When we talk about organizational transitions, we are often talking about the large scale—structural reorganization, mergers, new leadership, or going public. But smaller, ongoing transitions have a profound impact on the wellbeing of the overall company. One of the most important of these smaller transitions is onboarding new employees.
The objective of onboarding is to introduce the culture of this particular organization to a new employee in order to create a seamless transition. Effective onboarding is an important investment because it leads to employee retention, engagement, and productivity. Employees who are not effectively onboarded are more likely to quit, creating a loss of productivity during the scramble for a replacement hire.
There are two standard methods for socializing new employees. Institutionalized socialization moves new employees through a series of instructor-led trainings and orientations, often with a cohort of other new hires, outside of the normal work stream. Once initiated, they are officially part of the company. One example of this is an eight-week training program customer service representatives complete before taking their own calls. An advantage of this approach is the community-building aspect—new hires have a chance to bond with one another, ask questions, and adjust to company policies from the comfort of a student’s perspective.
Individualized socialization approaches allow the new employee to step right into the stream, picking up the nuances of his or her new position through interpersonal communication with colleagues, questions, and trial-and-error. Many internships follow this format, with training happening right on the job.
While it depends on the company and the individual hire, some research suggests that onboarding processes are more successful when they follow an institutionalized approach, especially for post-graduate new hires and introverts who benefit from learning with a group of peers.
The second purpose of onboarding is to introduce the employee to company policies, values, culture, and structure. Much of this is done through the institutionalized or individualized approaches described above, but there are other methods for delivering this information for both passive and active learners. For example, an online employee handbook may be voraciously read by an introverted hire, while a more socially-minded employee may get more out of an in-person Q&A with the team.
Giving a realistic preview of the company, in as much detail as possible, is important during the onboarding process because it helps weed out hires who might not be the right fit. Does the company allow for employee autonomy in decision-making, or is there a hierarchy that decides? How flexible or strict are policies on dress code, remote working, and meetings? Be upfront and clear—it allows new employees to acclimate to their new environment swiftly.
While employee engagement is an automatic benefit of successful onboarding, there are specific goals to aim for during the process to make sure you’re creating an optimal experience for your employees.
For example, setting employee goals from the start and scheduling a feedback process can establish employee engagement and motivation from the very first day. When employees have a series of goals to work for and a manager who both listens and offers feedback, they are more likely to feel committed to their work and invested in the company.
Mentorship is also crucial. Partnering a new hire with a non-manager mentor, such as a “peer buddy,” can help convey company values in a more informal setting and answer employee questions efficiently. Research shows that newcomers are more likely internalize the main values of their organization’s culture if they have spent time with a mentor, or attended social activities outside of work with a friendly and approachable colleague.
The takeaway from all of this is that the onboarding process has a much broader impact that simply easing the transition of the new employee—if done well, it can have far-reaching benefits for the health and longevity of the company.
Source: Bauer, T.N., Erdogan, B. (2011). Organizational socialization: The effective onboarding of new employees. In Zedeck, S. (ed.), APA Handbook of Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Vol 3: Maintaining, Expanding, and Contracting the Organization, pp. 51-64. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.
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