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The psychology behind onboarding

  • 6 Min Read

The real onboarding challenges are not administrative, but psychological. How can you ensure that your onboarding process is psychologically safe for your new recruits?

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Imagine starting at a new company and it’s your first day of work in not only a new job, but a new industry. You show up to your department ten minutes earlier than your start time, where you are greeted by a friendly face. It’s one of your co-workers welcoming you to the team. He shows you where you will be sitting, so you go into your cubicle and start getting settled in.

So far so good, this was a great decision, you think to yourself. You walk over to your new manager’s office to say hello. She greets you with a smile and asks if you’re ready to get to work. You reply happily, “I am”, and ask about how you log into your computer. She tells you to reach out to IT to get set up. The day is still perfect. You sit down to call IT to get your credentials, and they let you know that they never received a ticket request to set you up for an email account and intranet credentials. You have a sinking feeling, but you’re sure this will all be rectified.

Your co-worker who greeted you earlier stops by to let you know there’s a team huddle taking place. You thank him and head over for your first team meeting. As you arrive at the meeting all eyes are on you and some of them are not the friendliest. Your new manager introduces you formally to the team and welcomes you warmly. It is at this moment that one of your co-workers alerts you that everyone on the team needs to have “Jersey Shore” nicknames and asks you what your nickname will be. You smile sheepishly knowing you hate the show and moreover you are not a fan of nicknames unless people are close to you, but it’s your first day in a new company and this is how things are on this team. You respectfully decline to participate in the nickname jamboree and immediately there is verbal pressure to participate, as this will allegedly seal the deal that you are part of the team. It was in this moment that you are not quite sure if this is going to be a company where you can totally be yourself.

According to the 2018 Jobvite Jobseeker Insight Survey, 33% of American employees leave within just three months of joining. The best thing you can do to keep your attrition low is to invest in pre-boarding, onboarding and your overall talent management strategy to make sure you aren’t blindsided by the organizational and cultural variables contributing to uncomfortable and unwelcomed experiences for your new employees.

Psychological Stressors of Onboarding

In the aforementioned example, the company did many things right, but the few things that didn’t go right are often the instances that overshadow the best of intentions when it comes to onboarding. Joining a new company is as much exciting as it is stressful. The stressors of starting a new opportunity can include the following, but are not limited to this list:

  • First Impressions – The new employee wants to make the right first impressions.
  • Instant Impact – The new employee wants to make an impact as a contributing team member as soon as possible.
  • Financial Considerations – Financially, the employee can’t afford for the opportunity to not work out positively.
  • Psychological Safety and Equity – The employee hopes they are understood, treated, and accepted as a welcomed addition to the team.
  • Cultural Connection – The new employee worries that their particular work style and expertise is as much a match as it seemed it was during interview process discussions.

Components of Successful Onboarding

Understanding the impact of at least these common and potential stressors illuminates a dire need for a relevant, sustainable, and thoughtful onboarding experience. To ensure that your onboarding strategy always hit those three tenets here are some further considerations:

  • Smart Onboarding Strategy (S.O.S.) – Helping your new employee manage their stress will help you retain them. The first day of work is already stressful in a lot of ways as illustrated above. It should be the company’s priority to make their first month of work one of incremental transition and as little stress as possible. It’s enough to have to learn how to operate in a new work ecosystem and quite another to be stressed out mentally and physically while doing so. Creating onboarding simulations and thoughtful training protocols for your roles can help to keep some consistency in the day’s work for new employees while they get acclimated.
  • Cultivating Work Ecosystems for Success– There should be a clear and seamless process for allocating company assets and resources to new employees. No employee should be starting on their first day with the expectation of them working and no means to actually get started. Finding any kinks in your asset management process and solving them in advance can go a long way in ensuring your new employees aren’t under-resourced day one.
  • Socio-Cultural Pre-Boarding and Onboarding– Have you asked your new employees what they want and need from you to feel at home in their new role? In as much as you are onboarding the new employee, there should be internal preparation conducted with the team they are joining so everyone is poised to receive the human coming aboard in all of their glory and individuality. Think of the first day of school for the new kid and how impactful it is to extend a warm welcome to them right from the start. A great exercise is to create a new team member survey to get to know them and share the information with the existing teammates. Ask them each to record a quick video ahead of the new employee’s start date with a welcome message stating why they are excited for them to join the company and maybe a fun fact about them individually.

Successful onboarding programs don’t just seek to allocate resources and collect pertinent paperwork. A proper onboarding program requires companies to care about and dissect why people come to work at all. It is your job to reinforce that they made the right decision by bringing their talents to your doorstep.

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