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Created on 27.02.2019

Onboarding of new employees

Are you welcoming a new team member? Prof. Dr. Peter Kels of the University of Lucerne explains which problems should be avoided during the onboarding phase in this expert article.

Prof. Dr. Peter Kels doziert an der Hochschule Luzern – Wirtschaft als Professor für Human Resource Management, Führung und Innovation.

The professional onboarding of new employees is one of the most important – but in practice most overlooked – measures in meeting HR requirements. Studies reveal that, depending on the context, between 30% and 60% of employees leave the company they have joined within the first six to twelve months. Such early fluctuation generates high costs and means going through the recruitment, appointment and induction process again, which is time-consuming and expensive. Early fluctuations also hamper continuous service provision at team level.

A reality check during the onboarding phase

Empirical studies about the onboarding of employees have identified various recurring issues with the induction of staff. One extremely important factor to bear in mind is that statements made and expectations created during the recruitment process receive a reality check during the onboarding process. What is referred to as a psychological contract is negotiated subconsciously between the employer and employee. In addition to the written contract of employment, this governs the elements of the employment relationship which cannot be set out in writing, such as the employee’s expectations with regard to the motivational and learning aspects of the tasks or the level of self-initiative and willingness to show flexibility. The basis for this is often not explicitly laid down, but it nevertheless represents significant, mutual expectations of the relationship. Psychological contracts are the glue, so to speak, in successful employment relationships.

How to avoid reality checks

A proper reality check can take place, for example, when a new employee who envisages working on an exciting project discovers it has been put on ice for operational reasons shortly after they take up their position. But what can a company do to avoid unfulfilled expectations and false promises? Think carefully how you can present yourself, the company and the vacancy realistically during the recruitment process. Communicate all general conditions in an honest, straightforward way. In the above example, it would have been better to point out that the project was not definitely going ahead. Make sure that any disappointments during the onboarding process are dealt with at an early stage to look for solutions with the employee.

The figure from “Special feature 2018: employer branding” shows how employees react if their employer does not keep its promises. 82.9% of those surveyed indicated that they would look for another job, 41.6% said that they would quit, 62.9% said that their performance at work would decline, 79.6% said that they would be less motivated at work, and 36.6% said that they would speak badly of their employer.

When does onboarding begin and end?

Onboarding starts with the recruitment and selection process – as the foundations of the psychological contract are laid here – and only ends once a new employee is well integrated into the company professionally, socially and culturally, their performance capability has developed, they have established a good network of contacts in the company and have become an insider in the organization. How long this takes depends on the number and level of difficulty of the tasks, the size and complexity of the organization as well as other factors. It can take between 12 and 18 months in the case of more complex specialist and management roles. In other words, onboarding extends well beyond the probationary period of three to six months.

Provide new employees with professional support

The main aim of onboarding is to provide new employees with extensive support to allow them to quickly grow into their new job, role, team and company. This is best achieved by adopting a professional onboarding process with four main measures:

  • Draw up an onboarding programme which – in addition to a personal welcome by the team – also contains information on the corporate strategy, working time models and the use of IT etc.
  • Assign an experienced member of staff to the newly appointed employee to act as a mentor and give them the task of supporting the new recruit within the timeframe available with the onboarding process and dealing with job-specific and performance-related expectations so that the new colleague has a clear understanding of their tasks, competencies and responsibilities.
  • Help new recruits to understand the company’s cultural values and principles when it comes to cooperation within the company and to gradually develop into an insider.
  • Establish a personal relationship with the new employee and foster this, ideally through regular honest dialogue on an equal footing.

Invest in social relationships

How can SMEs establish robust employer-employee relationships over the long term to foster staff loyalty to the company? Invest in a good employment relationship and a successful psychological contract. If employees are satisfied with their employment relationship and their psychological contract, there is a much lower risk of them switching to a new company – if, for example, they receive a better paid job offer from the competition – than if they are dissatisfied here. The following aspects are relevant in this respect:

  • A diverse and challenging job
  • The prospect of professional development and receiving support from the employer to achieve it
  • A culture of management and cooperation based on mutual respect, a constructive approach to problems, mistakes and conflicts
  • Communication with one another on an equal footing
  • The open exchange of information
  • Regular feedback
  • Scope for self-organization, employee participation and chance for them to use their own initiative.

It’s a matter of working in a targeted way on the culture of management and cooperation and providing each individual employee with the opportunity to develop their own potential and abilities during the work process. In this regard, it’s vitally important that employees are aware that they can and should contribute their own personality and potential to the company and may also take up critical and obstructive positions.

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About Prof. Dr. Peter Kels

Prof. Dr. Peter Kels

Prof. Dr. Peter Kels has lectured and carried out research at the The link will open in a new window Lucerne School of Business since 2012 as a professor of HRM, management and innovation. At the General Management Competence Center in the Institute of Business and Regional Economics, he is head of several application-oriented research projects. His current research topics include the digital transformation of the world of work and society, the management of experts, the learning and renewal capability of organizations, new career and staff retention models, people analytics and the acquisition and management of generation Y. Peter Kels is joint head of the HRM major in Bachelor of Business Administration, lectures HRM on the Executive MBA course and qualitative research methods on the Master of Science in Business Administration course. He studied sociology, psychology, business administration and education at the universities of Frankfurt am Main and Darmstadt and obtained a doctorate in sociology from the Technical University of Darmstadt.

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