboarding. That’s one mistake. Here are nine more, and how to avoid them.

9 Common Onboarding Mistakes or Problems and How to Avoid Them

Common onboarding missteps generally stem from oversights and gaps between the information and appreciation the employee needs and the time and effort the company invests in delivering what it thinks new hires need. However, this expectations-versus-reality disconnect can be remedied with some thoughtful effort.

Here are common pitfalls to watch for:

1. Delaying onboarding: Employees feel adrift and ignored when a company does not make onboarding a priority. In fact, onboarding should start prior to the employee’s first day at work so that everything goes smoothly and the new hire feels like a valued member of the team from the get-go.

Best practices: Make sure the employee knows norms of how to dress, where to park and documents to bring, such as a passport or proof of residency. Have at least one person on hand to say welcome and orient the employee to kitchens, restrooms and work areas. Consider assigning a personable peer as an informal “onboarding buddy.”

2. No pre-boarding: “Pre-boarding” begins with supplying as much of the necessary paperwork as possible ahead of time so the employee has time to read and digest documents rather than feeling rushed and overwhelmed on the first day of work.

Pre-boarding should also include a process where HR or the hiring manager files work orders so that IT, facilities and other groups pull together a fully equipped workspace and all necessary accoutrements—from software and passwords to uniforms, ID badges, an email account and access to relevant company assets—ahead of the employee reporting for work. Effective pre-boarding ensures that the employee’s first impression of the company is one of competence and teamwork.

3. Lack of structure, preparation and organization: It’s not uncommon for companies, particularly startups, to favor an unstructured, casual culture with the idea that informality fosters innovation. But no matter how relaxed the workplace, it’s always a mistake to treat onboarding as a loose, ad hoc process. Even highly creative employees who fully appreciate the freedoms of a casual company need a sense of belonging to function well in a team environment and to bring productivity levels up to expectations.

Think of the onboarding process as an opportunity to immerse new employees in your culture. Some best practices: Use your productivity tools. If the company lives on Trello or Slack, set up a channel for new people. Bring in marketing—some companies have even set up “drip campaigns” where hires get a regular cadence of communications from executive leadership, managers, HR and future coworkers leading up to their start dates. If employees frequently wear branded hats or tees, make sure the new worker has some swag waiting.

onboarding mistakes

4. Unclear goals/expectations: Employees may be excited on their first days only to have their enthusiasm squashed. The most common cause of enthusiasm deflation and resulting disappointing job performance? A lack of clarity in goals and expectations. Most misunderstandings can be prevented by being very clear about what’s expected from the employee at every stage.

Specifics will vary by company, but best practices include defining what the new hire is expected to contribute to the organization and, just as important, how they’ll know if they’re succeeding. This starts with the job description, which can serve as the basis of a vision/mission statement for the role. Share KPIs that will demonstrate success now, in 30 days , in 90 days and in a year.

5. Information overload: A common onboarding fail is when HR tries to cram everything into the first day or week of work and then leaves the employee to figure things out from there. Even with effective pre-boarding, it’s typical for a new employee to feel overwhelmed. Some processes, like peer and management introductions, can and should be extended over a week or more. Reviews of key information and expectations should be planned over the same time period.

A “New Employee FAQ” can be invaluable. Consider a page on your internal website that answers questions like:

  • When is payday?
  • What PTO and holidays do we receive?
  • What if I need to call in sick?
  • What is our work-from-home policy?
  • Is there an org chart to help me know who to reach out to with questions?

Other areas to cover: Expense reports, dress codes, and corporate subscriptions and accounts employees can access.

You won’t be able to cover everything, so the hiring manager or HR lead should set up regular check-in meetings to ask employees if they have questions or are experiencing difficulties.

6. Lack of goal setting: Onboarding fails when employees don’t know how to define success because their goals are unclear or nonexistent. For some roles, such as sales, companies can generally provide clear metrics from the outset. In other cases, managers need to sit down with the employee and jointly agree on specific goals and by what dates or in what time periods they should be successfully achieved.

Most companies employ a combination of these approaches, usually with the help of an HRMS, or human resources management system. Besides empowering HR to manage the employee lifecycle, an HRMS can provide self-service for common tasks, including goal-setting.

7. No feedback loop: Employees who feel they’re working in a vacuum do not bond with colleagues and tend to get little satisfaction from their work. Training managers to take a coaching approach goes far in building a team’s esprit de corps. Remember that coaches give feedback continually, and not just negative criticism when there’s a problem. Recognize successes, both individual and team.

8. Not addressing cultural and generational differences: Not all employees are concerned about or motivated by the same things. Onboarding should recognize cultural and generational differences and incorporate the means to speak to those respectfully and efficiently. For example, an employee in his mid-40s with children will be interested in a different level of health insurance coverage and retirement funding options then someone just out of college, who may be more interested in work/life balance and help the company may offer with student loans.

workforce in 2025

Similarly, there are now five generations in the workplace. While stereotypes about differences are overblown, according to HBR research, there are legitimate variations in what workers expect from employers. Best practices include having managers openly acknowledge negative stereotypes, like “Boomers hate technology” or “Gen Zers need constant feedback,” and turn the narrative around to point out the benefits of a multigenerational team, where some employees know the industry deeply and have a wealth of contacts while others have insights into new ways to use technology to serve customers.

9. No measurement: You can’t manage something unless you can measure it. Thus, you won’t know how well your onboarding processes are working unless you measure people analytics, KPIs and outcomes. Develop metrics that will reveal potential problems or shortcomings in your process early so they can be rectified quickly.

Survey employees after they’ve been with the company for a few months, and ask what the company could have done better. Solicit new entries for your FAQ page, and feed relevant insights back into your human capital management (HCM) system, which goes beyond talent acquisition to help optimize the workforce.

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Using Software for Successful Employee Onboarding

Improving the employee experience requires that HR and managers spend time making a human connection and helping the employee bond with the team: Assimilation is the entire point of the exercise, and that time investment will pay off in increased retention rates.

To free up HR’s and management’s time for those human interactions, employ HR software that can automate paperwork details, employee prompts, metrics and other important but time-consuming activities. Onboarding software can also assist your company by ensuring no requirements were overlooked or fell through the cracks along the way.

Aim to be warm and welcoming but also clear about expectations, constantly in compliance and ready to help the employee become productive as quickly as possible.