Onboarding new employees: the 3 elements that make all the difference

Key points:

  • Onboarding is the process that helps new employees shift from being outsiders to insiders of an organization.
  • A good onboarding process can make a difference in a new hire’s performance, commitment, job satisfaction, and intentions to remain.
  • Effective onboarding aims to raise the levels of confidence and role clarity in the new recruit, along with increasing how connected they feel with people with their new organization.

Let me take you back to your first day of work… Were you nervous? Excited? Or maybe both? As you entered the building, can you remember what you saw and heard? Who did you first meet or have lunch with?

As we all know, first impressions make a difference. However, it’s not just the first day we should focus on when we are welcoming new colleagues; their first weeks, months, and even their first year are important! New hires are like sponges, absorbing all kinds of information – about  the company, their new role, their new team, and much more. During this period of time, they go through a process that researchers like to call “organizational socialization”, where they pass from being outsiders to insiders (Bauer et al., 2007). Organizations can make this process smoother by designing and delivering great onboarding.

In 2007, Bauer, Bodner, Erdogan, Truxillo, & Tucker published a meta-analysis in which they pulled together and analyzed all the existing peer-reviewed research on onboarding. They integrated the findings of the best 70 scientific studies conducted with over 12,000 people. This allowed them to build a model to explain what helps people adjust to a new job and what the return on investment is for the organization in setting up a great onboarding process.

The secret power of great onboarding

It turns out that a well-conducted onboarding is your first chance to set your employees up for success. Giving people the means to adjust well to their new role from Day One is associated with improvements in their performance, commitment, job satisfaction and their intention to stay in the company. It’s clear that this simple process can have a big impact on your organization!

What do great onboarding programs have in common?

Many companies appreciate the importance of onboarding and already have a process in place, but you might be wondering how to improve and make it even more effective. Research shows that great onboarding addresses three key elements*:

Great onboarding processes aim to increase new hires’ clarity, confidence and connectedness to help them adapt to their new position. We should keep these three objectives in mind when designing or improving an onboarding process.

Takeaways for your practice

Taking some time to plan for the arrival of new employees to the team is worthwhile, as science confirms, effective onboarding might have some positive returns in terms of performance, commitment, job satisfaction and turnover. Ensure you have a great onboarding process by including actions that will help your new recruits gain clarity, self-confidence, and to connect with others.

The following is a list of ideas to consider incorporating the three key elements. Can you identify any of this in your current onboarding practice? Why not give them a try?

For more role clarity:

– Begin to discuss general tasks and responsibilities early on in first days and weeks on the job.

– Give new hires a document or resources to equip them with a full understanding of their new role. To make sure you cover everything, focus on the “what, when, how, and with whom” of the job.

– Provide new hires with a clear written schedule of the onboarding process so they’ll know what to expect. Include dates of any scheduled training, meetings, check-ins, or important events.

– Be consistent in how you implement onboarding so that all employees receive the same information at the same time.
(Bauer, 2013b)

To raise their levels of confidence:

– Give new employees formal and informal learning opportunities to make sure they can get up to speed with the knowledge and skills needed for the job.

– Give employees the opportunity and the time to familiarize themselves with the new tasks.

– Make sure to give regular feedback to new employees so they know how they’re doing. This can be carried out by a manager, mentor or an assigned “buddy”.
(Bauer, 2013b)

To foster connections:

– Prepare the team for the arrival of the new colleagues – this can help create a more welcoming atmosphere.

– Assign a mentor or “buddy”. This should be someone who has been in the organisation for a while and knows how everything works. This person is there to ensure the new hires have everything they need or to answer any questions that might pop up during the onboarding process. It can be anything, from: “How does the copy machine work?”, to “Who is the head of marketing?”

– Organize informal meetings with key stakeholders. For example, with colleagues from other departments or with important clients with whom the new employee will need to collaborate.

– Facilitate and encourage networking, for example, by organizing employee events where newcomers can make new connections.
(Bauer, 2013a)

Apart from focusing on clarity, confidence and connectedness to improve your onboarding practices, you can also assess these three elements at individual levels to evaluate whether new employees are adjusting well to their new positions. The 3Cs could be measured throughout a new hire’s first year, every 3 months, for example. In so doing, you would able to tell, if over time they are developing a better understanding of their role, confidence in their ability to perform effectively and making valuable connections within their team and the whole organization.

A sound onboarding process can make a huge difference for newcomers and for your organization as a whole. Once set up, it won’t take as much energy to sustain – and your colleagues will be forever grateful for making this a smoother and more productive transition!

Special thanks to Talya Bauer, PhD, the world leading expert on the science of onboarding and President Elect of SIOP, who supported and guided the making of this Evidence Summary.

*These three key elements are supported by the meta-analysis – but it has been proposed that compliance and culture matter to new employee success as well. For more information, see Bauer (2011).

Trustworthiness score

We critically evaluated the trustworthiness of the study we used to inform this summary. We found that it has a moderately high (80%) trustworthiness level. This means that there is a 20% chance that alternative explanations for these results are possible, including random effects.

Learn how we critically appraise studies to assign them a Trustworthiness Score.

We aim to provide you only the best available scientific evidence to inform your decisions.

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Bauer, T. N., Bodner, T., Erdogan, B., Truxillo, D. M., & Tucker, J. S. (2007). Newcomer adjustment during organizational socialization: A meta-analytic review of antecedents, outcomes, and methods. Journal of Applied Psychology, 92(3), 707–721. http://doi.org/10.1037/0021-9010.92.3.707

Bauer, T. N. (2011). Onboarding new employees: Maximizing success. SHRM Foundation’s Effective Practice Guideline Series. SHRM.

Bauer, T. N. (2013a). Onboarding: Enhancing New Employee Clarity and Confidence. SuccessFactors/SAP White Paper Series 2 of 3.

Bauer, T. N. (2013b). Onboarding: The Power of Connection. SuccessFactors/SAP White Paper Series 1 of 3.

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