Published on

October 30, 2023

Onboarding - How to Ensure a Stress-Free Start for New Employees

Dr. Nico Broers photo

Dr. Nico Broers

Program Manager


Learning Hub

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Discover how an effective onboarding program can play a crucial role in integrating new employees successfully, considering their individual needs, and fostering a sense of belonging. The goal is to make employees feel valued from the beginning and to prioritize their professional development.

Personalized onboarding not only enhances employee retention but also reduces turnover in companies. It is a key to addressing current challenges in the job market and creating a positive work environment where employers and employees can collaborate successfully.

Why Onboarding is Becoming More Important for Companies

Today's business world faces a significant challenge - a shortage of skilled professionals. The problem is not new, and most companies already report substantial skills gaps that need urgent filling.

Simultaneously, employee loyalty to their employers is at an all-time low. Employees have never felt less attached to their companies. More and more people are reevaluating their current professional situation and seriously considering resigning. This trend, known as the 'great resignation,' is currently affecting Germany.

The result is a fierce competition for talent. Companies are poaching talent from each other, headhunters are in high demand, and remote work options make geographic proximity less critical when changing jobs.

But what can companies do to strengthen employee engagement and reduce turnover? The answer to this pressing question is: Personalized onboarding.

Positive Effects of Effective Onboarding

As mentioned earlier, effective onboarding can make employees feel more connected to the company, positively impacting their performance and self-confidence.

Stronger Employee Engagement Through Onboarding

Employees who have undergone effective onboarding feel connected to the company in multiple ways.

  1. They feel more committed to the company. Effective onboarding helps employees acquire the tools and knowledge they need to be productive and happy in their roles. This investment in employees can lead to a stronger sense of attachment to the company.
  2. They feel more connected to their colleagues. Effective onboarding often includes activities for getting to know colleagues and training by peers. This allows new employees to build relationships that make them feel welcome and connected.
  3. They feel more integrated into the company culture. Integrating employees into the company culture is crucial for keeping employees attached to the company and allowing them to identify with the company culture.

Enhanced Self-Confidence and Performance Through Onboarding

Onboarding doesn't just positively impact employee engagement but also their performance. Studies show that employees who have gone through efficient onboarding:

  1. Perform better. Onboarding offers the perfect opportunity to explain the role and expectations in detail, allowing employees to reach their full potential.
  2. Have more confidence in their performance. Effective onboarding often includes targeted training, enabling employees to work independently. This means that employees often leave the onboarding program with boosted self-esteem.
  3. Make contributions more quickly. Effective onboarding is a great way to achieve a faster return on your recruitment investment, as employees report being able to contribute more quickly.

The 4 C's of Successful Onboarding

For this reason, the 4-C approach to onboarding has been established as a best practice. To strengthen employee engagement and improve performance, the onboarding process should meet four criteria.

  1. Compliance: Compliance refers to adhering to company policies, regulations, and legal requirements. During the onboarding process, new employees should be informed about these rules and regulations to ensure they understand and comply with the necessary standards and legal requirements.
  2. Clarification: Afterward, it is essential to ensure that new employees have a clear understanding of their responsibilities, tasks, and goals. This includes explaining team structures, processes, and expectations, allowing employees to understand how they fit into the organization and contribute to achieving company goals.
  3. Culture: New employees must understand the values, norms, and general culture of the company to integrate effectively into the organization. This may involve presenting the company's history, values, work environment, and social norms.
  4. Connection: Connection focuses on building relationships and networks. New employees should have the opportunity to interact with colleagues, supervisors, and other team members. This facilitates social integration and promotes collaboration.

The Costs of Unsuccessful Onboarding

As previously highlighted, an effective onboarding program offers significant benefits. However, it would be incomplete to discuss the benefits without considering the costs. In fact, the costs in the case of inadequate or insufficient onboarding can be even higher. Financial expenses are just one aspect of the overall picture. The impacts extend to various areas:

  • Time investment: New employees, the HR department, and internal experts invest significant time in the onboarding process.
  • Recruiting costs: Inadequate onboarding often leads to new employees leaving the company early, incurring additional recruitment costs.
  • Productivity losses: Poorly trained and demotivated new employees can affect the company's productivity.
  • Legal and reputational costs: Violations of compliance guidelines can not only have financial consequences but also harm the company's reputation and make headlines.

In summary, the importance of successfully integrating employees into companies cannot be overstated, particularly given the potentially high costs and risks associated with inadequate onboarding.

Common Pain Points in Onboarding

In our work with companies, we regularly encounter a variety of challenges from three different perspectives. These pain points are diverse and shape the experiences of new employees, HR managers, and executives alike.

Pain Points from the Perspective of New Employees

  1. Information Overload: New employees often feel overwhelmed by the great volume of general information they need to process at the beginning of their time at the company. The lengthy process of reading and understanding can lead to both boredom and overwhelm.
  2. Lack of Structure: The learning process often appears unstructured and confusing. This can lead to frustration because the transition into the new role doesn't go as smoothly as new employees hope.
  3. Loneliness: The absence of personal contact with other learners worsens the problem. New employees desire more interaction and the exchange of ideas with colleagues to integrate better.

