Tuesday, March 7, 2023

The importance of onboarding for tech employees

Not much about onboarding is discussed in the tech industry. As a critical component to any organization, here is what you should know as an employee and as an employer

Photo by charlesdeluvio on Unsplash

By far one of the most ignored things in tech is onboarding. Everyone talks about interviews, training, coaching, salaries and (recently) layoffs, but very little on the topic is mentioned.

Could it be because the topic is boring and won't get many clicks? Maybe.
Could it be because onboarding is for the HR only? For sure.
Could it be because tech people only is about tech stuff? Definitely.

Well, unfortunately that's all wrong. A lot.

As a critical piece for the human engine of any organization, onboarding should be carefully considered as it is critical for the long-term relationship between employers and employees, and directly impacts the profitability and growth of an organization.

High turnover

Recent studies show that the experience new hires have during the first weeks is crucial for the retention of the person. In fact, recent data outlines that "almost 20 per cent of turnover occurs within the first 45 days of a new employee’s start date".

If you add on top of that loss of projects due to shortage of skills, a very tight labour market, and the average cost to replace an employee taking up to $20,000.00/person, it's easy to see how much money is being lost by organizations doing a poor onboarding, especially on a tight job market / full-employment mode, as we're seeing in early 2023.

So how to make the overall experience better?

Improving the onboarding experience

First, start with proper training. Studies show that it can take between 3 and 9 months for the new hire to be fully productive in a company.

So forget that 1-week onboarding. Seriously.

In my experience, I've seen both extremes: people joining and kept on trainings for months, while others dumped in red-hot projects after mere weeks (or days). Obviously both examples are extreme and should sound like alerts for both employees and organizations as they signify either lack of projects or an understaffed organization.

However if we consider 3 month to be the ideal, then we can infer that organizations get a 40% discount should they onboard (and retain) a new employee within 3 months. Those are productivity gains that no organization should ignore.


So let's review how to address this critical issue. Here are some of my favourite onboarding practices for tech employees that leaders should consider:

  • Onboarding is not a one and done activity: it has to continue throughout the first year and potentially further on as is key to employee satisfaction.
  • Keep the employee engaged during the onboarding phase: offer different activities, have them meet different people and different teams. 
  • Make it fun: forget those long recording 
  • Foster interactions: introduce the new hires to other employees and teams they'll be interacting with.
  • Mix content: make sure your onboarding experience includes a mix of online led and self-directed sessions  
  • Avoid full-day back-to-back sessions: onboarding is exhausting. Don't make it painful.
  • Diversify: approach different topics and even allow them to explore different content.

How to make onboarding even more exciting

Additionally, if you want (and can) make onboarding even more exciting, here are 4 additional tips:

  • Provide a hands-on experience: Allow new tech employees to get hands-on experience with the technology they’ll be working with. If possible, provide a lab environment where they can play with the technology and get to know it better.
  • Assign a mentor: Assign each new tech employee an onboarding buddy. The onboarding buddy can serve as a mentor and help the new employee feel more comfortable in their new role.
  • Mix technology, medium and format: Use technology like video conferencing and interactive presentations to make the onboarding process more engaging. This will make the onboarding process more interactive and give the new employee a better understanding of the technology they’ll be working with.
  • Offer training: Provide online courses and hands-on training sessions to help new tech employees learn more about the technology they’ll be working with. This will provide them with the knowledge and skills they need to be successful in their new role.
  • Gamify: Use gamification techniques like rewards and leaderboards to make the onboarding process more interesting. This will help motivate new tech employees to learn more and keep them engaged throughout the onboarding process.

Next Steps

So what can you do to promptly address your own onboarding?

Well, the first thing is to take this conversation back to your manager and start the conversation. Additionally, interview recent hires and see what went good/bad/ugly in their first 6 months in the organization (don't mention onboarding).

Finally, engage the whole team and work together to make this experience great. Onboarding isn't only the responsibility of your leader.

Final Thoughts

Since the average cost to replace an employee getting up to $20,000.00, a very tight job marketplace and a high correlation between onboarding experience and employee retentions, companies of all sizes should re-consider the onboarding experience.

For the tech sector, in addition to that, consider making your onboarding experience more exciting by mixing sync and async sessions, training and gamification.

Further Reading

About the Author

Bruno Hildenbrand