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Overview

"Onboarding" refers to the processes in which new hires are integrated into the organization. It includes activities that allow new employees to complete an initial new-hire orientation process, as well as learn about the organization and its structure, culture, vision, mission and values. For some organizations, the onboarding process consists of one or two days of activities; for other organizations, this process may involve a series of activities spanning one or many months.

Onboarding is often confused with orientation. While orientation is necessary for completing paperwork and other routine tasks, onboarding is a comprehensive process involving management and other employees and can last up to 12 months.

All new employees are onboarded—but the quality of the onboarding makes a difference. Too often, onboarding consists of handing a new employee a pile of forms and having a supervisor or HR professional walk the employee around the premises, making introductions on an ad hoc basis. When onboarding is done well, however, it lays a foundation for long-term success for the employee and the employer. It can improve productivity, build loyalty and engagement, and help employees become successful early in their careers with the new organization.

Business Case

A recent Gallup study showed that while only 12 percent of employees felt their company did a great job with onboarding, those employees were nearly three times as likely to say they have the best possible job. Overall, only 29 percent of new hires felt they were prepared and supported to excel in their new role. This leaves a lot of room for improvement.

Other studies consistently show a positive correlation between engaged employees and a company's profitability, turnover rate, safety record, absenteeism, product quality and customer ratings. An effective onboarding plan offers an ideal opportunity to boost employee engagement by, for example, fostering a supportive relationship between new hires and management, reinforcing the company's commitment to helping employees' professional growth and proving that management recognizes the employees' talent. See How to Optimize Onboarding and Don't Underestimate the Importance of Good Onboarding

Relatedly, an employee value proposition (EVP) defines the value employees will get from working for a particular organization. It embodies the promises made during recruitment and is lived out every day through company culture. Onboarding gives employees their first look at how an organization's EVP may or may not be realized.

Program Components

While there are many ways to design an onboarding program, some components are integral to the process:

Preboarding

Some organizations want to begin the onboarding process after the offer is accepted but before the actual start date. In these situations, employers may want to develop strategies to link new employees to the organization. Examples include the following:

  • Inviting the employee (and, perhaps, his or her family) to tour the facility (this visit may include a house-hunting trip and community tour if relocation is involved).
  • Mailing or e-mailing information to the employee regarding the organization, including benefits information, the organizational chart and company literature.
  • Sending a care package to the recruit. Care packages might include cookies, coffee, a coffee mug with the company logo or other logo wear.
  • Matching the new employee with a buddy who connects with the new employee prior to the first day to answer basic questions (e.g., What is the dress code? What can I expect on my first day? Where do employees tend to eat?).

Orientation

New-hire orientation is a formal event to introduce the new employee to the organization's structure, vision, mission and values; review the employee handbook and highlight major policies; complete required employee paperwork; review pertinent administrative procedures; and provide mandatory training. This process can overload a new employee with information and is therefore best done over a few days or a week, if possible.

See:

New-Hire Orientation Checklist

New-Hire Orientation Process

New-Hire Orientation (presentation for employees)

Foundation Building

Throughout the onboarding process, an organization's unique pillars of culture, mission, employee value proposition, brand and other relevant foundations must be lived and conveyed consistently. New hires will not absorb this in the first week or first month; it will take many months to learn and apply. Identifying the enduring values and aspirational goals unique to the organization will help guide the development of an onboarding program. See Effective Onboarding Should Last for Months.

Gallup's Creating an Exceptional Onboarding Journey for Your New Employees suggests onboarding should take up the better part of a year. Gallup has discovered that there are five main questions asked during that time that, when addressed, lead to an exceptional onboarding program that sets up employees for success.

The 5 Questions of Onboarding

1) "What do we believe in around here?"

2) "What are my strengths?"

3) "What is my role?"

4) "Who are my partners?"

5) "What does my future here look like?"


The explanations and examples in Gallup's study provide detailed guidance on how an organization might provide answers to these pivotal questions that will support your onboarding foundations.

See:

Create a Culture That Inspires: Onboarding (Gallup webcast)

How to Create an Effective Onboarding Program 

New Employee Onboarding Guide 

Onboarding Mistakes to Avoid and Some Creative Ideas to Adopt

Mentoring and Buddy Systems

Many organizations offer a formal or informal mentoring or buddy system to support the new employee during the onboarding period. Mentors and buddies may be volunteers or selected by the department manager or HR professional. In some companies, recent hires are assigned to be buddies, as they have firsthand knowledge of what has helped them most. See What is the advantage of a buddy system?

