New recruits to the British Army, First World War, Nicholls Horace, © Imperial War Museum (Q 30060)
Ideas for Leaders #135

Onboarding New Employees Successfully

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Key Concept

Employee turnover can be expensive and time-consuming, so organizations need to know how to get the most from and retain the valuable new additions they make. According to recent research, the secret lies in promoting self-expression and encouraging newcomers to bring their unique values and perspectives to the job. Most importantly, this should be done from the first day through a process known as ‘onboarding’. This Idea offers some practical advice on managing the process.

Idea Summary

Here is how most employees’ first day on a new job goes: they are shown how things are done, introduced to the company’s environment and culture, and subtly told what a great organization they have just joined. Sound familiar? This is the onboarding process followed by many HR professionals, with the commonly-held belief that this it is important to ensure the organization’s values are understood and ingrained from day one.

However, recent research suggests that these traditional methods have serious weaknesses, the biggest being the crushing of an individual’s unique identity as they are forced to accept the organization’s identity instead. The long-term problems of identity subordination have been explored by many psychologists and include loss of self-esteem, as authentic self-expression has been shown to be a key component of high self-esteem. As such, organizations should not want their employees to lose this component of their personalities, as it forces them to divert cognitive resources away from their work to coping with identity conflict instead.

Fortunately, there is an alternative way to go about onboarding; researchers from London Business School, Harvard Business School and Kenan-Flagler Business School suggest that managers should encourage employees to use their signature strengths from the very beginning, on a daily basis. This can go a long way in improving employee retention and engagement, as newcomers develop a more positive view towards the organization and inject greater quality and purpose into their work.

Methodology: During a controlled experiment, 605 incoming employees at Wipro BRO (an outsourcing company) were divided into three groups. Each group was offered a different first day experience, with all other activities remaining the same. The first group emphasized individual identity, group two emphasized organizational identity, and group three (the control group) followed Wipro’s traditional onboarding process. The results showed that when the organization focused its initial processes on newcomers’ personal identities, as was the case for group one, employment relationships were stronger, employee turnover was lower and greater customer satisfaction was experienced. 

Business Application

The following four practical principles can help get onboarding processes off to a good start:

  1. Break out of the traditional employment trap: avoid thinking of jobs as merely a cluster of activities, where it is irrelevant how the employee feels about the activities. Today’s employees, particularly those from Generation Y, are concerned with finding a place to express their own identities. Break out of the traditional manager mind-set by helping employees achieve their basic human desires, as opposed to approaching your role as providing paid employment to fund their lives.
  2. Help newcomers identify their authentic strengths: provide newcomers with dedicated time to pinpoint and describe their unique strengths. For example, encourage them to answer personalized questions, or construct a ‘personal highlights reel’ of specific moments when they were at their best.
  3. Facilitate introductions to other organizational members: structure introductions so that newcomers have the opportunity to introduce themselves in a way that is consistent with their strengths.
  4. Ask newcomers to consider how their authentic strengths can be applied to the job: encourage newcomers to identify their signature strengths and apply them to the job. This allows them to frame their new jobs as opportunities to use their best strengths and to integrate their own purpose and motivation into the job parameters.

Following these four principles can help companies reshape their onboarding processes to help employees use their unique identities from the very beginning of their jobs. In the long-run, employees will bring more of themselves to work without additional financial rewards, resulting in a reduction in turnover and better overall performance.

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Authors

Institutions

Source

Idea conceived

  • 2013

Idea posted

  • April 2013

DOI number

10.13007/135

Subject

Real Time Analytics