Pain Points from the Perspective of HR Managers

  1. Manual Effort: HR managers face significant manual effort in creating learning paths and content. This not only consumes a lot of time but also carries the risk of errors and inefficiencies.
  2. Lack of Transparency: The lack of visibility of learning progress and the difficulty in measuring the success of learners make evaluating and optimizing the learning process challenging.
  3. Bringing Participants and Experts Together: Establishing connections between learners and internal company experts is a complex task that often proves challenging and requires a better solution.
  4. Tool Overload: Managing a variety of unrelated digital tools and platforms can be inefficient and time-consuming.

Pain Points from the Perspective of Managers

  1. Unproductive Employees: Managers often report difficulties in motivating and making new employees productive. This leads to frustration on both sides.
  2. Cost Increases Due to Turnover: Concerns about rising costs due to employee turnover strain the budget and the working environment.
  3. Lengthy Onboarding and Lack of Skill Transparency: The time required for new employees to become fully effective is seen as problematic. The lack of transparency regarding employees' actual skills intensifies this challenge.

5 Levels of Onboarding Journeys

The significance of the onboarding process in companies is often underestimated. However, we find that the approaches of companies can vary significantly. Depending on the importance of onboarding in the company's context, organizations pursue different models, ranging from a complete lack of onboarding to a skill-based approach. The differences primarily lie in the areas of content, structure, and connection or interactivity.

  1. No Onboarding: At this stage, there is no formal onboarding process. New employees are introduced to their tasks without a targeted orientation.
  2. Passive or Basic Onboarding: In this phase, integration usually occurs ad-hoc, based on need and situation. However, there are no clear contents or skills associated with the onboarding of new employees, making the entire process unstructured and difficult to measure. In addition, there is often a lack of contact with colleagues or subject matter experts.
  3. Compliance-Focused Onboarding: In this phase, there is a simple onboarding process that primarily focuses on compliance but does not provide personalized or effective integration. Learners spend their time monotonously learning rules and focusing on checking off lists. In this phase, HR often acts more like a "compliance police" when content is not completed or rules are not followed.
  4. Proactive Onboarding: Companies that are one step ahead opt for proactive onboarding. This involves defined learning objectives and paths, as well as content. There are often various seminars and live events, as well as one-on-one meetings that new joiners must go through. However, these often follow a one-size-fits-all approach, leading to boredom or overwhelm and making it challenging to measure newly acquired skills.
  5. Skill-Based Onboarding: Skill-based onboarding is the most advanced form of onboarding. Skills to be learned are defined in advance, content is aligned with them, and it is delivered to learners in personalized, interactive learning journeys.

Recipe for Success: Skill-Based Onboarding

To successfully implement skill-based onboarding in companies, we typically focus on three key areas:

Linking Skill Strategy & Content

  • Identifying the required skills and competencies.
  • Developing content that is specifically aligned with these skills.
  • Ensuring that the content aligns with the company's strategic goals.

Overseeing the Learning Process & Measuring Progress

  • Establishing clear learning objectives and paths for employees.
  • Implementing tools to monitor learning progress.
  • Continuously measuring and evaluating acquired skills and competencies.

Creating a Connection to the Company

  • Promoting interaction among new employees, colleagues, and experts.
  • Establishing a mentoring system to encourage knowledge exchange.
  • Integrating the company's culture and values into the onboarding process to strengthen employee engagement.

Common Challenges in Skill-Based Onboarding

Lack of a Common Language for Skills

One of the challenges in skill-based onboarding often involves smoothly integrating skill strategy and provided content. The content delivered should be closely related to the company's required skills. However, a central problem is the lack of a common language to define skills. Therefore, it is important to establish a common language for skills within the company before they can be linked to content.

Lack of Skills Transparency

To effectively structure the learning process for both HR and learners and ensure a clear overview, clear data about learners' skills are often required. Unfortunately, often only limited data is available as time constraints often hinder HR departments from collecting them. However, a data-driven approach is crucial.

In this approach, the HR department continually records new competencies and individual skills of employees. This allows for better adjustment of learning paths without making learners feel controlled. It allows learners to track their progress but also enables managers and HR to monitor development. Learning journeys should be dynamic and automatically adapt to learners' prior knowledge, ensuring a highly personalized learning experience.

Lack of Interactivity

Additionally, many onboarding programs lack interactivity. Particularly in passive onboarding, social and collaborative connections are often absent. There is insufficient room for interactions, as they are often not integrated into the online journey. Therefore, linking offline and online learning content and events is particularly important. Through the use of various communication tools, it can be ensured that new employees are not left alone and can tackle the associated problems and challenges. Multimedia input, presented interactively and in various formats, can create a dynamic learning path that strengthens connections and enables the integration of natural interactions.

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edyoucated is funded by leading research institutions such as the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BIBB), Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action (BMWK).

Bundesinstitut für Berufsbildung (BIBB)