6 Steps to Improve Equitable Onboarding and Retention Practices

The UW Career & Internship Center values the diversity of our student body and believes that our work to address systemic inequities facing students from traditionally marginalized backgrounds – including students of color, women, LGBTQ+ students, international students, students with disabilities, undocumented students, and others – starts with access to meaningful employment and internship opportunities. Furthermore, the benefits of a diverse workforce are well documented, and all organizations should strive for their staffs to be diverse and for all employees to feel included, respected, and empowered. Equitable hiring is the first step in diversifying your organization and we recommend our 6 Steps to Improve Equitable Hiring resource to improve the equity of your hiring process.

However, simply hiring diverse candidates is not enough. If employees are not actively retained they face greater challenges in persisting and thriving in the companies and organizations in which they work. It is vital that employers foster an inclusive culture and bring intentionality in how they set up their employees for long-term success. The steps outlined below are focused on your new hire’s first few months in the job and are largely applicable to all new employees at your organization. This information was gathered from existing resources and research on the topic of onboarding and retention practices.

For questions, contact Dan Herb, Internship Success Manager, at dherb@uw.edu.

  • Step 1: Make a Plan. Write it Down.

    • Key Points

        • Compile all information a new hire will need for onboarding before they start.
        • Create onboarding checklists for both new hires and their managers.
        • Develop a detailed schedule for a new hire’s first week.
        • Provide information to new hires in writing so they can refer back to it.

      Every onboarding process for a new employee has a laundry list of tasks and to do items. From making sure that their email is set up to having their first meeting with a supervisor, the onboarding process has a lot of moving parts. To ensure nothing gets missed and that new hires and their managers have dotted all the I’s and crossed all the T’s, it is vital to make a plan and write it down. Talk with your HR department, employee managers, and other stakeholders to make sure that your plan includes all of the steps a new hire should go through when they first start their position. It is also helpful to create detailed checklists for new hires and managers which provides an easy roadmap to make sure that everything is on track and nothing falls through the cracks.

      In addition to checklists, go further and map out the new hire’s schedule for at least their first week. Leave ample time in the calendar for them to read and process paperwork, and be sure to provide an avenue and opportunity to ask questions. For recent college graduates, their first job out of college may be their first job they’ve ever had, and providing a detailed schedule and task list will help them feel confident they know what they are supposed to be doing when they show up to work. We recommend providing as much information in writing (paper or digital) you can so that new hires can refer back to information and do not feel any pressure to immediately memorize everything that they are learning in those first few weeks. If appropriate, making information available in multiple languages will increase the likelihood that all of your new hires can understand and digest necessary information. Taking the time to provide this level of detail, organization, and information for your new hires shows them you are invested in their success as a new employee, and you want to make sure they have everything they need to thrive in this new environment.

  • Step 2: Set Clear Expectations

    • Key Points

      • Create a list of workplace expectations and write them down.
      • Develop a communication plan between new hires and their managers.
      • Explicitly state how and when employee performance is evaluated.
      • Avoid unspoken expectations that are inherent in U.S. work culture.

      Setting clear expectations for your employees provides them with guidelines and a roadmap to success in their role. There are many different layers of expectation setting for new hires and your organization – here are a few we recommend areas all employers should cover.

      Communication – Ensuring that new hires understand how employees in the workplace communicate with each other and their managers is vital to their success in the job. Communication expectations can cover everything from email etiquette and writing conventions, to intra-office communication tools like Teams or Slack, to inappropriate workplace conversations and topics. Provide your new employees with information about how your workplace typically communicates or your preferred methods of communication as a manager. Do you prefer performance updates in email, via text, or during your weekly check-ins? How and when should your employees ask questions as they arise regarding their work? Thinking through the communications norms of your office and management style will streamline your new hire’s work experience. In doing so, identify and root out any bad habits or ineffective systems that could feel isolating or confusing to someone new to the workplace.

      Performance – How and when will employee performance be evaluated? What information should new employees compile, if any, during these evaluations? On what metrics will new employees be “graded”? We all want to make sure that we’re doing our jobs well and meeting expectations, but if those performance metrics are never communicated it is hard to know if you’re meeting the bar. Recent graduates just left an environment (college) where they received a syllabus for each class that explained how they can get an “A” for their work. Consider how your employees can get an “A,” so to speak, in their job and provide any needed information on how their performance will be evaluated. It is also important to be flexible and recognize that different workers perform differently and may show their work or competence in different ways. Being curious and inquisitive about any performance problems, as opposed to accusatory, can help alleviate tension and clearly identify areas of improvement.

      Workplace – Every workplace, whether it is an office, a lab, a store, etc. has a culture and set of norms by which its employees engage in their work. Answering questions such as: “What is professional attire in this job?” or “Do we have an open- or closed-door office policy?” or “Do employees often arrive early or stay late to show they are working towards a promotion?” will help your new employees understand the unwritten rules that govern our workplaces. This is especially true for recent graduates for whom this is their first job in the field as they may not have learned the behaviors and norms that many of us take for granted. It is nearly impossible to identify all of these unwritten rules, but we recommend sharing at least some with your new hires and having the patience and grace to teach any as they arise in the work.

