Five common employee onboarding problems and how to fix them


It’s not uncommon for onboarding to be something of a lost priority compared to recruitment. All the effort can go into finding the best person for the job and then their actual arrival becomes an afterthought. But… onboarding is crucial for new hires. At its best, onboarding is a structured education, introduction, and welcome process, giving the new employee everything they need to know – technically and culturally – and understand to get up and running as quickly as possible.

However, a Gallup report cites that, “Only 12% of employees strongly agree their organization does a great job of onboarding new employees,” which suggests that, as important as onboarding is, few employers are doing it well.

So where does it all go wrong? When welcoming a new hire and setting them up to succeed, there are a number of common pitfalls, some of which your HRMS may be able to help avoid…

1. Lack of manager involvement

Managers, especially first-line managers and supervisors, tend to be busy people. And while few would deny that the first few days on the job are critical for a new team member, the reality is that they are often juggling so many priorities that the temptation to delegate, or even abdicate from responsibility for onboarding new hires, can be overwhelming.

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For the HR team attempting to ensure consistent and effective induction of new hires, a common tool is the humble checklist. A simple example might look like this:

  • Have a role and responsibilities discussion with new employees’ line managers.
  • Match your new team member with a buddy and or mentor.
  • Introduce the new person to key people; i.e. help them to network.
  • Agree initial targets and goals
  • Set up a series of regular checkpoint meetings to discuss and monitor progress.

Your mileage may differ. However, whatever it looks like, why not incorporate your employee onboarding checklist into your HRMS by setting up push notifications to the manager and new hire to ensure these simple but essential actions take place?

Besides, the same Gallup report notes that employees are more than three times as likely to strongly agree their onboarding experience was exceptional when managers take an active role.

2. Balanced program content

Remember when you joined the organization? The Folder! The Presentation! The Induction Course! The chances are, you were bombarded with information about your new workplace, the structure, the people, the purpose, the culture, the customers, the list can be endless. Or perhaps you experienced the opposite, too little data, in the canoe and up the creek but without the necessary paddle? It’s important to get the balance of information right in onboarding 

Again, your HR technology can be used to notify new hires of the truly essential information automatically and signpost the location of the remainder. Even better, why not do some ‘pre-boarding’, sending key information before they even arrive? This could include contracts, terms and conditions, benefits, essential policies, building layout, and names and profiles of key managers, peers, and clients.

And these are simple ideas compared to the sophisticated gamification strategies that are beginning to emerge in HRMS-driven onboarding systems, including ‘quests’ for key data, acknowledgments and rewards for information accessed, and game-like levels in which a set of tasks must be completed in order to ‘unlock’ the next stage of the onboarding process.

However, when thinking about the content of your onboarding program, don’t be too tempted to cut it short. To cite the Gallup report again, new employees typically take around 12 months to reach their full performance potential within a role.

3. What about culture?

You can talk about culture, core values, vision, etc. during your onboarding program but ask yourself, does that information really convey the organization’s culture accurately? Or are they more aspirational?

Culture often develops separately to mission and vision statements. It may be aligned with such things but culture is based on all the shared assumptions, beliefs, values and norms in the organization plus the actions and attitudes based on them. Your new hires need to feel, to experience the culture as well as read about it. In that sense, stories and anecdotes from colleagues are far more powerful than a PowerPoint presentation on a course.

4. It’s all about fitting in, not getting on

Hopefully, your new hire really wants to work for you. Hopefully, they’re excited about their new job and what they can bring to it. That excitement depends on how they imagine themselves in the job, now and in the future.

Too much onboarding and induction content is about fitting in. It’s all, ‘this is how we do things here,’ ‘this is who we are,’ and so on. And messages like that are not just informational, they’re also a potential warning. The consequences of fitting in are good (a good colleague, part of the time, opportunities) but the consequences of not fitting in are less clear. There may even be an implicit threat: fit in or else…

One way through this is to ensure that among the ongoing deluge of information, you make room for more personal discussion. Use your HRMS software’s timetabling facility to set up early conversations about personal development: how the new person sees themself in the role, now and in the future.

5. Is it working? Who knows!

As with any training program (yes, onboarding is a training program - it’s all about imparting new knowledge), one of the most common failures by the organization is the failure to evaluate the program’s effectiveness.

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Is the information up to date? Is it actually relevant? Are the various modes of delivery appropriate? Can new hires apply the information in their jobs? And if so, how helpful is it? Systematic follow-up of induction courses and including a few questions in staff attitude pulse surveys can give a clear picture of your onboarding’s effectiveness and whether new hires end a part of the organization or not. Of course, the learning management system in your HRMS should have some readymade processes to help…

Ultimately, a common failing of onboarding programs is that there are too many fingers in the pie. Onboarding requires input and action from many more people than just the new hire and their overworked manager. To really get your fresh employee up to speed as soon as possible, you’ll probably need the involvement of security, IT, finance and payroll, and HR, at least. And that’s before you consider the specific job you’ve hired them to do.

However, the right onboarding technology can take care of all necessary notifications, track and monitor actions taken, and ensure contracts and policies are signed, equipment is issued, training arranged, and whatever else is essential in your new hire’s first few days and months.


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Dave Foxall

About the author…

Dave has worked as HR Manager for the Ministry of Justice for a number of years, he now writes on a broad range of topics including jazz music, and, of course, the HRMS software market.

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Dave Foxall

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