Why your onboarding program needs to include mentoring

Employee onboarding is a critical first step in building engaged and productive teams. But many onboarding programs fail to set new hires up for success because they only check administrative boxes. For that reason, a mentorship program designed for an onboarding experience can do a much more effective job getting employees productive and engaged quicker.

Matthew Reeves

CEO of Together

Published on 

January 3, 2019

Updated on 

Time to Read

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It's no longer acceptable to onboard new employees simply by introducing them to the team, outlining their responsibilities, and sending them off to the races. As competition for top talent heats up, employers are recognizing that to 'wow' new hires they need a structured onboarding program. And not just administrative checklists, but roadmaps that set up new hires careers on paths of growth and development. What new employees need are not boring onboarding courses but mentorship.

What is an onboarding program?

Onboarding programs are planned processes to get new employees familiarized with their role, team, and company. Getting a new hire officially in their role doesn’t take much time (just paperwork), but onboarding can take over a year because it’s how a new employee integrates into a company and gets up to full productivity. 

What makes a great onboarding program? Effective onboarding programs give new hires confidence to complete their jobs effectively, knowing that their work contributes toward organizational goals.

Through onboarding, the new hire may receive a kind of starter pack which may include: 

  • A plan for training and development,
  • Insight into details specific to their job,
  • Tasks assigned to their level of competency,
  • Timelines for completion, and
  • A schedule of periodic reviews to discuss their progress.

It’s important to recognize that onboarding and orientation are two separate concepts. The process of orientation can be part of the onboarding program, but not the other way around. 

Orientation can be a formal event, with most new employees following a pre-determined agenda. The new hires will be introduced to the company’s occupational health and safety requirements, the mission and vision of the company, and who the key contacts are within the organization. Orientations are a necessary part of moving into a new role. They can be an opportunity for new employees to meet their new colleagues and become familiar with the working space and environment.

Onboarding programs, on the other hand, go beyond the administrative checklists of orientation and focus on putting new hires on a track for career development. The primary way organizations can do this is through formal mentoring programs.

Why you should include mentorship in your onboarding program

Mentorship is important to onboarding because it gives employees the opportunity to develop and become more competent in their roles faster. It also gives them a support system that is essential for pursuing future growth opportunities. There are three key benefits to incorporating mentorship programs into onboarding:

  1. Getting them up to speed quickly
  2. Meet the team and adjust to the company culture
  3. Set them up for success so they don’t turnover

Let’s look at each in  detail:

Getting them up to speed quickly

The key to successful onboarding is to ensure sufficient time is spent on training employees. The mentor should have a thorough knowledge of the organization and any programs or training that a new employee can access to help them reach their goals and get up to speed quickly. It’s common for organizations to have buddy programs where an experienced employee who’s on a similar level as the new hire will peer mentor them. Peer mentoring is great because it can be more casual for the new hire. Rather than approaching a senior leader with every small question, the new employee can lean on a peer for help as they ramp up.

Meet the team and adjust to the company culture

A successful onboarding program gives new employees a clear idea of the company culture. With a mentor's insight and guidance, they can quickly learn the values that your company wants to convey. Employees who are involved in a mentorship program are more aware of workplace routines, policies, and expectations than those who do not participate. 

Further, by mentoring new hires, they’ll get a feeling of inclusivity, as their mentor can show that their contributions are valued and clearly tied to the success of the organization. Doing so shows new team members that their careers are supported and important.

Set them up for success so they don’t turnover

Research shows that employees who have a mentor (whether a peer or senior leader) are significantly more engaged and have higher rates of retention. Additionally, a survey by Delloite found that among employees with mentors, 83% are satisfied with their working lives. Further, they plan on staying with their company for at least five years. Mentorship makes a compelling case not only for onboarding employees but keeping them well into the future.

  A Complete Checklist for Your Onboarding Buddy Program

The challenge of remotely onboarding new employees

The pandemic made onboarding less personal. Mentorship can give people the face-to-face time they need to feel a part of the team. Training is necessary for a new role, but traditional corporate training doesn’t do nearly enough for new employees—especially now that most companies are hybrid or remote

For that reason, Social Learning programs that emphasize the person-to-person aspect of training are much more successful. Social Learning is how we learn most effectively: observing, imitating, and getting feedback from others. In the workplace, it looks like employees collaborating to find solutions to challenges, working out their ideas, and making plans to develop the skill sets they need to excel in their roles. 

University of California, Berkeley states that “Social Learning involves participation and can take place in either a formal (i.e. working on a course together with a cohort) or informal (i.e. daily, casual occurrences of working and learning in a team) settings.”

In a remote workplace, onboarding needs to take a more person-to-person approach through mentorship and peer learning programs. Without it, employees can flounder, feeling the isolation of a remote role and never really feeling a part of a team.

How to measure the success of your onboarding program

Once the onboarding process is in place with assigned mentors, planned check-ins and progress updates, the next important step is to measure the program's success. There are several ways to do this, but three of the most popular are:

  1. Ask for feedback - Feedback from online surveys is a regular tool for most businesses where customers are concerned, so why wouldn’t they be used to determine how employees view their job and their peers? Employees can provide feedback on training, orientation, work environment and facilities and will be more likely to give honest opinions if the survey is anonymous. This could be facilitated with software, and the feedback is provided from behind a computer screen really adds to the level of anonymity. Great mentoring programs allow new employees to feel comfortable offering their opinions and feedback on how to improve onboarding for future new recruits.
  2. Staff retention - Spreadsheets and calculators can provide HR with the specific data on turnover rates, but it’s easy to gauge whether more staff are staying with an organization on a smaller scale. Compare your rate of employee retention to the national average, to your sector and to previous years. If the onboarding program is introduced in one department before others, compare the retention in that department to the rest of the organization. Analytical data could also be used to measure the level of engagement that employees had within a mentoring program vs their rate of retention; this key statistic can go a long way in justifying a program.
  3. Business performance - How is the profit & loss report looking? Is the company generating more operational profit? The direct link between onboarding, mentoring and profit and loss can be hard to see, however, mentoring software can help simplify this process. Suppose staff turnover cost you $X amount last year, and that number has dropped since introducing an onboarding program. In that case, it can be reasoned that the opportunity for mentorship, goal setting and feedback has contributed to reduced turnover costs.

We have a guide on calculating the ROI of your mentoring program that is worth downloading. It walks you through not only how to measure mentoring initiatives but also any initiatives that need to demonstrate ROI in a business sense. 

Ready to upgrade your onboarding program with mentorship?

Mentorship programs for new hires can help employees feel like part of the team right off the bat. With a mentor, new employees won’t have to try to decipher company culture on their own. Instead, their mentor can help them understand how to fit in with the team. This can be especially key for remote or hybrid workplaces. 

If you’re ready to learn more about how to introduce mentoring into an onboarding process, check out or article, How to build a mentorship program for new employees. You’ll learn about the different structures your mentoring program can take (like 1-on-1 versus peer or groups), how to pair participants, report on its success and more. 

Additionally, if you’re thinking about starting a mentoring program for all of your employees and the idea of pairing dozens—or hundreds of employees seems daunting, don’t fret. Talk to us for 15 minutes this week to learn how a mentoring platform like Together’s can help you build a world-class mentoring program without breaking a sweat.

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