What was your experience when you started your first career job? Did you participate in a comprehensive onboarding program? Or did you have to figure out how things worked on your own? If your experience matches that of a recent Gallup poll, you did not have a satisfying newcomer experience. Gallup found that only 12% of employees strongly agreed that their organization did a great job onboarding new employees. My experience was similar. It was weeks before I figured out who my boss was.
Is onboarding the same as orientation?
Onboarding, sometimes known as organizational entry, is the process that organizations use to socialize and acclimate a new employee into the culture and work life of an organization. Often overlooked is the idea that onboarding also helps an organization discover and make use of the unique strengths of each new employee.
Orientation can be a part of onboarding, but it is not the same thing. Onboarding is a lengthy process that includes all of the practices, programs and policies that help integrate incoming employees into a new organization. It is a more strategic approach than a conventional orientation and can take anywhere from 30 days to a year.
Learning and Development Responsibilities
Learning and Development teams may be responsible for designing a comprehensive onboarding program or a portion of it. L&D may develop a training component, an onboarding portal, or make recommendations for social, collaboration and support technologies. Onboarding best practices may also be a part of leadership development and management training. Therefore, understanding how to make onboarding as effective as possible is valuable for the L&D role.
Advantages of a Comprehensive Onboarding Process
Research shows that an effective onboarding process helps incoming employees form relationships, quickly adapt to their new work responsibilities and improve their commitment to the organization (Allen & Shanock, 2013). Effective onboarding is also beneficial for reducing new employee anxiety and is associated with higher retention. New hires are often eager to assume a role that both fits their needs and the needs of the organization.
Ten Best Practices for Employee Onboarding
The following are a series of diverse strategies and guidelines for designing a blended employee onboarding program gleaned from research, articles and white papers.
1. Align the messaging. As you would design any program, determine your onboarding goals first. Identify and clarify the impression you want to leave with new hires about your culture and work environment. Ensure your messaging is consistent throughout and that it is aligned with your goals.
2. Plan the first day. When new employees start a job, they want to do something meaningful. They also want to feel comfortable. They need a place to work that is set up for them and to understand their role and responsibilities. All of their paperwork should have been sent in advance, but they may need answers to questions. Though it may seem mundane, new hires also want to know where to park, the location of important rooms and how to find supplies. A positive first day, with some interesting work, can leave a lasting impression.
3. Ensure a meeting with manager in the first week. An experiment at Microsoft demonstrated that there is a benefit for new employees to meet one-on-one with their manager during the first week of employment. Researchers found that these employees had a 12% larger internal network in the first 90 days (which creates a sense of belonging.). The new employees also participated in higher-quality meetings and spent more time collaborating with their teams than those who did not have a the manager meeting within the first week (Klinghoffer, Young & Liu, 2018).
4. Support the person’s authentic strengths. Authors of the extended article, Reinventing Employee Onboarding, make a case for allowing new employees to use their signature strengths every day from the start (Cable, Gino & Staats, 2013). Through research and fieldwork, they found that if employees have the opportunity to reflect on their strengths and find a way to apply them to their job, “new hires get more satisfaction and meaning from their work, which also benefits employers.” See their article (link in references) for their four principles to achieve this goal.
5. Use gamification to engage employees. A university IT services department experimented with gamifying the onboarding process to engage and motivate new employees and to provide a more thorough experience. Using a space exploration theme, they incorporated digital and physical leaderboards, challenges and bonus prizes. Initial results demonstrated that the approach was well-received and had a positive impact on customer satisfaction with the performance of the new employees (Miller, Grooms & King, 2018).
6. Focus on social relationships. In his book, The Social Organization, Jon Ingham argues that the information that new employees need is social. Therefore, onboarding should be fun and participative rather than boring and top-down. He suggests bringing new hires together on their first day to let them work in small groups to identify what they need to know. Then groups go out and find answers to a few of the questions by talking to people. They meet back in a few days to share what they’ve learned. The social connections make the experience relevant and fun and probably improve retention.
7. Provide mentors to new hires. In a study by the Society of Human Resource Management, new employees were assigned mentors to help ease new hires into their role and work culture. The new employees with mentors became more knowledgeable about the organization and were more invested in the values of the organization than those without a mentor.
8. Or provide buddies. In a study of the onboarding practices of ten organizations, newcomers found two socialization practices to be beneficial. These were 1) assigning a fellow worker as a ‘buddy’ to help the newcomer integrate into the workplace and 2) encouraging a new hire to observe a fellow associate for a period of time (Kline, Polin & Sutton, 2015).
9. Use diverse and blended formal practices. In the same study of ten organizations above, new employees who experienced a greater number of formal onboarding practices were more socialized than those who did not experience this. The authors suggest that offering more approaches to facilitate socialization rather than fewer, should be a primary goal of onboarding programs. In addition, new employees perceived the range of practices as at least moderately beneficial to their onboarding experience (Kline, Polin & Sutton, 2015). To avoid a disorganized mashup of practices, unify a multi-practice program as you would any blended program.
10. Gather feedback. To improve an onboarding program, there must be multiple ways for new hires to give feedback. Use online surveys and facilitate discussions with participants about ways to improve the onboarding program. Gather retention and job satisfaction data to see if the improvements are having an effect.
One of the key findings in onboarding research—stated in different ways—is that learning through social interaction and building relationships should be a priority of any new hire integration program.
- Allen, D.G. & Shanock, L.R. Perceived organizational support and embeddedness as key mechanisms connecting socialization tactics to commitment and turnover among new employees. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 34, 350–369, 2013.
- Bauer, T. Onboarding New Employees: Maximizing Success. SHRM Foundation, 2010.
- Cable, D., Gino F., & Staats, B. Reinventing Employee Onboarding. MIT Sloan Management Review, 2013. https://sloanreview.mit.edu/files/2013/03/8884a0d75d.pdf
- Ingam, J. The Social Organization: Developing Employee Connections and Relationships for Improved Business Performance. Kogan Page, 2017.
- Kline, Polin and Sutton. Specific Onboarding Practices for the Socialization of New Employees. International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 23 (3), 2015.
- Klinghoffer, D., Young C., and Liu, X. To Retain New Hires, Make Sure You Meet with Them in Their First Week. Harvard Business Review (June, 2018). https://hbr.org/2018/06/to-retain-new-hires-make-sure-you-meet-with-them-in-their-first-week.
- Maurer, R. Tips for Creating an Effective Onboarding Site. SHRM, 2016. https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/hr-topics/talent-acquisition/pages/tips-effective-onboarding-site.aspx.
- Miller, Grooms & King. To Infinity and Beyond— Gamifying IT Service-Desk Training: A Case Study. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 31(3), 249-268, 2018.
- O’Boyle, E. & Harter, J. Why the Onboarding Experience Is Key for Retention. Gallup. https://www.gallup.com/workplace/235121/why-onboarding-experience-key-retention.aspx.