Graphic on a blue background of a desk with a laptop on it, books on shelves around the desk, entitled 5 onboarding myths. 4 circular lamps hang from the ceiling.
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5 onboarding myths that lead to disengagement

Onboarding can be tiring for everyone involved. For the new hire, it’s a brand new environment with personalities, systems, and traditions to learn. For those responsible for onboarding them, it can feel like a whirlwind. This is because it often takes place during the precise time when the team’s bandwidth is lowest and their stress is the highest. These factors when combined can easily lead to missed inclusion and belonging opportunities.

Investing the time and energy it takes to develop a thoughtful onboarding plan is worthwhile for the whole team. When onboarding is done well, new hires ramp more quickly and are more likely to be engaged. When it's done poorly, the experience can kick someone’s job off on a negative note. This can cause other downstream effects that no team or company wants like engagement issues, lowered productivity, and eventually attrition. Spinning through talent creates a vicious cycle of non-stop hiring and onboarding that’s costly to the team's ability to focus

It makes sense that onboarding can be hard to focus on. It can feel like an interruption to an already busy workload, but making the most of this opportunity is strategic. An employee’s first year is the most precarious period of their entire tenure. New hires are making tenure decisions from day one. Focusing on providing a valuable onboarding experience can help deepen engagement and lengthen retention

The bottom line is that it's well worth the time and effort to treat onboarding like the priority that it is. And, to develop the best onboarding program possible, it can be helpful to reexamine some of the myths we tend to have about the process.

5 onboarding myths to rethink and what to try instead

Myth 1: New hires need to start ASAP

Burnout is rampant in these turbulent times. Candidates want sustainable cultures that center on the employee experience. To retain talent, it can be worth the short-term patience to let new teammates effectively ramp down from their last job or life stage. There’s a lot of excitement when someone signs their job offer, and the standard two week ramp down period can be stressful. When companies attempt to minimize the pre-employment period as much as possible, they leave new hires with zero downtime to cleanse their work palates and get their affairs in order. All for the very marginal benefit of starting a few days earlier.

When it comes to start dates, try to approach them with reasonable flexibility. Around 91% of employees report having an unmanageable level of work stress in their current roles. And, this is one of the most common reasons for leaving a job. Chronic burnout also diminishes productivity and creativity. So, if you want employees to last at your company, think about giving them the time they need to transition smoothly onto your team.      

Instead, try onboarding in cohorts

To increase predictability, try set onboarding cohorts. Your team may try adopting a once-a-month or biweekly cadence to onboard new hires. This allows the company to batch the interruption that onboarding can become while ensuring enough ramp-down time from a previous role. If the new hire can't start by the next cohort date, consider waiting until the following one if the team can swing it.  

Myth 2: Onboarding is a set number of weeks

What most of us refer to as “onboarding” is more like an orientation period. Getting IT platforms set up, HR documents signed, and introducing yourself to the rest of the company isn’t true onboarding, it’s orientation. Onboarding means getting ramped up in your new role and being able to begin to contribute independently. Realistically, that’s not something anyone can do in just a few days or a week. It takes time to learn the ropes and fully land at the new company.  

Depending on the role, person, and culture, it can take anywhere between 6-12 months to get fully settled in. When companies or managers check the box on “onboarding” after the new hire has their laptop and logins set up, they aren't setting them up for success. 

Instead, differentiate the orientation period from onboarding

Have two processes. One can be called “orientation” and refer to all things logistical and have a specific moment of completion. The second can be called “onboarding” and refer to the full ramp-up period for the new hire's role. Normalize that it takes time to learn a new role and get settled in. Also, encourage new hires to be graceful with themselves as learn their role.

Finally, offer them a peer buddy who can be a resource during this transition period. This will help them feel less alone and overwhelmed. It also gives them someone they can feel safe with asking all of their questions. 

Myth 3: Swag makes new hires feel welcomed 

There is an uptick in the number of LinkedIn posts showing pictures of company-branded swag and material-filled welcomes. It can be satisfying in the short term to get a new t-shirt or notebook, but it’s not long-lasting. And, swag isn't culture. It's not enough on its own to make new hires feel welcomed, valued, and supported long-term. However, swag has become a very common expectation in corporate cultures. If offering swag is something that your company finds value in, continue offering it. But, pair it with other welcoming initiatives that help cultivate a sense of belonging long-term.

Instead, welcome the new hire with recognition

Tie welcomes to something more substantive. A few helpful examples are setting aside time for team bonding or even a letter from the person’s new manager and team about why they were hired. If swag isn't proving to be a high ROI initiative for your team, you may also consider repurposing the swag budget for team bonding events that allow the new hire to get to know their peers on a deeper level. That way, the whole team can participate. 

Myth 4: Every new employee needs to prove their passion for work 

Work is a big part of our lives and identities. But, for many work is just work. It’s a paycheck to support their life outside of work. And, the less financial flexibility someone has coming into the job, the more likely this is to be the case. In other words, there can be a privilege associated with “passion.” There’s also can be a lot of pressure on the new hire when it comes to portraying their passion. For example, if everyone needs to introduce themselves with a great story about why they joined, it can be challenging for some to articulate their excitement and reasons for joining to the same degree of enthusiasm. 

To truly establish a norm of authenticity and belonging, we need to respect different experiences and contexts. When there is pressure—perceived or real—to feign “passion,” some of the team may end up feeling uncomfortable, disingenuous, and like they can’t bring their authentic selves to your company.  

Instead, invest in authentic introductions 

Teach your team to ask more targeted get-to-know-you questions rather than the tired “Why did you join [COMPANY]?” Have new hires tell you about themselves, their experiences in work and in life, and let them organically bring up why they joined (if they want to). That way your culture has plenty of room for those who have a passion story, and also those who may not have one but have plenty of other valuable perspectives to bring to the table.

Better yet, have new hires introduce themselves by making a user manual that covers how they like to work, what their strengths are, and what's important to them in work relationships, cultures, and teams.  

Myth 5: All managers are equally capable of owning the entire onboarding experience 

Once the candidate has joined your team, the job’s done, right? Wrong. The work is just beginning, and managers with engaged teams know this. And, managers are important in onboarding, but can also be a pretty big pain point at times. Some managers are just much better than others at organizing onboarding for their direct reports. And, that variance isn’t really fair to new hires. 

Managers play a critical role in all engagement and DEIB initiatives. They are the ones who can make or break the experiences of their team. It’s possible to work at a company on two different teams and have two different experiences. But, when it comes to onboarding that inconsistency can create and reinforce engagement issues in your culture.

Instead, resource all managers with company-wide templates

Have managers drive onboarding, but make sure they’re set up with clear expectations of what the company expects onboarding to look like. Ensure managers have access to resources that will help them improve the experience of new hires. You can offer them templates like a 30/60/90-day plan or a 6-month performance check-in template.

And, don't stop there. Periodically survey new hires on their experience to determine if there are any potential gaps across the company. Onboarding new employees is part of a manager's core responsibilities, and ensuring accountability to an effective onboarding experience creates more consistency across the entire company.   

With these tips in mind, you can welcome your next new hire with greater confidence. And, hopefully, that will help your newest teammate feel a stronger sense of inclusion and belonging right from the start. When onboarding is prioritized, you're unlocking the best work from your teams. As an added bonus, you’ll be fueling genuine, authentic, and heartfelt employee advocacy that will help your employer brand and other recruiting efforts.

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