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HR Answers: Employee Onboarding Vs. Orientation

April 2018: Vol 41 No 4
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Illustration of businesspeople helping each other climb up a staircase built from the word “onboarding”

According to a study from Kronos Incorporated, onboarding is a critical weakness for a majority of organizations, a weakness that stalls new hire momentum and threatens to disengage enthusiastic employees during their crucial first weeks on the job.

The study—“New Hire Momentum: Driving the Onboarding Experience”—was conducted by Kronos and the Human Capital Institute and included more than 350 human resources leaders at U.S. organizations of all sizes and industries. It concludes that organizations must refocus onboarding programs to emphasize high-impact training and development activities instead of administrative new hire paperwork to better position new employees (and the business) for long-term success.

“Starting a new job is exciting, where possibilities are endless and enthusiasm is high,” says Malysa O’Connor, senior director of the HR and payroll practice group at Kronos. “Yet it’s also a time of apprehension and uncertainty, where new hires meet colleagues, learn new processes, and understand how to make an impact at their new organization. Organizations that succeed in capturing that enthusiasm while minimizing other challenges will gain a competitive advantage that is accessible to any business willing to design and deploy a strategic onboarding experience. Modern talent acquisition and onboarding solutions represent the first step in this initiative, as they free up HR from the administrative work associated with new-hire paperwork and empower HR teams to focus on building programs that ensure the long-term success of each employee.”

Critically important, fundamentally broken: More than three-quarters (76 percent) of HR leaders say onboarding practices are underutilized at their organization.

  • More than half (57 percent) of survey respondents believe that the lack of bandwidth for people managers is a significant barrier to improving the onboarding process.
  • Nearly two-thirds (60 percent) of survey respondents say the top purpose of onboarding is to integrate employees into the organization’s culture, such as the way business is conducted and how the employee’s performance contributes to organizational success. However, the focus on culture makes up an average of just 30 percent in onboarding programs.
  • Onboarding internal hires—often referred to as trans-boarding—is even more challenging: About a quarter (24 percent) of organizations have no strategy for trans-boarding either managerial and non-managerial internal hires.

Orientation is not onboarding: Organizations place too much emphasis on new hire paperwork, not enough on their long-term success.

  • Reviewing rules and regulations (75 percent), the company overview (73 percent), resource orientation—such as technology, workstation and building introductions (62 percent)—and empowering employees to self-service new hire forms (62 percent) were scored by HR leaders as the most important onboarding activities.
  • Conversely, far fewer respondents highly rated strategic activities linked to helping the employee succeed long term, such as peer mentoring (32 percent), assessment of future training needs (37 percent), access to self-paced training resources (42 percent), and meetings with key stakeholders/teams (47 percent.)
  • Organizations don’t (or won’t) dedicate enough time to onboarding to fully maximize new hire potential: More than a third of organizations (37 percent) say onboarding lasts from just few hours to only one week; a quarter (24 percent) use a month-long onboarding process; while a mere 10 percent view onboarding as a year-long or ongoing activity.

“We all know turnover is expensive, both in terms of direct costs and intellectual capital. Organizations can increase retention by focusing on those activities that get employees engaged from the start,” says Sharlyn Lauby of the HR Bartender blog and president of ITM Group Inc. “One way to do that is by taking care of administrative paperwork before day one, so employees can focus on their role and other things that matter to them most. Onboarding processes set new hires up for success by building positive work relationships, making good on promises made during interviews and providing a career roadmap.”

More accountability needed: Onboarding presents a critical blind spot as HR embraces data-driven decision-making.

  • More than half (55 percent) of organizations say they do not measure the effectiveness of onboarding programs, hindering accountability for success and preventing opportunities for improvement.
  • HR believes they lack the resources to properly handle comprehensive onboarding programs, as 39 percent say they do not have the right technology to reduce administrative error, ensure consistency and improve accountability.
  • About a third (36 percent) blame insufficient technology for their inability to automate and better organize onboarding programs, further inhibiting their ability to train managers in proper onboarding techniques.
  • Some HR leaders recognize the shortcomings in this area, as 30 percent say they intend to increase their onboarding budget for 2018, with investments targeting program consistency and new software.

“Organizations make significant investments to source and recruit the best candidates, but often leave these same individuals to find their own way around the organization once they start,” says Jenna N. Filipkowski, Ph.D., head of research at Human Capital Institute. “HR leaders need to re-evaluate how onboarding programs are structured and deployed within their organizations. The momentum of new hires is a force to be reckoned with, and it is possible to sustain this throughout and beyond the traditional 90-day onboarding timeline with the right programs, processes, and technologies in place. Organizations must be sharp and agile enough to capture this excitement and drive, leveraging it to propel the entire workforce forward.”

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