Building Relationships While Onboarding

Relationships in any capacity whether as friendships, acquaintances, significant others, and, yes, even employees, is based on trust, respect, support, and authenticity. Therefore, during new employee training, relationship building begins the moment the new hire interacts with Human Resources, management, and other staff and employees whether it is digitally, on the phone, or in the physical work environment. When thinking about onboarding as the process of building a relationship rather than a finite process, some of the methodologies and approaches shift. Focusing on the building of relationship rather than just the job-specific attitudes, knowledge, skills, and behaviors, puts the goal of building positive working relationships at the center of the new hire’s successful career trajectory as well as the well-being of the organization.

Onboarding new employees is a tedious and sometimes pricey affair. The initial months can prove to be successful or costly as it is the period in which the new employee and the organization itself is determining if it is a good fit for both. The statistics in the infographic by TINYpulse illuminates the necessity for good onboarding practices.


The shift to a focus on relationship building supports the new person through the difficult jobs of acclimating to the new culture, retaining massive amounts of information, and performing at a high level helps to ensure success in traditional job probationary period. Dr. By Talya N. Bauer from the SHRM Foundation (Society for Human Resources Management) shares, “According to one estimate, 60 percent of managers who fail to onboard successfully cite failure to establish effective working relationships as a primary reason.”

So, how do we build relationships during onboarding? It is the same as building any other relationship — by first creating trust. Building trust in a working relationship allows for the creation of safety and a sense of support as both the organization’s personnel and new hire navigate the challenging orientation and training process. Trust is also about building rapport as well as accountability. The following are suggested ways to facilitate the creation of trust:

  1. Practice clear communication
  2. Ensure that all words match actions with integrity and follow-through
  3. Avoid the use of blame or the creation of “us” versus “them” (i.e. management vs. employee) dynamics
  4. Create accountability metrics from day one to track and assess the status of the new hire’s progress and assignments as well as accountability metrics for everyone involved in the onboarding process
  5. Ask for continued feedback and practice active listening

"The people when rightly and fully trusted will return the trust."

 Abraham Lincoln

Another important step in building good working relationships is to allow and encourage authenticity. Authenticity is the practice of genuinely being oneself, and the building of trust is the foundation for authenticity. When trust is well-established early in the welcoming process, new hires may feel safe and supported enough to bring him or herself forward into the new environment and role, which is a positive for organizations. In an HBR article entitled, “The Powerful Way Onboarding Can Encourage Authenticity,” the authors share:

Authentic self-expression isn’t just important because it makes us feel better: When new hires introduce their authentic selves to their organization, both they and their employer perform better. Our research shows that when employees enter into relationships with others who recognize and verify their authentic self-views, they are more likely to share information and collaborate with colleagues, resulting in greater productivity. And when employees feel they can bring both their heads and their hearts to work, innovation and creativity thrive, and customers notice that employees authentically care about them.

Be sure to build in time to the orientation process for the new employee to present his or herself professionally and personally by providing opportunities for speaking, presenting, and/or sharing.

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Building relationships with new employees from the very beginning is key to retention and long-lasting working engagements. New hires will make decisions about whether or not to stay with an organization within just a few months, and the high cost of onboarding and then losing an employee due to poor training, poor fit for the jobs, or poor social skills is detrimental not only to other employee’s efforts and understanding, but also to organizational bottom line. Creating an environment where trust is built as a strong foundation with avenues and opportunities for authenticity will lead to a great working relationship and future company success.


Bauer, T. PhD. (2010). Onboarding New Employees: Maximizing Success. The (Cable, Gino, & Staats, 2015) for Human Resource Management

Cable, D., et. Al. (2015) “The Powerful Way Onboarding Can Encourage Authenticity” Harvard Business Review.



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