Talent Development Glossary Terms
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What Is Onboarding?

Onboarding is the process through which organizations equip new employees with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed at their jobs. Unlike new employee orientation, which is usually an isolated, single-day event, the employee onboarding is a process that should start with the first contact an organization has with a new hire and continue through their first year on the job.

Why Does Employee Onboarding Matter?

Onboarding is an essential component of an organization’s talent acquisition, development, and retention strategy. Onboarding usually fails when companies don't have a clear onboarding process. Research has shown that 87 percent of employees aren’t committed to their job for the first six months, and there is up to 20 percent staff turnover in the first 45 days of employment. This turnover is expensive—direct replacement costs can be as high as 50–60 percent of a departing employee’s annual salary, with the total costs associated with turnover ranging from 90–200 percent of the employee’s salary.

To reduce the costs of employee turnover and keep new employees engaged and committed to their jobs, organizations need a robust onboarding program. In addition to building job-related skills, a strong onboarding program helps employees familiarize themselves with their new organization’s culture and norms. Onboarding can also be a time when teams reinvent themselves and break down barriers. Onboarding provides a valuable opportunity to see the organization through the new employee’s eyes and learn from their perspective.

Who Is Responsible for Employee Onboarding?

Many people may be responsible for onboarding new employees, including human resources or organizational development (HR/OD) professionals, instructional designers, trainers, managers, and the new employee:

  • Generally, HR/OD professionals are responsible for creating an organization’s overall onboarding strategy, and for activities such as sending the offer letter, ensuring the new employee completes their benefits paperwork, and reviewing the employee handbook with them.
  • In some organizations, HR/OD professionals might be responsible for creating and delivering the general orientation session, while other organizations might ask instructional designers and trainers to do this.
  • The employee’s direct manager will be responsible for setting up the employee’s work station, taking the employee to lunch, introducing them to their new team, and explaining the training plan for the role. In addition, managers should check in regularly with their new employee to help them acclimate and make sure their onboarding assignments have been completed.
  • The new employee is responsible for asking questions, completing their benefits paperwork, creating new user profiles (such as for the intranet) that their organization uses, and completing all onboarding tasks and training assignments on time.

Departments such as IT, finance, and customer service may play a role in the onboarding process by setting up the new employee’s computer or financial records or training the new employee on customer service protocol. Other departments within the organization might be involved in other ways.

Throughout the onboarding process, it’s helpful to think about what activities need to take place and who should be responsible for them. Taking this coordinated approach to onboarding makes the task feel more manageable and serves as a reminder that acclimating an employee to their new role and organization is a team effort.

Employee Onboarding Best Practices

There are a number of approaches to onboarding. The most important thing to remember is that onboarding programs should not be generic; role-specific considerations should be made. Organizations might also use different terminology for various parts of the onboarding process. Some, for example, might use “orientation” to describe the entire onboarding process, while others might use it to describe the welcome session that takes place on an employee’s first day. Organizations might also adapt or modify the onboarding process based on their size, industry, and organizational culture.

Some organizations divide their onboarding process into activities that take place before the employee starts (such as setting up a portal for new employees to do light work like reading articles or watching videos about the organization), on the employee’s first day (such as taking the new employee to lunch and giving them a tour of the office), and at various checkpoints throughout the employee’s first year on the job. An important caveat when giving employees prework to complete before their first day is to be mindful that they will have other commitments, such as serving out their notice period at a current job. The goal of prework is to help employees start to feel connected to their new organization, not to overwhelm them with assignments.

Others structure onboarding based on the type of content the employee is learning. These onboarding programs generally focus on organizational onboarding (helping employees learn the organization’s history and culture as well as procedures), social onboarding (helping them acclimate to their new team and its social dynamics), and technical onboarding (helping them learn how to do their new job).

ATD has developed an approach to onboarding known as the 5R Model. This model promotes a holistic onboarding process that encompasses reviewing your current onboarding practices, recruiting for retention, establishing roles and responsibilities, building relationships, and collaborating to deliver results.

No matter how you choose to structure your onboarding program, a best practice is to communicate clearly and consistently throughout the process. Some big companies have flashy onboarding programs with numerous social outings and high-value swag. This can be fun for employees, but research has shown that what they value most is clear and consistent communication from their new organization. Being told when and where to show up on their first day, what to expect when they arrive, who they will be working with, and what their role will consist of are the most important components of a good onboarding experience.

Virtual Onboarding

For some organizations, virtually onboarding new employees is not new, but for most companies, the COVID-19 pandemic increased remote work and has changed the way onboarding is being delivered.

Along with ensuring that new hires have the technology for a smooth remote work experience, it is vital that new employee virtual onboarding creates a successful experience for the employer and employee. Human resources and talent development professionals recognize that onboarding starts weeks even before the new hire’s first day on the job and extends past the first 90-day journey into the employee’s first full year. Onboarding is more than an orientation into the organization; it is an important part of employee development and retention.

Although the new employee is not physically in the office, there is a strong need for human connection, which can be difficult for employers to provide. Face-to-face video calls and other personal touches can help. One way many organizations do this is to provide a buddy system so employees outside of a new hire’s department can connect with the new hire early and often to help them understand the workplace culture and norms.

The employee’s first day can be overwhelming, so the virtual onboarding process should include some down time for the new employee to reflect on the new information they have received.

Free Virtual Onboarding Checklist

Successfully onboarding new colleagues has never been more important than it is today. Regardless of whether your workforce is remote, in the office, or a combination of both, your organization should be modifying its approach to onboarding. While you may not have the ability to implement all of the items on the checklist, find at least three that you can take action on in the next week.

How ATD Can Help You With Onboarding

ATD’s mission is to empower professionals to develop talent in the workplace, and developing talent starts with the onboarding effort. Designing effective onboarding programs involves instructional design, training, evaluation, and other aspects of workplace learning. ATD curates the best content from the world’s leading experts in the field, providing resources to help HR/OD professionals improve their organization’s onboarding practices.

We look at talent development holistically and understand how onboarding fits into the entire employee life cycle, starting with recruiting and hiring, and impacting employee engagement and culture.

For access to even more resources, including practical tools and templates, research, and insights, you’re invited to become an ATD member.Learn more.

For more information on Onboarding, visit the following:

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ATD’s Talent Strategy and Management Topic Page
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