Generally, the role of the mentor or buddy is to offer the new employee a connection to someone who can guide him or her but is not in a position of direct authority or acting in an official capacity. The mentor or buddy may be responsible for such mundane tasks as giving directions to the restrooms or cafeteria or instructions on parking guidelines, or he or she may be involved in helping the employee understand the nuances of working in the organization (e.g., the hot buttons for those in executive leadership or getting projects approved).

Mentors and buddies may be teamed with a new employee for a day, week, month or even a year, depending on the length of the formal onboarding program and the personal relationship that develops, especially in more-informal arrangements.

Reboarding

Whether employees are returning from extended time off (e.g., a layoff, medical leave or secondment) or experience an internal transfer or promotion, "reboarding" refers to updating the employee on current and new projects; acclimating him or her to new team cultures and relationships; and helping the employee understand different expectations for success on the job. Investing in reboarding can lead to increased productivity in a shorter time frame and allow employees the time to reconnect socially and emotionally to their teams and work, resulting in stronger engagement and job satisfaction.

Reboarding employees already have knowledge of the organization's culture, benefits and administrative processes. Therefore, the success of reboarding relies mainly on the manager and team members to integrate the employee into his or her role and culture of the team.

For example:

  • An employee returning from a few months of medical leave would need to meet only new employees he or she will be working with, learn of any new or changed company policies, get up-to-date on current projects, etc. A welcome-back gathering might be planned to show team support.
  • An employee transferring from one division to another may need more intensive training on processes in that division or team, how he or she fits into ongoing and new projects, the roles of others on the team, specific short-term goals for the employee, and other meaningful instructions.

Roles and Responsibilities

"Onboarding is everyone's responsibility" is an often-used phrase in organizations, but without actionable items and accountability, onboarding programs will never succeed. While every organization is unique in how the onboarding responsibilities are shared throughout the organization, there are some general guidelines for allocating onboarding duties and accountability:

  • HR department. Completing and collecting employee paperwork (e.g., forms, benefits); reviewing work hours, the history and background of the organization, and the organizational chart; touring the facility.
  • Training department. Delivering the onboarding program elements; guiding lectures and discussions about organizational culture, goals and objectives; reviewing company videos.
  • Supervisor. Discussing duties and responsibilities, work behaviors, and standards and expectations; introducing team members and other members of the organization; touring the department; reviewing other roles and relationships within the department.
  • Co-workers. Sharing how the group works as a team, how to get things done, how to find/requisition tools and equipment, and where to turn for support.
  • Executive team. Helping the employee understand the organization's mission, vision, values, strategic goals and objectives; reviewing roles and responsibilities at a higher level; describing organizational culture.
  • Mentor/buddy. Introducing team members and others within the organization, reviewing informal rules and policies, answering day-to-day questions.

Tailoring Onboarding to Different Audiences

All employees, no matter their level or status, will need some sort of onboarding process, since this is how an organization conveys culture, rules and guidelines for all employees. However, the process may be modified to meet the differing needs of various groups of employees. Tailoring is an opportunity to specialize your onboarding program to meet the EVP promised during recruitment.

Executives

Executive onboarding requires focused integration to succeed, such as supporting the new leader in aligning with stakeholders and building relationships with the rest of the team. Understanding the organizational culture is imperative, as he or she must work within it even if the goal is to change it. See Onboarding Isn't Enough.

Managers

All supervisory and management employees will need a review of not only the employee handbook and company policies and programs, but also information on how to administer or lead these various programs and policies. Ongoing training on how to answer the five questions of onboarding for their direct reports will be crucial to success. Learning how to coach employees, especially new hires, as part of their manager duties will help employers make good on their employee value proposition. See Viewpoint: 5 Key Steps to Effective Manager Onboarding.

Both new and current managers can improve their skills and readiness to lead teams by earning SHRM's People Manager Qualification (PMQ) through a self-paced, virtual learning experience.

Remote Workers

Employees who telecommute all or part of the time will need guidance on how regular check-ins will be conducted, as well as such details as the use of company equipment for nonbusiness purposes, time monitoring, privacy at home and communications challenges. What behaviors are encouraged or expected in order to fit into the organizational and team cultures should be explained in detail.

Differently Abled Workers

Persons with disabilities also may need information about accommodation options and how to arrange them with human resources or their manager. Both employees and managers should feel comfortable with the process of asking for and providing accommodations that will support success on the job.

