It is time to do away with the word “onboarding.” With the workforce seeing multiple generations, shortages of specific talent and individual preferences, we should be humanizing the process and the words we use to describe it. This is particularly important if a new employee is going to be remote or hybrid, as it might be a long time before they actually meet their supervisor in person. 

In the 1970s, Van Maanen and Schein developed the original concept of “organizational socialization,” which eventually led to the word “onboarding.”  Neither term is very personal. The idea was to provide a new employee with the expectations of their position, as well as the rules, roles, responsibilities, relationships and how they fit into the company. And this last part is important, how they fit into the company. This implies they are being fitted into the job and not necessarily given opportunities to demonstrate their natural strengths. 

Welcoming instead of onboarding is a different mindset that begins with fitting the job to the employee and not simply fitting the employee to the tasks the company needs. This begins before anyone is hired, considering the tasks that need to get done and allows for flexibility with job descriptions. 

A true welcoming experience takes time. And yes, managers are short on time, but the alternative is to set up a new person over many days or even weeks. This increases the chance that three months later they leave. Not welcoming new employees well can be a huge waste of time and money. No matter what position an employee is in, it has an impact on the company. 

Erica Keswin writes about intentional onboarding in the Retention Revolution, connecting the process to retention of employees. One of her ideas: go beyond the bag of swag, which is nice, to connecting them to coworkers who stay with them for six months or more. For example, a buddy (peer), mentor, peer coach or employee resource group. This is particularly important today with Gen Z. They want to feel connected to others and something bigger than themselves. 

In fact, most humans want to be connected to other people. This can be a challenge for remote and hybrid employees. There are many ways to connect and humanize the workplace. In Connected Leadership, I write about how leaders can and must stay connected. The new employee’s manager is key to a successful welcoming process, and they are critical to consistently staying in touch and learning about the needs and wants of their direct reports.

In an ATD article titled “Create Belonging and Increase Retention During Onboarding” Alex Fagone writes, “The highest percentage of new hires leave the organization within the first three to six months of employment, indicating onboarding is more than providing new hires with the tools needed to do their job. It is also about establishing trust, ensuring that we can create an emotional connection with employees, allowing them to feel safe and develop lasting relationships within the organization.” This is not done with a three-day onboarding process. 

Here are some ideas for creating a more humanistic welcoming program.

  • Personalize it. Start with a note from the CEO welcoming the new employee and have their manager spend time learning more about them. 
  • Use a behavioral and skills assessment. Using the insights from an assessment and report, the manager can begin to mold the job to the person’s strengths or find other tasks in the company to utilize their skills. 
  • Be explicit about expectations.  Uncertainty can make anyone uneasy. People want specifics about their roles, responsibilities, relationships and any flexibility they might be afforded. This is mainly the responsibility of the supervisor, but it has many other implications for others. This could include an integration guide, dashboard and checklist of tools when others such as HR and IT need to be involved.
  • Structure the welcoming experience.  Develop a process that goes beyond the first few days. In most companies, there is essential information that is good to review after two weeks, three months, six months and even one year. Connecting them with a peer buddy or mentor for six months to a year stretches the support much longer. These people volunteer and meet occasionally to review the progress or needs of the person they are supporting.
  • Create social integration and psychological safety.  Connect the new employee to employee resource groups and create a space for them to ask questions, connect and get involved in both company and non-company activities. Help them understand there are safe spaces for connecting and communicating, including specific communication pathways that support psychological safety. 
  • Demonstrate leadership alignment. Leaders in the company need to support the plans and the new people. Their buy-in is critical for an environment of psychological safety. They are uniquely positioned to make the connection between the company’s goals, productivity and the well-being of the people who work there. 
  • Outline learning and advancement opportunities based on their skills. The manager can now support and help the person grow from day one and better fit into the company. 

The concept of a welcoming process is about recognizing the people as people. They come to work because they want to make a difference and have value. The well-being of employees is critical to the work of any company. If your new people feel and see that the company is looking out for them, they will be more productive and happier in their work.  

Photo by Jonathan Borba via Pexels.