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An Employer’s Guide to the First 90 Days of Employment

Finding and hiring the perfect candidate for your small business can require considerable resources – the process is time consuming (taking an average 11 weeks to fill) and costly (averaging $4,700 per position). That’s an investment you hope will pay off for several years to come.

So it’s disheartening – and frustrating – when a new hire walks out the door after less than 90 days on the job. But it happens – approximately 20 percent of employees quit within the first three months of starting a new position.

The good news is, turnover in the early months of employment can be minimized. Intentional planning that begins during recruitment and onboarding and extends through a 90-day employee review can increase the likelihood that your new hires will not only stay with your company, but also become productive and valuable team members.

The first 90 days of employment are make or break.

First impressions matter, especially to new hires. The first few days on the job are critical to making new employees feel welcome to your company. Those initial days should also give new hires a clear picture of the company culture and an understanding of how their role contributes to your company’s mission.

Throughout the next three months, your goal is to provide the training, resources, and knowledge that will lay the foundation for long-term success in the role. You will also need to establish open communication so that your employee knows you (or another team member) are available to answer questions, help with roadblocks, and listen to feedback. When employees feel valued, supported, and have the tools they need to perform their job, they are more likely to be happy in their role – and to stay.

Why is turnover so high in the first 90 days?

What happens during the first 90 days of employment that causes so many employees to leave? It’s often a combination of factors – some that may impact your new hire’s experience before they walk in the door, others that impact whether your employee feels welcome from day one, and still other factors that are out of your control. For example:

  • Inaccurate job descriptions: Often, job posts include old job descriptions, but job duties and responsibilities evolve over time. What may have been accurate 3 years ago, may no longer be applicable. It’s important to review job descriptions ensure they reflect what’s required, the day-to-day tasks, and the skills necessary to be successful.
  • Misleading interview process: Accurately portraying your company culture, employee benefits including perks such as paid time off and paid holidays, and day-to-day life during the hiring process will help establish realistic expectations for your new hire.
  • Inadequate or lack of training: Even if a new employee has experience in similar roles, they will still need help to learn your systems, processes, and procedures. When new employees don't get the training they need, however, they are likely to feel overwhelmed and unsupported, which may cause them to think they don't have what it takes to be successful in the role.
  • Interpersonal conflict: If your new hire immediately clashes with their manager or coworkers, they may decide that the position or your company isn’t a good fit.
  • Feeling unwelcome or lack of connection with colleagues: Workers want to feel welcome by their new employer and need opportunities to establish connections with their team members. Without those opportunities, they are likely to feel isolated and unhappy, particularly if they are working in a remote or hybrid role.
  • Change in circumstances: Your new hire may have a sudden change in their personal (or professional) life that leads to the employee leaving the position.

What can you do to reduce this early turnover?

Intentional planning prior to the recruitment process, through the new-hire onboarding program, and extending into the employees first 90 days will have a significant impact on reducing early turnover.

During recruitment: Updating job descriptions, providing clear expectations, and accurately conveying company culture and day-to-day life during the hiring process will help job candidates assess if they are a good fit for the position.

Prepare interview questions that specifically address culture and consider using personality, cognitive, and skills-based assessments during the recruitment process to help you identify candidates who are the best fit for your company.

During onboarding: Decades ago, an employee’s first day (or days) on the job was spent completing tedious (and often repetitive) paperwork. Today’s integrated technology platforms can eliminate this step, and often, forms can be completed and information collected electronically in a more streamlined process. With that step finished quickly and easily, employers will benefit from creating a robust onboarding program that shifts its emphasis to engaging your employees from day one by making them feel welcome, connecting them with colleagues, providing time for required trainings, and introducing small projects.

During the first 90 days: The first three months are equally important in ensuring your new hire is equipped to succeed in their new role. The first 90 days of employment should be focused on providing your new hire:

  • Tools and resources they need to succeed, such as proper equipment, access to technology they’ll regularly utilize, and an employee handbook.
  • Training so they can properly perform their daily duties but also common tasks such as clocking in or requesting time off.
  • Realistic expectations based on the job they were hired to do, their experience, and how long it typically takes to learn the role.
  • Opportunities to ask questions, give feedback, and offer ideas – and to receive regular feedback from you.

What to do at the 90-day mark?

90-day employment mark

At the end of 90 days, your employee should have a clear understanding of your company’s mission, vision, culture, and goals. Perhaps more importantly, they should know how their role contributes to the company’s overall mission. This is key to your new hire’s success, as well as the company’s.

What can you expect from your new employee?

At 90 days, your employees should have completed any required training. They should also be actively contributing to your organization’s work as soon as possible.

During the 90-day period, assign short, rewarding projects that give your new hire a sense of achievement, ownership, and progress within their role. At the same time, utilize the projects to assess your employee’s progress. Your new employee should also be able to demonstrate progress on any ongoing projects.

If your new hire appears to be rushing through training or finishing projects faster than expected, check in with them and assess their work. Did they complete all training and project tasks? Are they meeting project expectations, or is it apparent they hurried through it?

Regular one-on-one meetings between you and your new hire will help establish open communication and provide your employee an opportunity to ask questions, seek clarification on projects or expectations, and give you feedback about how they are feeling in their new role. In return, you can also provide guidance on assignments, feedback for areas of improvement, and highlight your new hire’s successes.

90-day review

A 90-day review is an opportunity for you and your new hires to assess their performance and share feedback from the first three months. Within a 90-day review, you may discuss your employee’s overall performance, productivity, and goals and expectations moving forward. Additionally, the 90-day review is a chance to gather your employee’s feedback on processes, procedures, and their onboarding experience.

Listen and make changes based on their feedback. A few questions you can ask include:

  1. How does this job compare to your expectations?
  2. What could we have done to make you feel more comfortable?
  3. Who has been the most helpful in training and welcoming you?
  4. Where would you like to see yourself at the company in the next year, two years, or five years?

Work with your new hire to set specific goals for the next few months that are measurable and achievable.

Improve retention – and develop productive employees

A successful approach to your new hire’s first 90 days begins long before the employee walks through the door. By ensuring your recruitment process gives candidates realistic job expectations, designing a robust onboarding program that emphasizes culture and develops meaningful relationships, and providing a 90-day review with goals and feedback, you can improve retention rates for your new hires and help them develop into valuable team members.

You've got top talent. Retain it with a strong onboarding process.

Learn how a dynamic employee onboarding program can help you retain top talent in our 4-part article series.