Veterans/Returning Servicemembers

Veterans often are challenged to translate their military skills into private-sector jobs. They may benefit from additional support in determining how their skill set relates to their role and adds value to the team. SeeEngaging with Veteran Talent: A Quick and Practical Guide to Sourcing, Hiring, Onboarding, and Developing Veteran Employees (Book).

Second-Chance/Formerly Incarcerated Workers

Returning to the working world can be a shock, and more time to acclimate and assistance from a supportive buddy would be beneficial. Highlighting available training and development programs would be key for this population. See 4 Best Practices for Second-Chance Hiring.

Gig Workers

Independent contractors and consultants, while not employees, may need instruction on billing, accessing the premises, basic conduct expectations and other unique issues the organization should address in an abbreviated onboarding process. Similarly, interns, temporary workers or seasonal employees may have different benefits, rules of conduct, policies and programs that the employer should explain to them. See How to Onboard a Gig Employee.

Onboarding Delivery Approaches

Various components of an onboarding program can be delivered using different approaches and methodologies combined to suit the organization and available resources.

Some employers are using innovative practices, such as games, video, and team-building exercises, to get new hires excited about joining the company. They're also working to make sure people can hit the ground running with functional workstations and equipment. Some examples of this include:

  • Facebook has its "45-minute rule," which means all new employees can begin to work within 45 minutes of arriving because all of their systems and devices have been set up before they report for their first day.
  • Leaders at Suffolk Construction, a national construction firm based in Boston, invite entry-level hires to participate in a variety of team-building exercises, including rowing the Charles River.
  • New employees at Bedgear, a Farmingdale, N.Y.-based manufacturer of performance bedding, take a walking tour of downtown Manhattan to visit other retailers that sell customized products, including Warby Parker and Samsung.

See Original Onboarding Options from 4 HR Leaders.

Web-Based/Virtual Onboarding

Whether your workplace is fully in-person, fully remote or a hybrid model, online onboarding has become mainstream. Offering online orientation activities streamlines the process, supports paperless documentation, and offers a way for employees and their families to access benefits and other company information at any time. Other onboarding activities can be completed around varying schedules and at a pace most helpful for individual employees, and information can easily be tailored for various audiences.

See:

How to Establish a Virtual Onboarding Program  

Virtual Onboarding of Remote Workers More Important Than Ever

6 Things About Virtual Onboarding That Worry New Hires

Onboarding New Employees in the COVID-19 Era Takes Extra Planning, Effort

These Apps Start New-Hire Onboarding Before Day One

Metrics

Employers should evaluate their organization's onboarding strategies using a variety of metrics that are meaningful to the organization. Some examples include:

  • Time-to-productivity. This metric measures the time it takes for a new hire to get up to speed and contribute to the organization, and it is strongly influenced by the onboarding program. Establish key performance indicators for each position, then measure how many days it took a new hire to get there.
  • Turnover/retention rates. Examine the turnover/retention rates for different "graduating classes" (e.g., those who began their employment in a particular year) and track the different rates of those classes. See New Hires Skip Out When the Role Doesn't Meet Expectations.
  • Retention threshold. Track the point at which most new employees tend to exit the organization (e.g., 50 percent of employees tend to quit the organization within the first 90 days of employment). If the organization tends to lose many employees during the first 90 days of employment, for example, the organization may want to conduct in-depth exit interviews to determine the cause (e.g., promises made but not kept, lack of thorough understanding of any negative working conditions).
  • New-hire surveys. Survey new employees at various intervals during their first year of employment to learn where their pain points are. Survey your buddy/mentor appointees, as well, to learn what they believe is working and what isn't.
  • Employee satisfaction and engagement. These two metrics are closely related to onboarding because how we start in an organization creates a first impression that's hard to modify. Engagement starts with onboarding and providing a culture that embodies the organization's EVP results in greater employee satisfaction.
  • Performance measures. For example, compare the performance of a group provided with only one week of onboarding experiences in the past with that of a similar group provided a full month's worth under a revised program.
  • Informal feedback. Especially in smaller organizations, employers may want to gather small focus groups consisting of recent new hires (or conduct this research one-on-one) and ask open-ended questions to determine their satisfaction not only with the onboarding process, but with the organization as a whole. See How to Conduct an Employee Focus Group.

Additional Tools and Samples

Checklist for Developing Onboarding/New Hire Practices

New Hire Orientation Checklist

New-Hire Orientation Process

New Hire Survey

New Hire Survey – Remote Employee

Additional Resources

Your Guide to Onboarding Systems

Onboarding Companies and Vendors in the SHRM Vendor Directory

SHRM Store resources on Orientation and Onboarding


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