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Employment Today, HR Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Employment Today, HR Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Employment Today Magazine

Onboarding: the missing link

Every employer wants their new hires to “hit the ground running”, but there’s effort required on both sides to ensure this happens—and it all starts with successful onboarding, says Iain Hopkins.

Most HR professionals have had the misfortune of searching far and wide for the perfect candidate, striking lucky and actually finding that candidate, moving them as swiftly as possible through the recruitment process and signing them up—only to have that new employee resign a few weeks or months later.

What goes wrong? Clearly, there’s a flaw in the system, a missing piece of the puzzle. Dream candidates too often fail to make the transition to dream employees. It’s a weakness in the typical employee experience (EX) and it all comes down to poor onboarding.

According to a 2017 survey by Korn Ferry Futurestep, nearly 90 percent of polled executives say that retention of new hires is an issue in their organisation, with 10-25 percent of new hires leaving within six months of joining. A different survey conducted in 2018 by recruitment firm Robert Half revealed that the number one reason for 36 percent of new hires quitting was a lack of proper onboarding.

It seems the initial excitement and enthusiasm typical of new employees quickly dissipates if they have a poor onboarding experience. Korn Ferry’s survey indicates the biggest disconnect comes down to the new hire’s role being different from what was expected. In addition, nearly one-fifth (19 percent) of new hires leave because they don’t like the company’s culture.


The statistics cited above suggest onboarding needs to cover more than just a couple of days of socialisation with peers, and include more than basic administrative processes such as submitting paperwork and providing system log-ins.

Instead, onboarding should be an opportunity to share with new employees the company culture, vision and strategic priorities. It’s a process whereby these fresh recruits acquire the necessary knowledge, skills and behaviours to become effective long-term employees.

Before delving into what best practice onboarding looks like, it’s important to understand how induction and orientation fit into the mix. Although they may overlap and complement each other, there are subtle differences between the three.

Induction is usually deemed a subset of onboarding. It is generally about imparting information such as company history, values and culture, the organisational hierarchy, policies, benefits and anything else relevant to working in the new organisation. Depending on the size of the organisation, people are usually inducted at a corporate, departmental and role level.

Orientation is also commonly considered a key part of onboarding. Orientation helps to introduce new employees to the organisation, each department, to fellow employees, to their immediate supervisor and amenities. It often includes being exposed to jobs in each department to understand the flow of the product or service through the organisation and training on the job.

An all-inclusive onboarding process, which will contain elements of both orientation and induction, is slowly being accepted as a vital component of an overall talent development strategy.


Here’s what your onboarding programme should be providing:

