What is Onboarding? How has It Changed in 2021?

onboarding meaning

Onboarding definition

Established in the 1970s, onboarding is the process of introducing new employees to the expectations, behaviors and culture of an organization. While this definition of onboarding is accurate, the question, “What is onboarding?” requires a more detailed answer. When successful, onboarding creates a better employee experience and the foundation for loyal employees. This will undoubtedly have a positive impact on a company’s bottom line. The stronger that loyalty, the more likely for that employee to stick around for the long haul.

But the real impact of employee onboarding is profoundly bigger. In fact, it starts before Day 1 and continues throughout the employee’s last experience at a company. In essence, onboarding encompasses the entire employee journey, from beginning to end.

Has onboarding changed during the pandemic?

Onboarding changed out of necessity, forcing us to pivot so we could maintain some continuity throughout the chaos. In fact, based on data from Software Advice, 82% of employees who worked in an office transitioned to working from home when the pandemic began in early 2020.

Click’s Director of Digital Transformation Danielle Balow echoes the need for change. “The onboarding playing field isn’t like it was before Covid. Today, we have to throw the rule book out the window and re-envision what it needs to look like. Now more than ever, employee onboarding and employee experience must change in order to be effective.”

Losing the fight?

But as HR continued to fight a good fight, the struggle to retain employees was only magnified. In fact, 37% of companies admit remote onboarding has been a struggle throughout the pandemic.

Earlier this year, Forbes reported that one in five employees who jumped ship during The Great Resignation have since regretted their move. Recent new hires say the underlying cause was a poor onboarding experience that skipped critical subject matter:

  • 71% – key stakeholders to build relationships with
  • 53% – the organization’s core values
  • 54% – how to leverage tech tools for their job
  • 46% – detailed HR benefits information

The war on talent rages on

As the pandemic ushered in the Great Resignation, a mass exodus of employees who voluntarily resigned from their jobs began. It only perpetuated the havoc and bedlam, creating a very real threat: the Valley of Uncertainty™.

Coined by Click, the valley represents a worrisome time as candidates transition from recruitment into the day-to-day business as an employee. It’s also when they’re at the highest risk of leaving an organization. Combined with a lack of investment from leadership, the outlook can be dismal.

The proof is in the data

To validate our concept, we partnered with Boston-based Aptitude Research on the state of employee onboarding. The in-depth study examined whether companies are doing enough for onboarding today, revealing statistics that surprised even us:

  • While 76% of companies agree automation would significantly improve the new hire experience, just 20% actually automate the onboarding process.
  • 86% of employers believe new employees decide whether or not to stay at an organization within in their first 90 days on the job.
  • In the last year, 73% of companies increased their TA tech investment and 64% increased EX investment, but less than 30% increased their onboarding investment.

Click’s Head of Marketing Michelle Graham says the report only validated the suspicions we’ve had for years. “Onboarding remains dormant as other HR tech investments have increased dramatically over the last several years. We’ve always said the first 90 days are invaluable for retention. The study confirms the onboarding period is now more important than ever, with deep impacts on a company’s bottom line.”

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What onboarding is NOT

The Aptitude Research report verified that onboarding has a significant impact on an organization. But employee onboarding isn’t synonymous with employee orientation. Nor is it a disappointing hands-off transaction or a day trapped in a stuffy room, completing the dreaded but necessary paperwork.

Onboarding is much more than the sum of its parts! It’s the process of ingraining your employees to the expectations, skills, knowledge and culture of your company. The fact has been proven time and time again: your onboarding process will define your employee’s experience and long-term potential. It’s your chance to set the stage for onboarded new hires and get them excited to be part of the organization!

How long does it typically take?

Most would say 30 days, 60 days or 90 days, when in fact all three answers would be incorrect. The cornerstone of great onboarding is simple: it continues long after Day 1 and truly never ends, given the internal mobility potential across the company, including:

  • Ongoing engagement opportunities
  • Touchpoints with employees at key intervals
  • Routine HR activities

Ultimately, the goal is to keep new hires committed so they remain at your organization for longer than their first role.

Who owns onboarding?

Who owns onboarding?

When new hires experience high-quality onboarding, you create the foundation for happy, engaged and productive employees. But where does the hefty responsibility for providing a consistent onboarding experience lie within an organization’s ecosystem?

A common misconception is that employee onboarding is the sole responsibility of the hiring manager and HR. While it’s true these roles are fundamentally vital to new employee onboarding, there’s more to the story.

