Engagement Onboarding: How to Be Yourself at Work?

Posted in Research

Most people like to do things that they are good at. They're faster, they get more done, and they end the day with a sense of achievement. So it makes sense to apply this concept when we're talking about employee onboarding or "organizational socialization" as the oldies call it.

Let's be honest. Onboarding is a challenging period of time for everyone involved, as the newbie starts finding their place within the wider organization, and where they fit within the team. For many years now, we have known that the effectiveness of the onboarding process is affected by the engagement levels of both the new employee and the manager.

In the Sloan Management Review report Reinventing employee onboarding, the researchers advocated for HR leaders to encourage new employees to apply their personal strengths to the job during the onboarding phase, and onwards. Doing this, they say, "can help...new hires become more connected with their colleagues, more engaged in their work, and more likely to stay."

But is it all just fluffy, feel-good rhetoric? To understand why they are making this recommendation, let's see how most onboarding is (still) being done today.


The cookie cutter onboarding approach



It's the 21st century, but many companies (and even HR professionals) are still mired in the corporate culture of the 70s to 90s, when business leaders prioritized downsizing, off-shoring and short-term profit, and saw employees seen as little more than economic units, gears in the machine. Under this approach, it made sense to treat onboarding as an exercise in indoctrination.

Human resources professionals begin the discussion about how to build and retain talent by stressing how important it is to get employees to understand and commit to the companies’ values starting on “day one.”

So, many onboarding processes prioritize organizational norms over the individuality of newcomers.

When newcomers are “processed” to accept an organization’s identity, they are expected to downplay their own identities, at least while they are at work.

This approach has become less and less effective, with its failures marked by a disengaged workforce, and high turnover. Couple this with the increasingly expensive and time-consuming recruiting and hiring process, and the cookie cutter approach, marked by conformity and control, no longer makes business sense.


To improve employee engagement, let them be individuals

According to the researchers, the answer lies in what they call "personal identity socialization", or what we call enboarding – Engaging Onboarding.

The approach...involves encouraging newcomers to express their unique perspectives and strengths on the job from the very beginning and inviting them to frame their work as a platform for doing what they do best.



This approach results in:

  1. Greater feelings of connection with colleagues
  2. More positive reactions to the employment relationship
  3. Greater employee retention
  4. Higher satisfaction
  5. Lower stress
  6. Less emotional burnout
  7. New hires gain a more positive view of the organisation
  8. Ne hires inject greater quality and purpose into their work

How to implement engaging onboarding

Based on research and fieldwork, the paper's authors developed four key principles that can help organisations incorporate this personal identity socialization into their onboarding processes and get off to a good start.

1. Break out of the traditional employment mindset. By understanding that today’s employees (particularly Generation Y and younger), are starved for places to express their authentic identities... organisations can help to create an environment that fulfils that desire and uses their signature strengths in the workplace.

2. Help newcomers identify their authentic strengths. It's helpful to provide new hires with a dedicated time to pinpoint and describe their unique strengths and best selves. One way to achieve this is to encourage employees to answer personalised questions such as “What is unique about you that leads to your best performance and happiest times at work?”

3. Facilitate introductions to other organisational members. When introducing new hires to each other and to their new colleagues, it’s important to structure those introductions correctly. When talking about what they are like when they are at their best, people affirm their selves in a new setting and construct their social identity around their authentic strengths in a workplace setting.

4. Ask new hires to consider how their strengths can be applied to their job. When inviting new hires to reflect on their signature strengths and how they could actively put them to use, it allows them to frame their new jobs as opportunities to use their best strengths and to integrate their own purpose and motivations into that job.


Learn more: elevate your onboarding

Want to find out more about how you can create engaging employee onboarding experiences that help each new hire achieve their individual potential? We're giving away our FREE guide, titled Onboard New Hires Like An HR Rockstar: grab it now!

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