What is onboarding and how to design an effective employee integration process?

Group of people sitting at the table and having a meeting

This article will explain the following:

  • What is the onboarding of new employees and what are its stages?
  • Why do as many as 91% of employees who have gone through onboarding remain in the company, compared to 30% of employees in companies in which such a system does not exist?
  • What principles should be followed when designing the onboarding process?

What is employee onboarding?

The first weeks in a new job and adapting to the company are crucial for the employee and the employer. In order to understand why, it is important to review the definition of onboarding. In direct translation, it is employees’ introduction to the job. However, the key is to precisely define the areas in the company where the new person is to be introduced.

The areas that an employee should learn at the beginning of their adventure with the company are as follows:

  • strategy, mission, and goals of the organization and the direction of its development
  • responsibilities, first tasks and challenges, expectations and development opportunities
  • organizational structure, supervisor and team
  • the procedures and rules by which the company and its employees operate
  • workplace, necessary tools and equipment.

In other terms, onboarding is also determining the stage at which a candidate becomes an employee, and thus, the beginning of building a positive employee experience. It is during the onboarding process that the inevitable first impression of the organization, internal communication, working conditions, and the atmosphere in the company is created. How these aspects are perceived can be left to its natural, spontaneous rhythm or be designed. The latter approach will result in the highest quality solutions which benefit the entire organization in the long term.

The profitability of an effective onboarding process is confirmed, among others, by the following data:

  • 91% of employees who went through onboarding remain in it, as compared to 30% of employees in companies where such a system wasn’t implemented[1]
  • 69% of employees will stay in the company for more than 3 years, if they have been successfully onboarded[2]
  • effective onboarding can increase employee productivity by 70%[3]

Seven stages of employee onboarding

Due to the multitude of areas to which an employee must be introduced, it is worth dividing the process into several stages. Each of them should be properly prepared in advance. It is worth starting to plan onboarding with a precise definition of strategic goals, examination of the current situation, and consideration of end user needs. In-depth interviews with people who have recently joined the company are great at the research stage. It should also be remembered that when preparing each onboarding step, certain key principles should be taken into account, include the following:

  • Empathizing – thanks to which one can create effective, tailored solutions – primarily for new people – and thus achieve the company goals.
  • Personalizing – which allows companies to create unique experiences and program onboarding from the beginning to define and supplement potential gaps.
  • Achieving strategic goals – onboarding is one of the strategic stages of an employee’s cycle, not just an activity for its own sake. When this principle is wisely applied, companies can standardize the minimum level of competencies and skills required, but also take care of employee well-being and build the employer’s brand from the very beginning.

The onboarding process itself can be designed in various ways – these ill-considered processes are often based on informal transfer of knowledge and leave the burden of learning to the employee (which is hard to call onboarding). On the other side of the axis, there is one of the most formalized processes, introduced by the Zappos company. Each newly hired employee participates in an intense 5-week course covering both the procedures used in the company and the entire organizational culture. Employees are then not assigned to the project or introduced to the team. After more than a month, new employees have a choice – they can officially join the company or leave for a bonus of $ 2,000-4,000 (the “post-training quitting bonus” program has been in operation since about 2010, with an average of 1% of new employees accepting this offer).

Therefore, it is difficult to present only one onboarding model. However, there are some constant elements that are part of it:

Building relationships before starting work

This is an often neglected area which can actually be space for reducing employee insecurity and building positive experiences. During this period, the employee experiences a wide range of emotions related to saying goodbye to one employer and waiting for a new stage in his or her career. All instructions and information provided during this time will increase the candidate’s comfort and translate into a positive reception of the company and attachment to it.

The goal that can be achieved at this stage is to familiarize the employee with the first procedures and company rules.

First day

It is often a very stressful moment for employees, and at the same time it is extremely important with regard to forming an opinion about the company. The new team member is not sure what to expect. It is during the first day that key events take place – the employee is greeted, introduced with the structure, and provided with strategic information about the company. In addition – and what is no less important – he or she gets familiar with key procedures or mundane aspects such as the workplace or equipment. The first impression is often the most important and stays in each of us for a long time, so it should be taken care of in particular.

On that day, an employee is often also introduced to the company, asked to share a photo and communicate on the forum.

The main goal: getting to know the mission, the image, and the goals of the company, as well as the workplace and key tools. Often: introducing the employee into the team.

Formal training stage

As it was mentioned before, this stage can be very different. It can last just the first day or, as in the case of Zappos, a full 5 weeks. At this stage, the new employee is introduced to the tools, procedures, rules, and structure of the company. Training courses often take place during the formal training stage, ranging from health and safety to a specific area of knowledge required in the organization.

Getting to know the team and the supervisor

This is another key moment for the impression of the company and the subsequent employee efficiency. In addition to a standard handshake or (more popular and sanitary) wave via a webcam, it is worth providing a platform where everyone will be able to learn a bit more about each other and have an opportunity to build a relationship. What is especially important in teams which are not characterized by a high level of openness is the introduction of integration activities (e.g. shared lunches, or introductory meetings when the team grows). This type of solution solves the problem of people who do not have extensive communication skills .

If there is such a possibility, it is also worth arranging a meeting with the CEO or manager of a given department, so that the employee can ask questions that bother them, or simply get better acquainted with the company structure.

Introduction to a project / department and first tasks

This is a step designed to bring the employee closer to productivity and independence – getting to know the team’s activity. Depending on the position’s independence, it will also be more or less formalized, but the introduction to the first tasks must be planned. It is also a moment to clearly define the expectations and development opportunities in a given position.

Check-out

After the most intense stage of onboarding, there comes a moment when the employee begins to familiarize himself or herself with daily work and is able to share his or her first conclusions. They can also compare the expectations built during recruitment with the existing reality, but also articulate their needs (e.g. in the field of supplementary training), so that they can fully carry out their duties. It’s worth getting to know these thoughts! Most often, it is also the moment when employee productivity increases systematically – which can be taken advantage of.

The end of onboarding – effectiveness and evaluation

An onboarded employee is one who has enough knowledge about the company to freely carry out projects or tasks. An employee is also characterized by high motivation to prove his or her worth and creativity. This is the moment when they are focused on development, but often unaware of organizational limitations. This means that with the end of onboarding, there is still room to learn more about specific areas of the company and their functioning.

However, the key is to define onboarding goals and then evaluate the process. Consequently, it can be constantly improved and adapted to the current needs of the team.

The multitude of areas which require a detailed onboarding approach is a clear signal that a dedicated tool is worth consideration. The selection of the tool must be related to the goals that the company wants to achieve, but LMSs (learning management systems) and other commitment building tools (employee experience) can certainly improve the onboarding process. Such tools allow companies to harmonize and structure activities, as well as automate individual elements and the evaluation process.

Sources

  1. HRstandard
  2. SHRM
  3. The True cost of Bad Hire, Brandon Hall Group

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