      Overall, everyone has expectations about how we are supposed to act and complete tasks at work, but not all of our internal expectations will necessarily align with those of other people. Taking the time during the onboarding process to get managers and new hires on the same page about what is expected of both parties will help alleviate confusion and headaches down the line.

  • Step 3: Build Connections

    • Key Points

      • Create opportunities for new hires to connect with existing staff.
      • Get to know your employees through casual conversations.
      • Develop employee resource groups or other spaces for new hires to interact with peers.
      • Make clear how a new hire’s work fits into the larger organization.

      It is important that all of us understand who we work with and what we are working towards in our job roles. For recent graduates new to the workforce, this position may be their first experience getting to know work colleagues and being a part of a larger mission or structure in their work. The following recommendations represent different layers of connection we suggest you provide during the onboarding process and should continue into future work.

      Connect with the staff – The people we work with are a huge influencer of whether or not we enjoy our jobs. This is also true of internships, where research from former interns shows that getting to know colleagues was one of the most important aspects in a satisfying internship. With that in mind, it is important as managers to create structured opportunities for your new hires to get to know the team and larger staff. You can schedule meet and greet events during their first few days on the job, schedule coffee chats or informational interviews with members of your team and collaborators, and encourage staff lunches or other opportunities for colleagues to get to know one another. A more formal option if you have a larger staff is to create employee resource groups so that members of a given identity group (such as people of color or specific racial groups, LGBTQ+ employees, international hires, etc.) can meet to talk about their shared experiences and develop a sense of community. It is important that this work is intentional and that you, as their manager, put in effort to help form these connections early on. It can be intimidating to reach out when you are new to the team and providing bridges and connections early will help foster relationships during an employee’s full tenure.

      Connect with managers – In addition to setting up clear communication expectations, it is important that managers get to know their employees both at work and outside of it. Planning to have casual conversations, whether scheduled or unscheduled, can help you get to know your employees and better understand their motivations, their concerns, and how to manage them most effectively. It can be necessary to both set and respect boundaries on these conversations if there are topics you would prefer to avoid, but taking the time to get to know your staff on a personal level will help show them you are invested in their success in this role.

      Connect with the larger mission – It is important for employees to understand how their work fits into the larger organization and ultimately the mission of what you are aiming to do. By understanding the bigger picture, new hires are often more motivated to complete tasks and will begin making connections between their work and the work of colleagues and other departments. Developing resources like organizational charts, a mission statement, and departmental descriptions can help new hires understand their place and why their work matters. You can also broach this topic often during supervisor check-in meetings to either inform or make sure your employee understands their work in its proper context.

      By developing these connections at the individual, team, and organizational level you will help your new hires develop a sense of community at work and understand how they are a part of a larger whole. In doing so, you ensure that employees are more likely succeed, thrive, and grow with the organization over time.

  • Step 4: Present your DEI Work

    • Key Points

      • Inform new hires of where your organization is at when it comes to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) work.
      • Provide opportunities for new hires to participate in this work as early as possible.
      • Be open to new ideas about your DEI work and create robust feedback mechanisms.
      • Acknowledge that this is an ongoing effort that will take resources, energy, and time.

      Every organization can do more when it comes to making our work environment more diverse, equitable, and inclusive. Whether you are just starting out in your Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) work by looking at your staff demographics or conducting a pay equity analysis, or if you’ve been at this work for some time, informing your new hires about your DEI efforts, and inviting them in to contribute, is vital to move this work forward. During the onboarding process, include opportunities for your new hires to learn about where your organization is at when it comes to DEI work. What are your overall goals as an organization? What has already been done? What is in progress? What’s on the horizon? Providing a comprehensive and honest self-assessment will show your new hires you are serious about the work and recognize your areas of growth.

      In addition, provide opportunities for new hires to get directly involved in the DEI work on your team. Talk with your new hires about their interest in engaging in this space to find out which entry points might make the most sense for them. Are there committees they can join, trainings they can attend, or ongoing efforts that they can contribute to? Having a new and different perspective often results in ideas that strengthen these efforts overall and including your new employees early will get them invested in continuing to make a difference over their tenure at your organization.

      Finally, it is important to develop robust feedback mechanisms to allow for employees to share their experience, register complaints, and outline a course of action to remedy troublesome situations. Some organizations will house these efforts in their Human Resources department, an Ombud, or neutral arbiter, but new employees must be made aware of the avenues that exist for them to speak up if something isn’t right. It is also important for leadership in the organization to take this feedback seriously by encouraging its usage and taking action to address policies and procedures that may be doing more harm than good. Employees should feel safe and welcome to provide critical feedback as it is the best way for an organization to grow and address the ever-changing realities of our workplaces. Overall, DEI work is not easy, and it takes sustained resources, energy, and time to achieve results. By including your new employees in this work early and often you will increase their investment in the organization and help them shape their work environment for the better.

