The importance of onboarding for employee engagement

Written by: the Officevibe Content Team
Published on August 20, 2014 |  Reading time: 4m

Everyone wants to get employee engagement right. There’s so much emphasis on making sure employees are engaged, and there’s a good culture, so you’re able to attract the best talent to come work for you.

There are a lot of different tools you can use to help optimize your culture.

There are performance reviews, engagement surveys, 360 feedback, and all kinds of other things to try and make sure that the culture remains amazing.

There has also been a lot of emphasis lately on hiring, and more and more people are starting to understand how important hiring is.

If you take your time, and really screen candidates properly, and make you hire for culture fit, you should be okay.

If you’re hiring for culture fit, then the thinking is, that they’ll fit in so well that hopefully they won’t churn, and you can improve your retention rates and lower your turnover rate.

This is true, but I think a lot of companies, even the ones that “get” employee engagement, still make a huge mistake.

I think their intentions are good, and maybe there hasn’t been enough research or discussion on the importance of avoiding this mistake.

I’m convinced, based on my personal experience, that if you can get this one thing right, then you’ll truly have engaged employees that will stay with you forever.

What I’m talking about, is employee onboarding.

I think there are a lot of companies out there that have great onboarding programs, and do fun things to welcome new employees to the team.

The mistake I think most companies make, is that they don’t onboard employees long enough.

What I mean by this, is that they’ll spend an enormous amount of time and energy in the first week or two, making sure the new employee is comfortable, and set up properly, and usually after that, they’re left to learn themselves.

It’s possible that some companies do check-ins a month later, or two months later, but I don’t feel like that’s enough.

You need to have a rock-solid, ideally 3 month long, employee onboarding program.

How onboarding contributes to employee engagement

The book The First 90 Days by Michael Watkins is one of the best guides you could use for onboarding.

The book is mainly targeted at leaders entering new leadership roles, but a lot of the lessons can be repeated even for entry level employees.

In the book, Michael shows the break even point of the value of a leader into a new position.

He says that a person in a new role will consume value in the first 3 months, after which they will start adding value. However, the company typically starts seeing a return on their investment only at the 6.2 months point.

employee onboarding value graph

He also outlines 10 strategies for finding success in a new role.

Let’s take a closer look at the 10 strategies:

  1. PROMOTE YOURSELF. Talk to yourself and make sure you understand that what you used to know won’t work anymore.
  2. ACCELERATE YOUR LEARNING. Take classes online that will help you get further, and understand the industry more.
  3. MATCH STRATEGY TO SITUATION. Really take time to understand the situation (meaning the new job) and figure out what’s wrong before making a plan.
  4. SECURE EARLY WINS. Quick, small wins can help your self-esteem and get you motivated faster.
  5. NEGOTIATE SUCCESS. Find out what your boss considers “success”, and establish clear goals with them.
  6. ACHIEVE ALIGNMENT. Make sure you and your team are aligned around the same vision.
  7. BUILD YOUR TEAM. Get the right team to work with you, and make sure everyone is on the same page.
  8. CREATE COALITIONS. Create partnerships both inside and outside the company to mutually help each other.
  9. KEEP YOUR BALANCE. A new position can be tricky, so it’s important to have a support network to talk to.
  10. EXPEDITE EVERYONE. Help others so that you can help yourself. So whatever you can to make sure you’re helping your coworkers get better.

The psychology behind onboarding

There’s a lot of psychology behind why the onboarding process is so flawed in most companies.

What happens is, typically when a new employee joins a company, they are indoctrinated into the organizational culture, and they’re forced to adapt, and are taught the organizational values.

Organizational behavioral experts from London Business School found that this causes new employees to be unauthentic, and in the long run, does some damage into how they see themselves.

From their research:

“subordinating one’s identity and unique perspectives may not be optimal in the long run for either the organization or the individual employee because suppressing one’s identity is upsetting and psychologically depleting… Socialization practices that get newcomers to behave in-authentically might not be sustainable because they do not fully engage the employee and they do not address broader issues concerning emotional exhaustion and work dissatisfaction”

The trick is to focus on each individuals unique strengths, and then tap into that.

“One of our core values is to create fun and a little weirdness. We really recognize and celebrate each person’s individuality, and we want their true personality to shine in the workplace.”

Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos

There’s a reason that if you went to the Zappos office you’d see it decorated all crazy, and everyone running around dressed up in costume and having fun.

It’s not because they’re crazy, it’s because they understand that letting people express their true self is the real secret to employee engagement.

What do you think of employee onboarding?

Do you have any examples of great employee onboarding you can share with me? Let us know your thoughts on twitter @Officevibe.