Does Your Onboarding Need Some Work?

Onboarding–or the process by which companies acclimate new employees to their positions, and to the organizations’ policies and practices–can be a vital opportunity for new hires. However, it’s one many companies are missing out on, according to a new report.

New Hire Momentum: Driving the Onboarding Experience, by Kronos Inc. and Human Capital Institute, surveyed 350 HR leaders about their companies’ new-hire strategies. One of the most significant findings was that 76 percent of respondents–who represent U.S. companies of varying sizes and in different industries–said their organizations underutilize onboarding. Nearly a quarter of participants said their employer has no onboarding program at all.

Of those that do have an established strategy, the focus may need some work. Study organizers proposed there are three main types of onboarding content: people, performance and paperwork. Far too often, they found, new-hire programs center on the latter.

Survey respondents said that more than 40 percent of their onboarding programs for external hires are paperwork-centric, such as filling out benefits forms and going over compliance documents. But that’s not where the emphasis should be, they said.

Sixty-two percent of participants think the primary goal of onboarding is to integrate employees into the office culture. In reality, that “people” focus only accounts for 30 percent of onboarding for managers, and just 27 percent for non-managers.

Sharlyn Lauby, president of ITM Group Inc., notes that many organizations aim to get new employees right “out on the floor,” leaving HR to “cover the paperwork.”

“The reality is, employees would be more productive if they had time to digest all of the change and newness that comes with starting a job,” Lauby says. “New hires would be more engaged if they understood how they fit into the organizational culture and how their actions contribute to strategic goals.”

Among the activities survey respondents said can best acclimate new employees to a company’s culture are meetings with key stakeholders and senior leadership, team-building activities and peer mentoring. It’s not just about making small talk with the person in the cubicle next to you; the study found that companies whose new-hire programs more strongly emphasize a people approach report better talent and business outcomes.

That statistic supports other research that points to the business case for good onboarding: For instance, a 2007 study from the Wynhurst Group found that new hires who undergo a formal onboarding program are nearly 60 percent more likely to stick with the company three years later than those who didn’t.

However, respondents in the Kronos/HCI study largely reported that their organizations weren’t well-positioned to support an effective onboarding process. Fifty-seven percent said managers were overtasked and don’t have time to invest in acclimating new hires. Other challenges include the inconsistent application of onboarding programs, a lack of tools to measure their effectiveness and insufficient technology to automate the process.

Lauby–an author, writer, speaker and consultant on HR topics–says companies can face those challenges by simplifying the onboarding process to three key elements: what employees need to know, when they need to know it and how they can get that information.

“Do employees need to know about performance expectations during week one? Yes. Do they need to know how to transfer to a different department? Probably not right away,” Lauby says, adding onboarding should be looked at as a “long-term process,” and one that also encourages new hires to do some self-learning.

“By effectively managing new hires’ time and company resources, employees can become productive at an optimal pace,” Lauby says.


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Jen Colletta
Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at [email protected]