They say it takes a village to raise a child. Similarly, with onboarding, it takes a whole company to effectively bring a new employee onboard a company. Why? Because onboarding isn’t a stack of paperwork, compliance documentation and hours of boring orientation. It’s a collective, organization-wide effort to welcome new employees to a company, and it provides new hires with the tools, resources and network required for long-term success.

A structured, well-orchestrated onboarding plan confirms a company’s commitment to making sure new hires feel confident in their choice and constantly reaffirming their “Yes!” By weaving this into a company’s DNA, new employees are set up for a positive, rewarding and empowering onboarding experience.

Since each department within an organization contributes to the effort, it’s important to define an actual onboarding “owner” within the company – one that’s truly accountable to ensure a successful transition. We’ve found that placing accountability on the hiring manager results in the most success.

However, that the role ultimately depends on a company’s infrastructure, tools and support provided to managers which enables them to deliver a standardized, seamless experience. So if we were to frame this up under the RACI model, HR would be the “R” responsible for the process, and the hiring manager would be the “A,” or the accountable party.

Onboarding vs. training: are they the same thing?

Some employers consider onboarding a new hire’s probationary period. Others call it a new employee’s “introductory period.” Regardless of the label, employee onboarding is the most vitally important phase for new hires to learn about their role within the organization. So the long-winded answer to this oft-asked question is no, onboarding and training are not the same thing.

Onboarding is the broader perspective

When new employees don’t receive the proper ethical support from the company, they’ll struggle to understand or relate to the business on a basic level. Apollo Technical says the onboarding process is vital “…because it acclimates employees to their role, the company’s philosophies and what the company has to offer. It also engages employees, creating workers that are committed to the company’s success and helps retain new hires by making them feel like a member of the team.”

For a more holistic onboarding program, The Aberdeen Group offers these recommendations:

  • Equip hiring managers with the tools and resources they need to engage new staff.
  • Clearly communicate the company’s mission statement and core values.
  • Implement an onboarding program that features a variety of schedule training sessions.
  • As a manager, help establish connections between new hires and peers.

Onboarding activities

How do you accomplish all this and more with a single tool? With Click’s fully automated platform. It delivers compliant, mobile-first preboarding and onboarding activities, including:

  • eSignature
  • Form I-9 & E-Verify
  • Welcome message
  • Personal information
    • Emergency contacts
    • Direct deposit details
    • Driver’s license upload
  • Company policies
  • First day “To Do” items
  • Provisioning & equipment setup
    • Phone
    • Computer
    • Mobile phone
    • Building, network access

Training is more about the details

Although mutually related, training and onboarding are two very separate things. Training includes the responsibilities or tasks associated with a job. Unlike onboarding, training covers the procedural aspect of completing these necessary tasks, in tandem with how to use the related technology and tools for successful performance.

Throughout being onboarded, new employees are immersed in an organization’s ideals, integrity and ethics. Unlike sporadic or short-lived training, employee onboarding lasts much longer than the first 90 days.

Are there onboarding best practices? Onboarding best practices

There are! Our own employee journey experts developed a detailed set of onboarding best practices, and these principles are integrated into our mobile-first platform. It compliantly delivers seamless employee transitions throughout the entire employee journey lifecycle.

Best Practices: Before Day 1

1. An automated, self-guided experience
Easy to use on any device, the Click employee journey platform features cascading steps and tasks for new hires to work on at their own pace. When complete, the progress is visually tracked, and instructions are intuitively delivered. It gives new hires a better understanding of expectations so they can more effectively prepare.

2. A warm welcome from the boss
Onboarding amplifies authenticity. Rather than a canned, impersonal offer letter from the corporate office, send a personal welcome note or video from the CEO or manager, moments after the new hire accepts the offer. Reinforce their decision to join your company and make them feel genuinely valued. Software Advice suggests a welcome package with gifts or team messages.

3. An optimal experience with onboarding forms
The best onboarding program respects everyone’s time. Don’t make new hires spend a whole day filling out mind-numbing forms like background checks and Form I-9s. Our platform offers eSignature before Day 1, giving new employees to complete forms more efficiently. It demonstrates respect for your new hire’s time and helps make them feel more confident.

4. An enthusiastic team “hello”
The value of teams and the subtle importance of socialization cannot be understated. Welcome new hires with a video featuring the whole team. It saves time and reflects a friendly, approachable group. A virtual office tour and team videos show new employees what a day in the life looks like.

