Top 3 Employee Onboarding Challenges

Effectively incorporating new employees can be a challenging task for HR and managers alike. With the expectation that the majority of new hires were there to stay for the long haul, traditional orientation programs consisted of a brief introduction to the company and a lot of paperwork. However, this task has become even more difficult with the entrance of a new generation of workers. Today’s top talent are looking for more than just a job and are not afraid to job hop until they find the right fit. In a recent survey by Korn Ferry, 90% of executives said retaining new hires was an issue in their company with turnover rates of 10-25% within the first 6 months alone.


Shockingly, a survey by Bamboo HR found that only 9% of HR managers don’t think their onboarding processes need to be improved. In fact, 43% went so far as to agree that “time and money are wasted because of ineffective onboarding processes.” A further 45% believe this could add up to over $10,000 per year.


Over the past ten years, a number of Fortune 500 companies and SME’s have removed their traditional orientation programs and begun embracing a new approach to onboarding - a process whereby new employees acquire the necessary knowledge, skills and behaviours to become effective long-term employees. The longer it takes an employee to become accustomed to the norms of the organisation, the longer it takes the company to see their return on investment.


By introducing new employees to the mission and values of the company from an early stage, they embrace company wide practices quicker. It is therefore, vital that the new employee's onboarding be as seamless as possible. By having a successful onboarding program, companies can enjoy a higher rate of employee engagement and retention. Here are 3 main challenges an effective onboarding process should address:


Challenge one: Role clarity


Today, a list of tasks and responsibilities is simply not enough to give employees a robust understanding of a specific role within the company. While orientation programs are a popular component to effective onboarding, gearing them toward a realistic understanding of their role can help them adjust quickly and confidently. Incorporating formal and informal training in the integration process enhances employee clarity and confidence, while connecting them to long term employee development allows them to envision a future at the organization.


An Allied Workforce Mobility Survey found that only 58% of companies provide clear job titles and identify expectations for employees. Furthermore, only 39% establish milestones and set goals for new employees. In the past, onboarding or orientation program mainly involved communicating factual information about pay and benefits, reviewing company rules and procedures, and completing paperwork. However, today it’s important that the onboarding process also focuses on the expectations and key skills the employee is expected to possess. When the HR team plans an orientation program, they should set the objectives for the process. Outline specific skills and key competencies the role might require, set out examples of how the new hire will achieve these objectives and measure the outcome. Employees who have clarity regarding their roles will have a greater onboarding and company success than those who do not.


A well planned, well timed and well-structured approach to creating clarity will benefit in three ways: Increased employee engagement, improving performance and reduced turnover rates. Texas Instruments, a manufacturer of electronics and semiconductors, realised they were missing their yearly performance targets. Instead of focusing on increasing efficiencies on the production line, they looked to clearly define what they expected from new hires. They compared new hires who went through the onboarding process to those who did not. They discovered that those who spent time understanding their roles were fully productive two months earlier. Above this, they found that employees were two-thirds more likely to stay with the company for at least three years longer.


On the first day of onboarding, the new employee is given a clear outline of what is required of them and how they should go about achieving their objectives. What's more, the employee is given a date as to when he or she should meet these objectives. Each co-worker sits with the new employee for the first week, to fast track through the onboarding process as quickly as possible.


In a slow-growth economy, companies tend to take a much more pragmatic approach to hiring - filling the holes where there is the greatest need. Accelerating the assimilation of new hires so that they are contributing effectively in the shortest amount of time becomes the most urgent need. Organisations have much more at stake when new hires don't meet expectations and fail to add value. Money, time and resources have been spent during the recruitment and hiring process, making it essential to ensure the retention rate remains high. Clearly defining what the new hire should be doing is the cornerstone to a successful onboarding process - and - for developing an effective workforce in the future.

Challenge two: coordination between new manager and new hire


It’s not only HR that’s involved in the onboarding process. Managers must play a key role in guiding new hires and making them feel confident in their new position. Therefore, building a strong manager-employee relationship is one of the most important parts of the onboarding process. However, a survey by ALEX Asks revealed that regardless of whether an official onboarding process was in place, less than half of new hires received formal written feedback from their managers within the first 90 days.


Without a manager that can effectively deal with new arrivals, the new employee lacks engagement and does not adapt well to both what is expected of them and what they expect from the company. The costs of new-hire turnover can be immediate and significant. Calculating the business impact covers many components, including the cost to hire a replacement, cost of on the job training and lost time for the manager overseeing the new employees’ hiring process. It is therefore imperative that once the employee arrives at the company, the coordination between the new manager and the new hire is as efficient as possible. Managing can be straightforward, listing the processes the employee is expected to achieve can be an easy task. However, dealing with people is a soft skill managers need to possess.

