What is onboarding anyway and why should you care?

Before we even get into this article fully, one of the issues we must look at with onboarding is that companies using the term often mean different things. The Oxford Dictionary definition of onboarding is, ‘The action or process of integrating a new employee into an organisation or familiarising a new customer or client with one’s products or services.’ That gives us two types of onboarding immediately, one for new starters and another for customers. Onboarding customers aims to smooth the first few weeks or months of delivering to new customers, whether that’s training them on your products or helping them to understand your processes; it’s a different proposition from onboarding new employees.

When it comes to new employees, onboarding is often only an exercise in gathering the relevant documents so that the new starter can start and get paid at the end of the month. For other companies it means dragging the person round each department to make introductions and showing them where the fire exits and toilets are. You can see why ‘onboarding’ therefore means so many different things to companies and new employees, and why onboarding experiences are so inconsistent from company to company.

Preboarding vs onboarding

As well as onboarding there is preboarding which the Oxford Dictionary defines as, ‘allow (a particular passenger or group of passengers) to board an aircraft before the rest of the passengers.’ That’s not very helpful in this context, so should we be using preboarding as a term in recruitment at all? Do people understand what we mean when we say it? Lots of companies stay away from ‘onboarding’ and ‘preboarding’, instead calling it ‘employee orientation’ but this sounds like it involves a map and compass. It’s no wonder that there’s confusion out there.

We define preboarding as activities that happen before the first day that the person is on the payroll. You can no longer say it’s when they sit in the office because lots of people work remotely and only visit an office occasionally. Some people are 100% remote and won’t visit an office at all, even at the beginning. You could therefore say that preboarding is before the first day and onboarding goes from the first day up to a date in the future. This again is open to interpretation, as some companies give a day or two, some a few weeks, some 100 days and others six months or more. These multiple definitions and lengths of onboarding time often lead to confusion when companies sit down and try to define what it is they are doing and for how long.

So what is onboarding then?

We’re very clear that onboarding is the period between acceptance of the job offer and the end of the first three months of employment. This takes the new starter on a supported journey from the moment they agree to join to past the point at which a lot of new starters decide to leave early, often because the reality is not living up to the expectation. This period is absolutely critical to ensure that you’re giving new starters the best fighting chance of starting in the first place and then making it through their first three months with the same level of enthusiasm.

When new starters accept the role, they are at their most engaged and yet this is the time where most employers stop communicating with them. They’ve been loved and cared for throughout the recruitment process with regular contact but after they agree to join, they fall into a recruitment black hole that some never come out of. It’s difficult to keep in contact with new starters whilst also trying to keep the recruitment pipeline full, and that’s where an onboarding platform comes in. This is not just about filling in forms though. It’s about giving new starters a structured pathway to their first day and a means of remaining in contact with not just the recruitment team, but their future colleagues as well. It’s a powerful tool in your recruitment arsenal that is much underused and many times not used at all. Leaving new starters to their own devices is not a sensible approach. They’ve been on the market looking for a role and you won’t be the only company they will have looked at. There’s every possibility that they’ll have other offers pending which could come in after they’ve accepted your offer. If you’ve been showing that you care and are keeping in contact, they are much less likely to entertain the other offer. On the other hand, if it’s the other company showing the care and attention, you know very well that it will be harder for them to ignore it.

Why use onboarding?

As well as keeping new starters engaged between acceptance and start date, proper onboarding should take them through to the end of their first three months. This initial period has been shown to be a time of high risk for people leaving the company. There are many reasons for this, ranging from new starters feeling they’ve made a mistake, to a mismatch between the recruitment experience and doing the job. After all, an interview process is a sales process and buyer’s remorse applies just as much.

Onboarding therefore can take the pressure off your recruitment team and the line manager of the new starter. Fast growing companies will be hiring multiple people on an ongoing basis and this is where onboarding at scale starts to make real sense. Using a platform such as Onbrd, you can keep new starters connected and enthused, whilst they learn more about your organisation. Some clients also like to train new starters on core systems, so they can use these tools and systems from day one, rather than taking days or weeks to get up to speed.

Contact us today to discuss how we can help to move your onboarding online and free up valuable resources in your organisation.

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