Build a stronger workforce in their first 90 days at work

Onboarding faces persistent challenges. But its current importance is unquestioned, and organizations should recognize it if they are to build a balanced, healthy, and equitable workforce.

The United States experienced a massive resignation of workers in the last two years – some arguing even before [7]. This happened due, in part, to worsening working conditions and a booming tech sector demanding more specialized jobs [1]. This demand, a potentially new wave of talent recruiting, will move companies to reflect on how onboarding can learn from best practices and from the current world of work. In this blog post, we will review the persistent challenges onboarding faces, and which practices can help companies ensure the first 90 days of an employee truly pay off. The article inspiring this blog is called To Retain New Hires, Make Sure You Meet with Them in Their First Week, by Dawn Klinghoffer, Candice Young, and Xue Liu. We will also review elements from additional articles.

Onboarding has remained a challenge for companies globally. The pandemic revealed a lack of effective processes to train new hires and adjust their fit to their new company through training, transfer of know-how, or mentorship [4]. Today, evidence shows continuing challenges: onboarding takes four times as much as what is expected, and the consequences of doing it poorly can include a lack of productivity in the new role and increased turnover [4].

In this context, onboarding can become a key to increasing retention, by using the right amount of collaboration. The prospects of retaining a new hire can be increased by helping them acquire and augment their network centrality within the first 90 days [2]. Best practices in collaboration among employees emphasize the need for shorter and less populated meetings [2]. When the pursuit of network building leads to over collaboration, though, employees could ignore their need for time off, they could be having less uninterrupted focus and, therefore, see their wellbeing worsen [3]. In a context where new hires come from a minority background or are in high need of income, this could derail to noxious working conditions, such as remaining silent when facing harassment, or occupational, safety or health concerns due to their fear of losing their job and income [9].

The disruption generated by COVID-19 in the labor market has also revealed inequities for female workers around the world. Remote and hybrid ways of working have provided opportunities for flexibility, but have exacerbated challenges women have faced systematically, such as stereotyping, lack of leadership access at work, and a limited role dedicated to unpaid reproductive work [5, 8].

Onboarding efforts need to consider three crucial aspects to ensure women workers can thrive through their first 90 days at work. First, onboarding should prioritize network-building for female workers so they can more efficiently secure senior mentors and sponsors within the organization [6]. In this regard, further research must be developed to understand how organizational network analysis (ONA) can support the career advancement of women. Second, onboarding should aim at delivering formal and credentialed learning opportunities for women, to ensure their skills are not ignored during promotions or awards, as they are key for them accessing leadership roles. Finally, remote and hybrid onboarding should be gender-sensitive, especially when remote, and consider schedules that are compatible with women’s dedication to unpaid domestic work.

To build a balanced, healthy, and equitable workforce, organizations need to focus their attention on every employee’s first ninety days at work, when, after an overhaul, onboarding stops taking longer.

[1] Who Is Driving the Great Resignation? (September 15, 2021). Harvard Business Review. Accessible at:

[2] To Retain New Hires, Make Sure You Meet with Them in Their First Week. (June 14, 2018). Harvard Business Review. Accessible at:

[3] Hybrid Tanked Work-Life Balance. Here’s How Microsoft Is Trying to Fix It. (December 08, 2021). Harvard Business Review. Accessible at:

[4] Onboarding Can Make or Break a New Hire’s Experience. (April 05, 2022) Harvard Business Review. Accessible at:

[5] Women Face a Double Disadvantage in the Hybrid Workplace. (March 24, 2022). Harvard Business Review. Accessible at:

[6] A Lack of Sponsorship Is Keeping Women from Advancing into Leadership. (August 19, 2019). Harvard Business Review. Accessible at:

[7] The Great Resignation Didn’t Start with the Pandemic. (March 23, 2022). Harvard Business Review. Accessible at:,being%20called%20the%20Great%20Resignation.

[8] World Bank Open Learning Campus (2020). How does domestic and reproductive work responsibilities affect women’s access to and quality of productive work? Archived Webinar. Accessible at:

[9] International Labor Organization (ILO). (2020) Managing work-related psychosocial risks during the COVID-19 pandemic. Retrievable at:–en/index.htm


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Student comments on Build a stronger workforce in their first 90 days at work

  1. Thanks for sharing, David! It is amazing how many companies view an onboarding program a “checking the box,” but you are right that it can greatly improve retention. In fact, there is an alum from HBS working on creating robust onboarding simulations for workers in hybrid workplaces.

    I do wonder how they came up with the importance “90 days” though. I personally think that one’s first few weeks at a company are especially critical in setting the tone for their entire career at a company. By day 50+, it is very hard to reverse course.

    Lastly, I also think equally important is training for existing employees to understand unique challenges faced by women and minorities.

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