Employees who are well prepared for their first day at work tend to find their bearings more easily and also have a more positive first impression of their new employer. At one in three companies, however, new hires encounter difficulties during their first weeks – or even months - in the job. They are left with all sorts of questions and many things remain unclear. And while they usually look to their direct superior for answers, that person is often insufficiently involved or lacks the time to help.
These are the most important conclusions of a survey of the use of onboarding processes in Belgian companies. The survey was conducted by Professor Dirk Buyens and researcher Astrid Vandenbroucke of Vlerick Business School, in cooperation with Talmundo, a specialist in digital onboarding platforms. 143 employees and 115 HR professionals participated in the survey.
Joining a new company – the employee’s experience
It seems obvious that employers should remain in touch with their new employee from the time of hiring to their first day on the job, and get everything organised behind the scenes to ensure the new employee can integrate quickly and get to work as soon as possible. A good onboarding process is crucial here. Research has shown, however, that 40% of all companies provide insufficient information and support to new hires before their first day at work.
So where do things go wrong?
- Insufficient information about specific tasks, expectations and the results to be achieved (66%)
- Lack of clarity about the role (64%)
- At operational level: no computer, phone, office material or desk for the new hire on the first day (57%); this issue was resolved within the week for half of the respondents, but in 43% of the cases it took them more than a week to be fully up and running.
“We noted that the lack of clarity about tasks and expectations persisted throughout the first weeks and months. Employees also indicated that they were not given enough time for training during this period and that getting to know their colleagues was sometimes difficult because no one in the company had the task of introducing them”, researcher Astrid Vandenbroucke explains. “They also feel that their direct superior does not offer enough guidance and is not sufficiently involved in the process, which is unfortunate. Investing in onboarding is a good thing all round, both for the employee and the employer.”
34% of the respondents stated that their new employer did not have an official onboarding process, although 83% felt it would be very useful. They feel that a process of this kind contributes to a positive mindset, a positive experience of applying for the job and greater motivation, as well as facilitating more rapid integration into the company’s culture. 55% of the respondents stated that it took them almost three months until they had a good idea of the organisation’s mission, values and standards.
Finally, 58% said they relied on their direct superior as their main source of information and coaching. However the study also revealed that many employees felt their superior was insufficiently invested in their needs. “We think HR can play an important role in the onboarding process as a link between the employee and the employer”, says Astrid. “Managers should be sufficiently aware of the fact that adjusting to a new employer takes time. The more accessible they are, the sooner the new employee will be fully up and running.”
Companies and onboarding – the HR professional’s view
HR professionals do understand the use of onboarding. The main reason they give for this is that a good onboarding process will help employees feel at home in the company more quickly.
The study clearly shows that HR professionals are convinced that a good onboarding process is useful:
- 86% believe that employees feel at home in the company more quickly
- 74% agree that employees are up and running sooner
- 53% think that employees will stay with the company longer as a result
- 41% think that a good onboarding process can save money; in fact the study does demonstrate that the longer the process, the higher the savings.
However they also struggle with several practical challenges:
- Good monitoring of the new employees (49%)
- An inconsistent approach to and application of onboarding across the organisation (48%)
- Lack of clarity about who is responsible for the onboarding process within the company (43%)
- Measuring the success and effectiveness of the onboarding process (43%); only 53% of the HR professionals in the study indicated that they had measurement tools to evaluate the success of the process.
The study also delved deeper into the HR professionals’ perception of the challenges new employees face. They believe that newcomers mainly grapple with the tasks and expectations associated with their job (66%) and find it difficult to integrate into company culture (61%). The first statement is indeed correct. In terms of company culture, however, only 37% of the employee respondents perceived this as a problem. The gap is even greater when it comes to job descriptions. While only 29% of the HR professionals in the study thought that new hires had questions about their position and role, a whopping 64% of the employees in the study indicated some confusion about their new job.
As far as the duration of the onboarding process is concerned, only 5% of the companies continuously invest in onboarding. On the positive side, employees think the process takes about a month, while HR professionals think it takes much less time.
Finally, 77% of the HR professionals believe that onboarding will become more important in the future and so they need to invest in it more.
Investing in technology is worthwhile
Only one in three companies in the study used technology to steer the onboarding process. They either use specific software (10%), a web application (10%), a system developed by the company itself (36%) or a mixture of software and web applications (44%).
Onboarding costs less in companies that use technology. Moreover, the technology also facilitates the evaluation and measurement of the process.
Why do companies use technology?
- To involve the new hire more actively in the onboarding process (52%)
- To save time (38%)
- To increase the effectiveness of communication between the employer and employee (28%)
- To reduce administration (27%)
- To integrate digital training into the onboarding process (21%)
- To gather data about the onboarding process to improve the process (15%)
“On the one hand, many companies believe that technology can be a useful element in onboarding. Nonetheless they are reticent when it comes to switching to technological solutions, mainly because of the cost. While offline onboarding processes may seem cheaper, inefficient and time-consuming systems also come at a cost, albeit more of a hidden cost”, Astrid concludes.
About the author:
- Astrid Vandenbroucke is a Research Associate for the Area People & Organisation at Vlerick Business School. Her research mainly focuses on the trends and challenges in talent management.