Why do companies struggle with their onboarding programmes?

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If the statistics are to be believed, businesses’ onboarding programmes – the programmes they use to introduce new employees to the business, the culture, fellow employees and their role – are leaving a lot to be desired. Apparently only 12% of employees say their organisations do a great job at onboarding, and less than a third feel prepared to excel in their role after completing onboarding.

These aren’t easy numbers to swallow, but there is hope too. Other research claims that effective onboarding helps reduce turnover, increase productivity and makes for happier employees. Apparently, employees are 18 times more likely to feel committed to their organisation if they’ve had a positive onboarding experience, and 89% of them feel strongly integrated into their company culture, boosting morale and collaboration.

So, effective onboarding programmes can be done. But how? Let’s explore some common onboarding challenges and questions to get to the bottom of it.

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What benefits does a good onboarding programme bring to a company?

An induction is an employee’s first impression of their new employer and the business they have joined and, as you can imagine, will have a huge impact on how they integrate into the team, culture and job.

So, it has to be done well. It should help new employees understand the company and their role within it, as well as give them the opportunity to meet their colleagues and learn from each other. And, overall, it should provide them with the tools they need to go on and succeed. If this is achieved then organisations will not only see reductions in new starter turnover (and turnover in general), absences and presenteeism, but also see an increase in employee engagement and the business’s reputation.

On the flip side, if the induction provides a negative impression, then that can be catastrophic to the relationship and lead to new recruits quickly jumping ship. This means HR has to spend more on recruitment, not just financially but timewise too. The time and costs associated with constantly having to recruit and train can’t be understated.

To sum up, an induction is a great way to create a solid foundation for new employees to grow within the company, which will have a positive impact on the business as a whole.

What struggles are companies facing when it comes to onboarding?

Many companies underestimate the benefits of a solid induction programme and even more have no structured induction process at all. One of the biggest challenges for HR is getting line manager buy in and ensuring management participation in the process. This balance of competing priorities can be a challenge and can lead to an inconsistent approach to inducting new starters, meaning some have a great onboarding journey while others could be left needing further support. It’s crucial to ensure a structure and standard approach is taken with balanced input from key stakeholders to provide the best experience for new members of the team.

The process itself can also cause challenges so making sure that the programme is fresh and engaging, while providing all the necessary information, is key. It can be hard to align these but trying to move away from the dreaded 1st day paperwork and information overload is a start. Providing too much too soon or focusing heavily on the administration and compliance side of an induction can be damaging. While some of this is vital, it’s important to balance this with social elements; getting to know the team and culture to really reflect the company values and culture. Organisations can review their process and seek feedback from hiring managers, HR and new recruits to get an idea of strengths and areas for development.

What do new employees want from their onboarding experience?

Employees want to settle in and acclimatise to their new role and working environment quickly and smoothly. A good induction can help support this by providing clarity around job roles, culture and working practices. Employees will also want to know who they can turn to for support, whether that be HR, managers or their peers.

What needs to change to improve onboarding programmes?

Organisations can improve their programme by starting it before an employee even sets foot in the building. Known as pre-boarding, it enhances the induction by allowing the new employee time and space to learn about the company, its culture and the job before their first day.

The onboarding process can often run too short and some organisations make the mistake of only running an induction programme for the first week or month; however, a new employee’s journey doesn’t end there. A supportive programme extends to passing their probation and beyond, with regular check-ins and milestones from managers and mentors to really set the new recruits on the path to success and provide clear expectations for their ongoing employment.

Finally, often the opportunity for feedback is missed. Asking new employees for feedback on the process and their perception of their new environment is so valuable. This helps HR measure the success of their onboarding activities and constantly improve. Onboarding provides the new hire the opportunity to feedback and feel a valued member of the teams and this, alongside turnover data, onboarding surveys and stay interviews, can provide a really clear picture of organisations are getting right and what they can improve.

Are there any tools companies can use to help their onboarding programmes?

A really useful tool in the onboarding process is a mentor or a buddy. This provides ongoing support to new employees from seasoned colleagues and helps them get up to speed quicker. Buddies and mentors also provide another avenue for employees to their line manager and can really help build the understanding of the company culture and increase proficiency much quicker than those without.

Building clear and engaging training into the onboarding process is also a vital tool. Training helps to provide clear expectations, set employees up for success and provides clarity on their role and its functions. This increases employee engagement as new recruits feel productive and can contribute more to their teams faster.

What does a successful onboarding programme look like?

A successful onboarding programme will have lots of the elements that have been discussed already, but an important one is the awareness of the time it takes to onboard a new employee. It’ll stretch from the pre-boarding all the way to the 3 and 6 month reviews and beyond.

It’ll provide the necessary training, recognising that this might differ from role to role. Using a range of digital and non-digital tools will help create a streamlined and efficient service that provides plenty of social interaction, learning and support to get a new employee involved, engaged, supported and productive quickly and positively.

And most importantly it’ll ensure there is a human element. If it’s a hybrid or remote working set up, then they’ll invite the new employee to spend time in the office and make sure they meet people. They’ll provide a mentor or buddy to help them settle into the company and to learn about company culture, and HR and managers will be on hand to support as needed. In this hybrid-working age, the human element cannot be underestimated when it comes to onboarding!


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Graeme Tucker

HR Manager at Netex Learning. Over 6 years in operations management and another 5 in Human Resources management Graeme has seen it all… or most of it at least. He is passionate about people and driven by the success of others, so a career in people has always been his true vocation. Graeme’s hobbies include rock climbing, collecting retro video games and making as much noise as possible on the drums.