Wouldn’t it be great if that new guy who was so impressive at the interview could just fit right in on his first day and start producing? That’s wishful thinking at best. Despite qualifications and experience, all new workers (or managers) will need help to ease into their slot in your company’s grand plan.

Onboarding is not the same as orientation

Beyond the first-day orientation, many large companies now have a specific onboarding, or induction, program for new hires. Gloria Sims, of Insperity, explains how this is different to orientation.

Orientation is usually a one-off introduction to your company’s workplace. New workers can ask questions, meet a few key people, and handle the new employee paperwork. There may be a tour, and some basic help to use the tech systems. All necessary stuff, and quickly handled.

Onboarding, on the other hand, is a more focused program of integration into the company’s culture and goals. Human Resources Director explains it as “the process of getting new hires adjusted to the social and performance aspects of their new jobs quickly and smoothly. It is the process through which new hires learn the attitudes, knowledge, skills, and behaviors required to function effectively within an organisation.”

Why onboarding matters

If management takes control of a structured onboarding program, new workers will feel welcomed and prepared for their new jobs. They will more quickly start contributing to the organisation’s mission. And you will more likely retain the talent you worked so hard to find.

Without onboarding, some new employees will achieve those goals anyway, even if only by gradual assimilation. But this “sink or swim” approach will leave new employees struggling to figure out what’s expected of them. They will take longer to really feel like they are a necessary part of the team.

Where to start

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) recommends a comprehensive program of up to 12 months. Employers should seek input from the team and upper management, perhaps by asking these questions:

  • What impression do you want new hires to walk away with at the end of the first day?
  • What do new employees need to know about the culture and work environment?
  • What role will HR play in the process? What about direct managers? Co-workers?
  • What kind of goals do you want to set for new employees?
  • How will you gather feedback on the program and measure its success?

How to do it

Even before their first day, some new hires will have been given access to online resources to help automate the necessary paperwork. They may also have opportunity to ask questions such as where to go on day one, who to ask for and what to wear. Their desk, phone, computer and login should all be ready for them before they arrive.

On the first day, focus on two goals: setting expectations and introducing objectives. By the end of the day, employees should be absolutely clear on what their duties and responsibilities are. Include some social interaction with their coworkers, and, very importantly, make them feel welcome.

After the first month, HR should check in to see that the new worker is comfortable, happy and engaged. At this early stage, any incorrect perceptions or practices can be gently corrected. Many organisations will have assigned a mentor or coach during this onboarding process.

Between three and six months in, another check by HR is essential. The majority of new employees will decide in that first six months whether to stay or go. Consistently show that you care.

After the first year, review the employee’s performance. By then, it’s less on-the-job training and more continuous development in a role that they should have mastered.

Successful onboarding takes effort to plan and implement, and there are plenty of free resources available to get started. When it’s given priority, the company will enjoy healthy staff retention and employee satisfaction.


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