Orientation is a key component to the onboarding process that introduces the new employee to the organisation and to the people in his or her work unit. During the orientation process the new employee must meet the CEO, the HR manager and the direct supervisor/managers in the first couple of days. From an early stage, communication is key. As soon as new hires join the company, managers need to be trained to discuss exactly what they expect from their new arrivals. They should be clear about what duties are important to the company and how success will be measured. Managers should initiate conversations with new hires during the first one to three months on the job to incorporate new employees to their job, the organization, the culture and the work environment. Sharing basic information and then ask questions to confirm the new hire’s understanding of the information and uncover any additional questions, concerns and expectations they may have. HR should assist the managers by gathering relevant information that relates to the company or business unit. Managers should discuss topics such as strategies, culture, performance expectations, communication channels and the motivation for the new hire joining the company. By understanding the motivation for joining the company, the manager can discuss performance goals and competencies the employee can achieve in a given time period.


According to Aberdeen Group, 86% of new hires make their decision to leave or stay within the first 6 months. From the study, it found that 79% left because of a lack of appreciation from their manager. PepsiAmericas, the world's second largest bottler of Pepsi, created an onboarding process that included manager training. The new process focused on using recognition earlier and on a continuous basis. With 20,000 employees globally, the company realised that without a recognition process, 69% of those who left the company did so within the first three years. To start off the onboarding process, every new hire received a key chain, symbolizing a vital part the employee would be playing in the company’s success. A personal note from the CEO would accompany the prize, stating the overall goals and values of the company. The award was presented to the new hire in front of his/her team by their manager.


By meeting the need for recognition and praise from Day 1, PepsiAmericas reinforces the new hire’s decision to join the organization, strengthens the manager-employee relationship, and reinforces an emotional connection to the company. By reiterating how valuable the new hire is to the company, the manager is able to build a trusted relationship from the beginning.


Challenge three: Navigating the Culture


Often new employees fail at their new jobs because of a poor culture fit. The onboarding process should accommodate the new employees’ needs, so that they can be accepted into the organisation quickly. Employee onboarding is a strategic opportunity for organizations to increase retention and employee engagement. Integrating new hires into the organization’s culture requires a mutual understanding of the organisation and the culture it’s trying to build. As an HR manager, it is crucial to have a strategy to ensure employees remain happy with the job and the company environment. Socialization in the company culture involves the delivery of information about the culture and the history of the company. It’s critical to make the employee feel more engaged and connected to the organisation from day one. When new hires arrive at a company, they are the most susceptible to becoming disengaged. These new blank slates are seeking to understand both the organisations’ informal culture and formal expectations, so it's imperative that the company take advantage of this opportunity from the get go. The onboarding process can be seen as an extensive team building exercise, with new employees bonding with their colleagues as quickly as possible. By treating the new hires as people, they’ll be engaged immediately and remain engaged for longer. By making the onboarding process as personal as possible, new employees can not only understand what the company culture is, but how to thrive in it.


Tech Giant, Red Hat, brings every new employee to its headquarters for an intensive multiple day program. They are taken through the company’s brand book, or cultural bible, and each one is given a Fedora hat - the company icon.  The company then introduces new employees to a range of employee ambassadors and spends multiple days with the manager to best get acquainted with the company's values and beliefs. Red Hat goes a step further and continually evaluates its onboarding program. According to Red Hat’s chief people officer,  the company focuses on enculuration and understanding of business. In 2010, the company realised their onboarding techniques were focusing purely on the benefits, compliances and what was expected from the employee. They decided to reevaluate and reassess their program by stripping out ‘nuts and bolts’, and focusing on the question of “is this going to enhance the experience we’re trying to achieve or detract from it”. It’s critical that the new hires experience meets their expectations when joining Red Hat.  

Solution: Impraise

When new hires arrive at the company, it’s important that they are integrated as quickly as possible. Onboarding is a challenging process, and clearly defining what is expected of the employee can be tricky. By using Impraise, companies can easily identify where their weaker areas are, and employ based on their needs. Job descriptions are quickly becoming a thing of the past, as tasks and responsibilities in the modern office are continuously changing and evolving. Through continuous feedback, employees can constantly remain focused on the present and adapt to new challenging positions within the company. Managers can easily initiate a feedback process, so that employees can remain constantly challenged to achieve new objectives. In retrospect, companies can also determine whether or not new hires are a good culture fit. Through soliciting a 360 degree feedback cycle, employers can quickly determine whether the employee is having a positive impact on his or her team, and deal with the outcome in a quick and agile way.

Photo credit: Nathan