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Onboarding Employee Engagement

Improving Employee Engagement During Onboarding

December 5, 2018
5 min read
Group 1-1

Performance Management, Supercharged


The global talent shortage is the most acute it has been in decades. Businesses, irrespective of size, industry and geography, are struggling to find the right skills to fill open positions. The situation is so critical that nearly two-thirds of companies, according to one study, have had to adapt their business strategy to available talent.

As a recruitment scenario, the one above is so far from ideal as to be essentially impractical. And yet, recruitment was only the second biggest challenge facing HR leaders surveyed for The 2018 SHRM/Globoforce Employee Recognition Report. The top workforce management challenge turned out to be, for the third year in a row, employee retention and turnover. If talent shortage and turnover are not an ominous enough combination as it were, it turns out, up to 25 percent of new hires are now leaving within the first six months.

Onboarding and Retention

It is a fairly widely acknowledged axiom among HR professionals that new recruits have a six-month window in which to assess their commitment to their new employers. Ergo, how employers manage this initial period will eventually determine the employee’s decision to continue or quit. So, businesses must be able to manage retention more effectively if they design their onboarding programs, which typically encompass the six-month window, to better engage their most recent recruits.

The potential impact of a successful onboarding program extends much beyond retention. Not only are more employees definitely more likely to stay, but additionally and as importantly, there can be a considerable improvement in time-to-productivity, new hire productivity and performance, and create the perfect foundation for sustained employee engagement.

#Onboarding is your organization’s opportunity to show your commitment to your new hires! Find out more from @ClearCompany:

That’s the only good news though, because neither HR managers nor employees are particularly enthusiastic about the effectiveness of current onboarding processes or practices. Only 12 percent of employees in a Gallup poll could “strongly agree” that their company got onboarding right. Meanwhile, a majority of HR leaders in a Human Capital Institute and Kronos study thought that onboarding lacked a “people focus” and was underutilized.

In fact, “people focus” might be the key to more effective onboarding, better engagement and higher retention.

People-Focused Onboarding

In extremely broad terms, most onboarding programs focus on assessing and aligning an employee’s knowledge, skills and temperament with company policies, procedures, expectations and culture towards maximizing enterprise value. This is an organization-focused, top-down interaction where the individual is almost ancillary to the organization.

One research study set out to test the hypothesis that onboarding could enhance retention and deliver positive performance if the emphasis was on employee individuality rather than on organizational identity. A control group was put through a standard program involving company information sessions and skills training. A second organizational identity group’s session was structured around the company’s significance and status and provided employees with corporate branded gear. A final individual identity group had an interactive session focused on individual strengths and received personalized gear.

The results of this experiment came in seven months later. The control group and the organizational identity group had a higher turnover, by about 50 and 25 percent respectively, than the individual identity group, which also had a higher performance score.

Employee onboarding needs to account for individuals and their identities, strengths and expectations. A purely organization-centric approach to onboarding can be detrimental to engagement, performance and retention. Beyond that employees, especially millennials, expect companies to invest in their personal and professional growth and development. So, people-focused onboarding helps define the basic framework around which companies can build a sustainable long-term strategy to promote internal career growth and mobility.

Expectation-based Engagement

Understanding expectations enables businesses to plan a development trajectory that fulfills employee needs as well as aligns with long-term organizational priorities. And Maslow’s hierarchy of needs offers a perfect template to map employee expectations, plan the appropriate organizational response and assign a graded metric of engagement.

The first four levels of Maslow’s hierarchy comprise two survival needs, remuneration and job security, and two psychological needs, collective purpose, and accomplishment/pride. Collectively called deficiency needs, there is disproportionately more deprivation or displeasure when they are left unfulfilled than there is satisfaction or contentment when they are. So, for instance, an underpaid employee will be “actively disengaged” and yet will only shift to “not actively engaged” once remuneration expectations are met.

Developing a successful #onboarding program can improve #retention and #CustomerEngagement. @ClearCompany shows how you can achieve successful #EmployeePerformance in their latest blog:

The apex of the pyramid represents the growing need, where targeted development strategies can produce highly engaged employees on a self-motivated path to personal, professional and organizational growth with minimal expectations of encouragement or rewards.

But these needs are not a strict hierarchy as much as a rising scale of precedents. And precedents can overlap, skip or crossover levels. A people-focused onboarding program accounts for individual precedents, in terms of compensation, acknowledgment, appreciation, recognition, assimilation and growth, to create a personalized engagement strategy.

Individualizing Onboarding Engagement

Today, technology enables an onboarding experience that is interactive, immersive and individualized. Gamification is one particularly promising application with initial efforts proving to be compellingly effective in increasing engagement and reducing turnover. Incorporating game mechanics into the onboarding process allows organizations to individualize learning, encourage experimentation, stimulate and reward skill development and overall create an engaging experience. Gamified social platforms encourage today’s tech-savvy employees to build connections with their peers and managers and to engage in team-building exercises that promote collaborative learning and problem-solving.

But in order to be truly effective, techniques like gamification have to stem from a keen understanding of employee motivations as well as business objectives. And they should be capable of evolving organically as employees evolve across the talent management life-cycle.

Onboarding represents a huge, and often the only, opportunity for employers to demonstrate their commitment to the motivations and ambitions of new employees. A strategic and successful onboarding program must strike the perfect balance between managing employee expectations and achieving business goals. Most importantly, it provides the context against which to quantify the effectiveness and value of all future engagement initiatives in terms of employees as well as organizational growth.

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