Job clarity. Instead of just providing factual information about pay and benefits, reviewing company rules and procedures, your onboarding programme should focus on the expectations and key skills the employee is expected to possess. It’s an opportunity to outline expectations, establish milestones and set goals for new employees—even if these are only short-term goals such as completing an eLearning course. New hires also want to see a path for advancement.
Structure. Onboarding should provide a roadmap for future success in the organisation. That roadmap starts from day one on the job by providing a logical, relevant and personalised onboarding process. Participants will want to know what the onboarding process looks like:
  • • 
    How long is the onboarding process? Depending on role complexity, this can range from a couple of days to several weeks.
  • • 
    What steps are involved?
  • • 
    What training is included and how will this be done—in-person, online or a mix?
  • • 
    How will their progress be tracked? Will formal and informal “check-ins” be done with management or HR?
  • • 
    Who will they meet along the way (eg, other department heads, HR and learning team members, etc)?
  • • 
    Who can they go to for assistance?
Rather than an ad hoc approach, which may include too many elements (resulting in confusion and information overload) or too few elements (resulting in knowledge gaps for key information), a structured onboarding process standardises what every new employee goes through. It will also allow for some degree of personalisation, factoring in unique elements of the role.
A taste of culture. By making the onboarding process as personal as possible, new employees can not only understand what the company culture is, but how to thrive in it. If culture is broadly defined as “the way things are done around here” there’s no better way to introduce a culture to a new employee than to assign a mentor to them. According to the Korn Ferry Futurestep survey, 67 percent of surveyed executives believe a mentor programme for new hires would help them acclimatise, yet just 23 percent of organisations have such a programme in place. A mentor can:
  • • 
    Ease the inevitable awkwardness a new employee will feel in their first days and weeks on the job;
  • • 
    Provide access to their existing network and social circles, providing a support network for the new employee;
  • • 
    Provide a positive first impression of the organisation’s culture and environment;
  • • 
    Help with initial learning and development—whether the mentor is from the same department or not;
  • • 
    Be a valuable source of information on the less obvious parts of a culture—particularly the social elements and small but important details that make a workplace how it is. For example: Does the team do Friday afternoon drinks? Is the CEO approachable? Who gets the company car spaces?
It’s not just new employees who benefit: mentors feel more valuable to an organisation by taking an active role in the evolution of workplace culture, and they can add new people to their network.
Compliance.Sure, it’s not sexy, but compliance is what keeps organisations and individuals out of trouble. Costly fines and reputational damage can flow from non-compliance, so it’s best to establish from day one how seriously your organisation takes its compliance obligations.
Establish if your new employee needs training—or make it mandatory to do baseline compliance training—and know ahead of time if their role requires anything above and beyond the norm. An automated onboarding process can also ensure relevant documentation and information is sent to government and regulatory bodies.
Learning. In terms of skills and knowledge, there’s a lot to learn in a new role and it must be covered quickly: rules, regulations, compliance issues, new technical skills, new soft skills. It can be overwhelming, so have a structured learning process in place.
  • • 
    Break down the content into digestible chunks;
  • • 
    Start with the basics that everyone needs to master;
  • • 
    Emphasise what’s critical to their success, so they know where to focus;
  • • 
    Repeat key points constantly, as people will forget;
  • • 
    Provide a written plan, so they can see a beginning and an end, and help them understand exactly what’s being covered and how everything is tied together.
Consider picking the brains of your existing employees—encourage them to share their experiences and know-how, either in one-on-one sessions with the new hire or a roundtable peer conversation.
The right tools. We get it—everyone is busy. But there’s nothing that says “we don’t care about you, you’re an afterthought” more than not having the right tools and equipment for a new hire on their first day. From providing computers and laptops and other tools of the trade, ensuring they have security access badges, through to adding their details to email lists, a simple checklist should ensure that everything they need to do their job is in place. And that includes a desk!


Managers and HR teams are strapped for time—and completing and chasing up the paperwork traditionally associated with onboarding is a major time drainer. Technology can streamline the administrative side of onboarding by simplifying and tailoring workflows, sending reminders to complete tasks, funnelling new employees into learning portals and submitting relevant documents to government authorities, such as the Inland Revenue Department. In addition, self-service functions enable employees to input their personal bank, tax and superannuation details in their own time.

You might want to consider the creation of online portals for each employee during the pre-onboarding phase, two weeks out from their start date. This enables the new employee to submit relevant forms electronically, to view corporate videos and get a taste of the organisational and team culture, and to commence induction-related training. Effectively acting as a virtual assistant offering reminders, hints and specific guidance to follow an onboarding pathway, an online portal can provide an overview of the organisation’s history, its culture, mission and values, as well as profiles of colleagues.

An online portal can also be integrated with a learning management system (LMS) to provide access to a training calendar. New hires can be informed of who they must meet, what they will be learning and what is expected of them at regular intervals—say 30, 60 and 90 days.


As useful as technology can be in smoothing the onboarding journey, it cannot replace the one-on-one interactions between new hires and various members of the organisation, so make sure onboarding is not just an “HR thing”. People throughout the organisation need to take ownership of their part of the process.

Onboarding, like all “moments that matter” which employees will have with their employer, should be subject to continuous improvement. Any information collected during the recruitment process, such as candidate assessments, can be used to improve and assist with onboarding. A short pulse survey at the end of the onboarding process can also shed light on any problems or areas to improve.

Ultimately, onboarding should reinforce to your employees that they’ve made the correct decision to join your organisation. New hires who experience badly planned, ad hoc onboarding may conclude that the organisation is poorly managed.

Unfortunately, first (or in this case, second) impressions do matter: as new employees progress through the organisation, these early experiences will shape how they behave, and just as critically, how they perceive and engage with their employer. That alone is reason to create an onboarding process that is seamless, thorough and more than a tick-the-box exercise.

IAIN HOPKINS is a content marketer at ELMO Cloud HR & Payroll. Visit

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