What is Employee Onboarding? (And Why You Should Care)

Posted in Thoughts & Culture

Within the HR industry, when someone mentions “onboarding” (or “induction”, depending on where you’re from, or “employee onboarding” to be specific), we generally know what it’s about.

It’s how we get a new employee started with an organization, and equip them with the skills, knowledge and tools to become a productive member of the team.

It’s not just about the paperwork, the welcome presentation decks, the “here is the kitchen” talk or the initial training. Onboarding encompasses a much longer period of time, and a wider program than most people think.

But what if we’re talking to people outside of HR?

Why should non-HR people care about onboarding?

It’s easy to dismiss onboarding as just HR-specific jargon.

But the truth is, onboarding affects just about everyone who has ever had a job, even if they are not aware of it.

  • A terrible first day at a new job? That’s onboarding done wrong.
  • Turning up to a puzzled receptionist, a missing manager, an empty desk, or no desk at all? #Onboardingfail.
  • Getting lost or not knowing what time to turn up to a new job? Onboarding should have taken care of that.
  • Getting nervous about your decision to start at an organization after signing the letter of offer? Believe it or not, proper onboarding could have helped with that.
  • “This isn’t what I signed up for” – or feeling lost or overwhelmed on your first day, or first week, or first month? Again, onboarding would have helped.
  • Felt like your manager surprised you with their negative feedback during your performance review? You guessed it, if the organization had gotten their onboarding ducks in a row, you would have known what was coming and taken corrective steps.
  • For anyone in a management position, if trying to prepare for the start of a new hire is like running around like a headless chicken, then yep, that’s an onboarding issue.

How long does onboarding last?

There is often a misconception that onboarding starts with day one, and then goes on for say, 3 months, when the probation period ends.

In fact, onboarding can (and, we think, should) start from the day that someone becomes an employee (that is, when they sign the letter of offer), and should last a lot longer – as long as 12 months or beyond.

It’s useful to think of onboarding as a part of a spectrum of continuous engagement with the employee, so it actually segues seamlessly with existing programs like continuous training and upskilling, feedback, crossboarding (or transitioning, which includes parental leave, role changes, and office moves), and eventually, offboarding (when an employee leaves the company).

What is the purpose of onboarding?

According to Sean Little from the SHRM blog, there are three main goals for onboarding: acclimatise, engage and retain.

Acclimatisation is about helping the new employee fit in and shaping expectations about behaviour. How do they fit within the bigger picture of the team, and the organization on the whole? How does feedback and performance review work? What is expected of them? What can they reasonably expect from the company in terms of support and resources?

Engagement refers to building up an employee’s commitment to their job and to the organization. This has become a major issue as researchers find that employee engagement has a major impact on profit, turnover, and other performance metrics.

Onboarding has a major part to play in kickstarting engagement by fostering the relationship between the new employee and their manager(s) and demonstrating the organization’s commitment to both recognizing achievements and supporting growth.

Retention: nothing is more demoralizing for both the organization and the new employee than a bad start, leading to that dreaded notice of resignation.

Besides the direct and hidden costs of turnover for an organization, the loss of promising new talent can be very harmful to engagement for the rest of the team, and the manager.

Who owns onboarding?

Another misconception is HR has the majority of the responsibility over onboarding.

Yes, HR can guide onboarding efforts, but if we think about the main goals of onboarding, it’s a fact that the day-to-day interactions between the new employee, their team, and also their supervisors and managers have the greatest impact on their ability to fit in, engage and stay.

The wider organization has a role to play as well. According to Culture Amp, both managers and the wider company leadership matter when employees decide to leave.

It’s so important for managers to get involved, we’ve actually written a guide for HR on how they can Empower Managers to Own Onboarding.

Why is employee onboarding important?

For organizations, proper onboarding improves employee engagement, with all its related benefits that directly impact the bottom line. The organizational advantages of structured onboarding are too many to list here, so we’ve actually got a separate article dedicated to the business case for onboarding.

For any working person, being onboarded properly sets the tone for the rest of your time at an organization.

  • Are you recognized and appreciated as more than a cog in the machine?
  • Do your opinions matter?
  • How well do you fit in?
  • Are you clear about what is expected of you?
  • Are you fully equipped to deal with the challenges of your role?
  • Are you engaged and passionate about what you are doing?
  • Do you feel like you are making a difference, and growing as an individual and part of the team?

Considering that for the average person, over a third of your total waking hours are spent at work, these things matter. A lot.

What can I do to improve employee onboarding?

For HR professionals and organizations, we have plenty of resources that can help. You can inject creativity into your onboarding with these useful tips, apply socialization techniques to your onboarding processesimpress new hires with these 10 out-of-the-box suggestions, or get back to the basics to prevent onboarding stuff-ups.

If you’re looking at something a bit more substantial to sink your teeth into, our free guide Onboard New Hires Like an HR Rock-Star will really help get you started.

If you’re outside of HR, we think education is key. Yes, you can vent about a crappy first day with your social circle. But to make real changes, you need to be heard by those who can make a real impact on your workplaces’ onboarding.

Provide feedback about your onboarding experience. Talk about it, not just with HR, but with your manager, your colleagues and your friends. Share resources like this article if you need help getting your point across.

It’s the 21st century, and it’s time to put an end to #onboardingfails.