  • Step 5: Check-In Regularly

    • Key Points

      • Plan to check in with new hires regularly during their first few months on the job.
      • Revisit expectations and existing plans or goals to adjust as needed.
      • Be open to both giving and receiving feedback on performance thus far.
      • Get creative about solutions to any problems or issues that may arise.

      Many people see the onboarding process as an introductory experience during a new employee’s first week or so on the job. One common expectation is that you get all the information you need to know to do your job effectively in as short a time period as possible when you first start, and that’s it. However, this mindset reinforces an existing culture and set of norms at a particular organization by forcing the new employee to figure out the rules of the game without any structured support or direction. Instead, we recommend seeing the onboarding process as an ongoing activity that continues through the first weeks, months, and even years of a new employee’s position. By approaching the onboarding process through the lens of making an employee feel welcomed, included, and successful, one can see how the process cannot simply be completed in a week.

      To accomplish this ongoing onboarding, we recommend scheduling a series of check-in meetings, or making time during existing evaluations, to revisit the expectations set at the beginning of the process and adjust anything as needed. One example of this is the 30, 60, 90 approach where a manger schedules in-depth meetings every thirty days to answer questions, give and receive feedback, and make needed adjustments. Whatever the cadence, regularly touching base with your new employees to ensure their performance meets expectations and their needs are being met will pave a road for ongoing success at the organization.

      Vital to this process is a robust, open, and safe feedback mechanism for new employees to voice both positive and critical comments to their managers or other colleagues. New employees often have a fear of asking unnecessary questions or a hesitance to rock the boat of existing operations. If left unchecked, this environment reinforces existing norms and culture while allowing issues to fester and go unresolved leading to resentment. Instead, we recommend actively encouraging critical feedback from employees during check-in meetings or other opportunities. By creating a space where employees feel their concerns are heard you can resolve problems early and develop creative solutions to ensure that employees are able to thrive in their roles. The answers to issues do not solely have to fall on the manager either, as you can include employees in the resolution process which will increase their buy-in and make the solution that much more effective. By fostering an environment where employees feel they are listened to, heard, and that their voice makes a difference you ensure that they are more invested in the organization and its future success.

  • Step 6: Retain your New Hires

    • Key Points

      • Assess your company culture and identify areas of improvement.
      • Talk with employees about their long-term goals and what you can do to help.
      • Create and showcase opportunities for growth in your company or organization.
      • Acknowledge that this is an ongoing effort that will take resources, energy, and time.

      Simply hiring diverse candidates is not enough to combat the inequities facing marginalized communities in our workforce. We must also ensure that those same diverse candidates thrive in their working environment and go on to occupy managerial and executive level roles in companies, organizations, and government. In order to enact this vision of a more equitable workforce, it is vital that we retain our employees and allow them to grow within the organization. Often, people of color, women, or other minority groups in a workplace may feel unwelcome or that they cannot be their true selves while at work. This reality can ultimately lead to their search for a new position outside the organization to move on from an undesirable work environment. While it should be noted that people choose to leave jobs for a whole host of reasons, some of which may be out of an employer’s control, taking the time to evaluate your company culture and the long-term trajectory of your new hires will improve their overall experience and performance in their roles.

      To start, spend time assessing your own company or organization. There are many tools that exist to help you in this effort from setting goals, conducting a pay equity analysis, compiling your workforce demographics, or entire professional organizations you can hire to consult on the issue. Taking the time to understand your own workplace, its culture, its makeup, etc. will help you identify areas of strength and areas of improvement. You can also include your employees in this effort to gain their input and insight which will ensure your assessment accurately reflects the working conditions for everyone at your organization. This self-reflective work is not easy and will take a significant amount of time and resources to complete. But, once you are equipped with the knowledge of where you are now, you can identify where you could be in the future.

      In addition to assessing company-wide culture and demographics, it is important to focus on individual-level goals and aspirations as well. All of us enter into a job with certain motivations about our current position and where we would like to be in the future. Some of us may want to earn more money, some may want to manage others, and some may be more interested in financial security and long-term benefits offered in a position. Understanding your employees’ long-term professional goals can help you create opportunities for them to build the skills and experience that will help them get there. In doing so, you show your employees you are invested in their success and want to make their goals possible for them in your organization. While we acknowledge that immediate results may not always be possible (we could all use a raise tomorrow, right?), it is important to craft a path for employees to achieve their longer-term goals and see the light at the end of the tunnel. Without this plan, you almost guarantee that employees will eventually look to move on to a new role at some point in the future. In order to fundamentally change the realities of our workforce, we need marginalized communities to occupy positions of power within companies, organizations, and government and the first step in doing so is retaining diverse candidates for the long-term.

  • Information Sources