(Digital) Onboarding – What Is It and Why Should You Be Doing It

The Human Capital Institute (HCI) has found that 88% of organizations do not onboard well1. So, what is going wrong? This article will provide you with an overview of what (virtual) onboarding is, how it is increasingly becoming a virtual process and why it is important for your company and your employees. 

Organizational Socialization

In order to understand why onboarding is important, it is handy to first take a step back and look at organizational socialization. Organizational socialization is the learning and adjustment process that newcomers go through in order to become effective members of an organization2. This dynamic process occurs when a person takes on a new role within the organization, either by switching positions or by entering the organization from the outside. As some would put it3, it is how organizational outsiders become organizational insiders. Hence, onboarding is one aspect of organizational socialization, which plays a key part in newcomers assuming their new role in a way that fits both organizational and individual needs.

What is the Evidence for Socialization?

Research4 has shown the positive outcomes of effective socialization: newcomers are less likely to quit and they feel less frustrated about fitting in and performing well. According to the HCI, a great onboarding program can improve employee retention by 82%5. 

This is especially important for your newcomers at the frontline, because it is likely that they will be working on a tight schedule and with a big team, leaving them with less time to get to know their colleagues and blow off steam. Newcomers that are more likely to stay with the company due to good organizational socialization tactics will also ensure that any training costs have been well spent. High turnover is a key issue amongst deskless staff (even reaching up to 100% in supermarkets and quick service restaurants), making successful onboarding even more important. 

Why Onboard Digitally?

Amongst other processes, onboarding is increasingly becoming a virtual/remote process. The global COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact on this, but some organizations also opt for a virtual setting simply because it suits their company’s needs better. For example, digital onboarding is often suitable for frontline and deskless employees, because they may be spread across different locations. Additionally, they may work irregular hours and speak varying languages. Virtual onboarding offers greater flexibility, for example, to organize pre-recorded training videos, provide information in different languages and give new frontline employees enough time to complete onboarding tasks. 

Keep in Mind…

Eileen Cooke9, head of enterprise learning and development at CVS Health, points out that onboarding frontline employees needs to be done in a way that newcomers are able to perform effectively as soon as they are out on the work floor. Therefore, any onboarding training should be relevant and immediately applicable – further skills and ‘nice to have’ information can be added later on. 

Common Challenges

Here is an opportunity to learn from others’ mistakes: let’s take a look at some of the common flaws that organizations encounter when handling newcomer onboarding. As per tHCI7, firstly, onboarding programs that are highly focused on processes and paperwork tend to be unsuccessful. Unfortunately, 58% of organizations do exactly this. On the other hand, using a buddy program during onboarding (implemented by less than half of organizations) can really boost new hire proficiency. So, it is crucial to find a balance between the formal and social sides of onboarding. 

Secondly, providing only one week of onboarding is unlikely to be enough for your company’s newcomers. The HCI recommends that onboarding lasts a minimum of 90 days from the newcomer’s first day. However, this should be reasonably adjusted depending on the type of organization and the newcomer’s position. 

Thirdly, inconsistent application is one of the biggest challenges that organizations face in making their onboarding program a success. The great news is that using a program like GuavaHR can help bring structure and consistency to your onboarding program. This is important to consider because research8 indicates that onboarding practices are experienced as more helpful when they are required, rather than just encouraged. Therefore, having frontline newcomers check off their onboarding tasks can be helpful. 

Finally, it can be a true challenge to gain buy-in and manager accountability when you are trying to sell the idea of an onboarding program to the organization. We recommend that you use some of the facts and figures from this article to help drive your point home!

Onboarding: An Epilogue

To bring it all together, onboarding includes both formal and informal practices, policies and procedures, which are all designed with the goal of socializing newcomers in mind. Although there are multiple ways to go about characterising onboarding, in our blog, we will be focusing on the Klein and Heuser’s Inform-Welcome-Guide (IWG) framework6, with separate articles covering each aspect. Scroll down to find them!