Making Employee Onboarding a Win-Win


While it’s imperative that you recruit the best candidates for positions within your company, screening, interviewing, and offering the job are only the start in terms of building a quality team. The onboarding process, which takes up to a year, assures that the new hire becomes a contributing member of the team and adapts to the work culture in the briefest, most efficient way, thus increasing their chances of acclimating to the new environment and feeling productive sooner.

The difference between orientation and onboarding is that orientation is a stage of onboarding, where new employees learn about the company and what’s expected of them in terms of their job responsibilities and reviewing the employee handbook. Orientation refers to paperwork and other routine tasks that must be completed.

Onboarding, on the other hand, is designed to build engagement from the initial contact until the employee becomes established within the organization. Onboarding acclimates the new employee to becoming a contributing member of the staff in the briefest time possible, while engaging the employee in enhancing their productivity and improving the company’s opportunity to retain that employee. Plus, depending on the company’s size, industry, and organizational culture, it may adapt or modify the onboarding process to best meet the new hire’s needs.

Why is Onboarding Important?

It’s critical to set the right tone starting on the first day of employment in order to engage the new hire in making a long-term investment. A solid onboarding process plays a significant role. It can help to capture the employee’s commitment within the first six months and avoid up to a 20% turnover during the first 45 days, which is costly to an organization. Direct replacement costs can be as high as 50%–60% of a departing employee’s annual salary, with the total costs associated with turnover ranging from 90%–200% of the employee’s salary.

Before and After Hiring

There are organizations that break up the onboarding process into pre- and post-employment. For example, prior to joining the company, a portal can be set up for the new employee. This helps acclimate them to the organization by way of learning its history and culture, reading articles, watching company videos, and completing necessary paperwork. It also includes social onboarding: helping the new hire acclimate to the team, social dynamics, and technical onboarding, all which address learning the new job. This affords them the opportunity to wind down responsibilities from their previous job and easily transition into the new position.

Investing in the New Hire

As mentioned earlier, the ongoing process of onboarding is an investment in the new hire becoming a productive team member as quickly as possible and learning the specific role they will play in achieving team or company goals. The rewards make it worth the investment, because onboarding equips new employees with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed at their job. They also need to learn what the company plans to provide in terms of management support, access to resources, or performance reviews.

It’s a Mutual Responsibility

Human resources or organizational development (HR/OD) professionals, instructional designers, trainers, managers, and the new employee all have a responsibility when it comes to onboarding:

  • HR generally sends the offer letter and makes sure that the new hire completes the necessary paperwork.
  • Depending on the size of the organization, HR or OD professionals create and deliver the general orientation session. Other organizations might have instructional designers and trainers handle this.
  • The employee’s direct manager will be responsible for going over the employee’s training plan: a plan that outlines what the new hire is expected to complete over a stated period of time. Each training plan pertains to a single company or learning environment and can be designed to meet one or more high-level learning objectives.
  • Managers should routinely check with their new employees and be available to answer questions and help them acclimate to the position, making sure their onboarding assignments have been completed.
  • In turn, it’s the new employee’s responsibility to ask questions, complete benefits paperwork, create necessary new user profiles, and complete all onboarding tasks and training assignments in a timely manner.

As stated earlier, hidden costs of replacing an employee, in terms of turnover, can be as much as 150% of the employee’s annual salary. This encompasses fees paid to recruiters, the cost of interviewing, and the dollars invested in training the new employee. These costs often show up in lower productivity and diminished morale among the remaining employees who are expected to do more and identify the special knowledge or experience the departing employee knew.
To better assure the new hire’s success:

  • Prepare a detailed outline of what’s expected in terms of their responsibilities to the company. If possible, share these expectations with the candidate during the interviewing process to establish clear communication and avoid any misunderstanding.
  • Make sure the new hire’s work area is set up and ready upon their arrival on the first day. Give the new hire their phone extension, make sure their computer is operational, and double-check that the workspace makes them feel welcome and is clutter free. If that workspace previously served as storage, make sure there are no hints of its previous role. The IT, Finance, and Customer Service departments may play a role in the onboarding process by setting up the new employee’s computer, their financial records, or being ready to train the new employee on customer service protocol.
  • Notify the employees within the department at least one day in advance by email or memo that the new employee will be joining the team. It’s imperative that the new hire be properly greeted by his or her fellow employees on the first day. This helps them feel welcome and avoids any embarrassment.
  • If time permits, invite the entire team to join the new hire for lunch on the first day. This fosters establishing socialization and gives the new employee an opportunity to more quickly feel comfortable with his or her new co-workers. Be sure to continue that good will for the first week or two by having members of the team take turns accompanying the new hire to lunch as a way to help him or her become more comfortable with the new environment.
  • Select a peer who will be working with the new hire and ask him or her to help orient and acclimate the new employee once onboard. Select a current employee who’s a good role model and has a positive attitude about the assignment they’ve been given.
  • To help make the first days of a new employee’s transition easier, ask current employees to share their experiences when they first joined the company. Was there anything they would have appreciated initially that would have made them feel more welcome? This feedback can be very valuable and doesn’t require the manager second guessing what a new hire would need at the outset.
  • Early on, it’s important for supervisors and managers to be part of the onboarding process. This helps set the right tone and conveys to the new hire that they’re respected, valued, and appreciated; it offers encouragement and helps to establish a solid rapport. This can significantly deter any dissatisfaction down the line with the immediate manager or supervisor. After a reasonable time, managers should routinely offer support and encouragement, review the employee’s progress, and provide feedback.

Onboarding sets the tone for the relationship between engaged employees and the company’s success in terms of profitability, safety, turnover, absenteeism, product quality, and customer satisfaction. Successful onboarding can boost employee engagement and morale. This includes the company’s commitment to professional growth or management acknowledging the employee’s skills and talent.

When Onboarding Programs Fall Short

Onboarding programs typically fail due to insufficient planning, time, and resources, according to the Association for Planning and Development. Other not-so-obvious reasons can make a difference between a successful and unsuccessful outcome, including:

  • Failure to match what’s perceived in the onboarding process and reality
  • Lack of employee engagement with the onboarding program
  • No compelling business case for the onboarding program
  • The employee misfits with the company
  • Ignoring diverse needs, metrics, and accountability
  • Having a “do-it-yourself” mentality, where no one assumes responsibility or ownership for onboarding
  • Programs that only focus on employee benefits
  • Managers’ unavailability, lack of involvement, and lack of guidance
  • Information overload at a fast pace
  • Misconstruing onboarding as a checklist or carving out time to complete orientation paperwork
  • Skipping defining and discussing company expectations, and delaying explanations about how the employee will contribute to the business
  • Assuming new employees will understand how their roles fit within the organization without providing detailed information
  • Taking for granted that unwritten rules are self-evident
  • Believing there’s no need for a full agenda of activities and events that the employee is expected to meet, including being introduced to key people
  • Waiting to explain how performance will be evaluated only at review times
  • Expecting employees to perform their role in the department/company without enough time for them to develop a basic level of role mastery

A benefit to onboarding is that it affords work teams the opportunity to reinvent themselves and break down barriers. It can provide a valuable opportunity to see the organization through the new hire’s eyes and learn/benefit from their perspective.

Successfully onboarding a new employee requires clear, consistent communication throughout the process. Research shows that new employees’ value clear, consistent communication from their new organization. Knowing when and where to show up on the first day, what to expect upon arrival, knowing whom they will be working with, and what their role will consist of, are important components of a good onboarding experience. Welcome aboard!

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