The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed labor, hiring and the culture surrounding hourly work. While layoffs are expanding at big tech companies and in other corporate sectors, service industries like restaurants and hospitality are struggling to recruit and retain workers. Increased competition and rising employee standards are making it harder than ever for employers to not only attract talent, but to keep it.

There is one place employers need to focus on to truly make a dent in this retention challenge: the first 90 days onboarding. Based on its engagement with over 10,000 restaurants across the country, data from HourWork’s 2023 QSR Trends and Wage Report shows that engaging employees within the first 90 days of employment is critical to retention. According to exit surveys, in the first 90 days, employees are five times more likely to quit due to issues like miscommunications, lack of training and not feeling prepared for their role. Why? New employees need adequate training to learn their job duties and understand the restaurant’s expectations. If they do not receive proper training, they may become frustrated and feel like they cannot do their job effectively, leading them to quit.

Luckily, employers have the power to address this. Improving onboarding can not only reduce time to proficiency for new employees, but also help keep them engaged, happy and more likely to stick around.

Onboarding: How To Improve the First 90 Days

Employers should strive to create a welcoming and inclusive workplace culture where employees feel valued, respected and supported. Within the first 90 days, employers should focus on bringing new employees into the fold by administering a comprehensive training program that fosters two-way communication and builds connections with new hires to create a positive work environment where employees can thrive. Let’s evaluate three ways employers can improve the first 90 days of onboarding.

1. Implement a structured training program. To be effective, onboarding must be a structured and streamlined process. The training should include detailed information on job responsibilities, procedures and policies and inform new hires about the company’s mission, values and culture. Managers should set clear expectations for new employees including providing access to learning pathways that allow employees to understand opportunities for advancement. During onboarding, managers should highlight the resources and skills needed to succeed within the organization, and communicate with new employees regularly to understand their needs and feedback as they prepare for their roles.

2. Foster open two-way communication. Open two-way communication between managers and their employees is critical within the first 90 days. If employees feel like their managers are unapproachable or unsupportive, they may become dissatisfied with their job and choose to leave. Managers who are unresponsive to employee concerns or who do not provide clear expectations and feedback can create a negative work environment. Instead, managers should provide regular feedback and recognition to help employees feel valued and motivated. Create a means of communication that is ongoing, purposeful and provides an open forum for employees to voice their preferences, concerns and questions.

3. Build relationships with employees. This can help employees feel heard and valued. If employees do not feel like their work is meaningful or fulfilling, they may choose to quit. This could be due to a lack of recognition or opportunities for advancement, or a feeling that their job does not align with their personal values or interests. Showing interest in their work as well as their personal lives can help humanize corporate culture and create a sense of belonging in the workplace. Creating strong interpersonal relationships is essential for keeping employees happy, engaged and excited to show up to work.

At the end of those 90 days, ensure that the onboarding program has a clear ending, and celebrate its completion with employees. By acknowledging their completion, and ideally recording it in some way, employees can look back on their hard work and feel proud of their accomplishment.

Overall, the goal of onboarding is to create a positive work environment in which employees are engaged, happy and excited to come to work. By creating a strong program that facilitates two-way communication and fosters positive connections with new hires, organizations can see less turnover after the first 90 days. Not only can onboarding help assimilate new hires to the team, troubleshoot any concerns and address feedback, but it can also help employees feel valued and motivated in their roles.