Best Practices: Day 1 & beyond

5. A fantastic & fun first day
First impressions are everything, so make new hires feel like part of the team from the get-go! Team immersion shouldn’t happen in a stale conference room with endless benefits forms, policies, procedures and tedious paperwork. Start with simplicity. Share answers to questions before your new hires even have to think about asking. For example:

  • What’s the lay of the land? Offer a virtual tour or a cleverly designed map of your office’s layout.
  • What’s the appropriate office/remote attire? Be detailed about what’s appropriate to wear and not to wear. Share fun examples to engage new hires.
  • What are my benefits? Prepare documentation before onboarding starts and include details about time off, employee perks, health coverage and company policies.

6. Proper provisioning
Great onboarding wastes no time! You want your new hires to hit the ground running. But how can they do that without a laptop? Or desk? Or the right software?

They can’t.

It’s why we recommend a consistent, automated onboarding process to accelerate new hire productivity. It should align with the essential internal players in preparing a work-ready environment to make employees feel welcome, regardless of whether it’s in-office or remote. Further, proper provisioning reduces the stress and strain on internal stakeholders.

7. A welcome gathering
Resist the urge to introduce new hires with a spontaneous departmental drive-by. It’s distracting, disjointed and always takes longer than anticipated! Instead, introduce new hires with an in-person “welcome” gathering or Zoom meeting with the team. It demonstrates an integrated group that collaboratively works together. An onboarding buddy or mentor can help new hires make the rounds, get to know the team and navigate the building.

8. An agenda or calendar
Inaugurate new hires with a blast of efficiency and a sprinkle of productivity. Send recurring meeting requests to them before they start (e.g., staff meetings, company updates, etc.), and empower them to form project teams in real time. Create chances for them to get up to speed faster and become contributing, productive team members.

9. Praise from the boss
Effective onboarding must include frequent feedback and positive encouragement. No one likes to be blindsided, especially by your boss at the 30-day review mark. Fill new hires with confidence by starting things on the right foot:

  • Send a text at the end of Day 1 to congratulate them on a stellar first day.
  • Schedule regular meetings to check in or discuss progress on goals and objectives.
  • Surprise them on their one-month anniversary with a team Zoom call or digital card.

Are culture & onboarding related?

Absolutely. HR thought leaders like Click will tell you to onboard employees before Day 1. But preparing candidates is more than not having to worry about legal paperwork when a new employee arrives on their first day.

Leverage this important first step to onboard employees into your culture. Why? According to Eagle Hill Consulting, 70% of new hires want to learn about a company’s core values. They long to feel engaged and understand how their role and team align to the bigger picture.

Think about it: candidates explore company materials (e.g., corporate website) to research its cultural fit and values. For employers, this means “cultural onboarding” needs to start well before a candidate begins working for you. Provide new hires with digital onboarding materials that detail what your company is about. Contextualize their job within its larger vision to give hires a better idea of the company they’re about to work for, easing them into the job.

How are onboarding and retention related?

Onboarding and retentionSHRM.org states HR and staffing professionals alike strongly agree there’s a strong connection between onboarding and retention. “Onboarding new hires at an organization should be a strategic process and last at least one year to ensure high retention.” Companies with a standard onboarding process experience 50% greater new employee retention.

Has the pandemic impacted employee retention?

Covid largely amplified the need for better onboarding. And according to our Aptitude Research report, most employers know great onboarding promotes employee retention, especially the high-performing employees.

To underscore onboarding’s importance, the article cited an ample spike in voluntary turnover, placing blame on employers who aren’t sufficiently creating the right conditions where employees would stick around. The cost of employee turnover? Shockingly, it’s exceeded $630 billion, which is obvious evidence that employees still control the job market.

Why a great onboarding program is urgent, especially now

Based on our findings, organizations can expect improved employee engagement and higher employee retention rates when they offer a great onboarding program. The pandemic-induced improvements and changes addressed in this blog and are fundamental – critical, quite frankly – for increased new hire productivity, engagement and longevity.

The reality? Remote work is here to stay. That’s why your in-person onboarding needs to improve with the changes ushered in by the pandemic. And your remote onboarding needs to align closely for consistent results. Your new hires and employees are longing to feel connected and craving a sense of belonging right now. If their requirements aren’t met, they’ll say “sayonara” without a second thought.

A final summary

There are several truths we’ve come to accept over the past year, along with a host of changes:

  • We’re not going back to pre-pandemic employee onboarding.
  • New hires won’t accept mediocre onboarding anymore. They just won’t.
  • Onboarding directly impacts employee retention, which is at an all-time low.
  • A mobile-first, seamless onboarding platform is the optimal solution.

How do you navigate this unchartered territory? Trust the employee experience experts at Click Boarding. We’re here as your consultant, ready to help you automate the process and delight your new hires. Contact us today!

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