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Onboarding: How not to do it


The article by K Rollag, S Parise and R Cross entitled Getting New Hires Up to Speed Quickly published in the MIT Sloan Management Review (Volume 46, Number 2, Winter 2005) makes interesting reading.

It tackles the subject of onboarding – a process of integrating new employees into the organisation, helping them to perform better in their jobs sooner, with a closer connection to the organisation’s own unique culture and way of doing things.

Onboarding is not just another fad. It is an invaluable business tool. It is more than the traditional orientation or induction programmes that we have all heard of, or experienced.

Induction programmes are just a part of, or one stage of the more comprehensive onboarding process. The Human Capital Institute in 2008 put it so succinctly: “Best-in-class onboarding programmes go beyond orientation, and include, for example, socialisation into the company culture to assure new hires that they have made the right decision”.

Taking up a job in a new organisation is like visiting a foreign country for the first time — you cannot speak the language, you are ignorant of the laws . . . you are just not sure about anything! As a newcomer, you find yourself in uncharted territory. Inevitably, you are more likely to make meaning out of anything and everything that your new employer does . . . or doesn’t do. You are more prone to grasping any possible clue to help you understand your new environment.

What are the common nightmares that new employees encounter when walking into a new organisation? In my experiences with various organisations, I have frequently comes across the following:

lYou arrive at your new workplace promptly on the first day only to discover that your workstation is not quite ready: IT are behind in getting your laptop or personal computer set up, human resources scurrying to gather paperwork, no telephone — or worse still — no office! You can only wait and fidget!

Management is too busy to notice you, greet you or introduce you around.

A stressed or just plain disrespectful boss shows up an hour late to “welcome” you on your first day.

You are handed over to the first available employee — including the most cynical, resentful, burnt out, disengaged employee — for your first day of on-the-job coaching. He or she spends the whole day describing the monster that your new company is!

You are overwhelmed with information and expected to cram it in a few mind-numbing hours.

You are just thrown into the fray without appropriate support and coaching — a “sink or swim” affair.

The company behaves as if it’s protecting itself from you. You are bombarded with papers, rules, policies . . . you name it. You are then asked to sign volumes and volumes of paper as if you were buying a house!

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

The end result in most cases is that new employees leave the organisation as fast as they came in.

There are compelling research statistics and common sense that demonstrate both the need and the impact of effectively assimilating new employees into an organisation.

lIn January 2003 a survey of 5 643 workers conducted in the UK found that 4% of newcomers had such a disastrous first day that they never went back.

lNew employees decide within the first 30 days whether they feel welcome in the organisation.

22% of staff turnover occurs in the first 45 days of employment.

90% of new employees make their decision to stay at a company within the first six months on the job.

Every salaried employee that leaves an organisation costs that organisation up to 150% of his or her annual salary. This includes both direct costs as well as indirect costs, such as missed opportunities and lost productivity.

By upgrading your company’s onboarding process, you will be able to reduce new employee turnover by a staggering 70%.

Employees whose onboarding process is carefully attended to reach full productivity two months earlier than those whose onboarding process is not.

On average, a new employee requires a minimum of 6 months to “break even” and start being fully productive in his or her role.

Handled poorly, your onboarding programmes will lead to increased staff turnover, diminished productivity, low employee engagement, loss of respect for management and the company as a whole and reduced pride in the organisation.
Management should bear in mind that you never get a second chance to make a right impression on new employees. As the old adage goes, the first cut is usually the deepest.

Isaac Mazanhi is a labour analyst. He writes in his personal capacity. He can be contacted on email:


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