Onboarding for success

The experience an employee has with an organisation during the onboarding phase can determine both their success in the role, and their attitude toward and engagement with the organisation in the long term. In a recent article Harvard Business Review cited research which has shown that by adopting a systematic approach to onboarding, managers can help bring employees up to speed 50% faster and position them to make positive contribution sooner. As the war for talent heightens, companies can no longer risk losing new hires just to an ineffective onboarding process.

The time between a candidate accepting the role and starting their job can be somewhat precarious, however it does present an opportunity for organisations to inspire engagement. Providing information snippets about the culture and values of the organisation, and what to expect from day one can help put a new hire at ease and generate excitement. Of course the onboarding basics of documentation, health and safety, technology etc. should be covered in the first days of an employee joining the company. After that, managers become an integral part of integrating new hires and are fundamentally become the drivers of successful onboarding.

While every organisational culture, manager and new hire is unique, there are certain things managers can do which will ultimately increase the engagement of new hires.

  • Be Empathetic: Joining a new organisation can be overwhelming for people. Trying to learn the new cultural norms, establish relationships and learn about the business and the industry can be challenging, even for the most experienced professionals. Research has shown that challenges which arise from lack of cultural fit and relationships are actually the most significant drivers of new hire turnover. Ensuring that new hires feel comfortable to ask questions as part of their learning journey will help to alleviate any level of uncertainty. Put yourself in their shoes, make sure you have an open door policy and connect your recent hire with other team members who might have insights and advice to offer.
  • Provide direction: goal setting is an important driver of performance for any employee (established or new). It is imperative that a new hire knows what they need to do, how they should go about doing it, and why they are doing it (how their job contributes to the overall company and team objectives). These aspects of the role will likely have been discussed during the interview process, but the likelihood is that the conversation could have occurred 4-6 weeks before the candidate begins the role, so it is extremely important to re-open this conversation in week one.
  • Seek out early wins: working with the new hire to focus on the core aspects of their new role can help guide them toward an early win and avoid the trap of taking on too much in order to prove themselves. Provide clarity on what constitutes a win. Recognising these contributions can help build the individuals confidence and credibility among their team members.
  • Coach rather than manage: the traditional manager role has evolved and the most successful teams are now led by those individuals who strive to empower their team for success through mentoring and coaching. Managers can help team members to recognise their strengths and opportunities for development, thus providing the necessary guidance to perform the roll to their best ability.
  • Include the new hire in everything: The odds are that any new hire will be working as part of a team, so it is important that they feel included. Make sure that new hires are quickly included in all of the normal day-to-day events in the organisation such as coffee breaks, lunch routines, post-work socialising, etc. The sooner a new hire feels comfortable in all aspects of their new environment, the better.

The psychology of workplace recognition

Research has found that recognition in the workplace has a huge impact on employee engagement, retention, motivation, and satisfaction, as well as on feelings of trust and belonging in the workplace. It also effects how employees view their role and their work, with those who have experienced recognition and reward feeling more appreciated and happier in the workplace, feeling prouder of their work, having stronger employee relationships, and having more favourable attitudes towards their company. It’s quite clear that workplace appreciation and gratitude can have a host of beneficial impacts for the workplace – so what are the psychological mechanisms that are in play when it comes to the positive impacts of employee recognition? And what can companies do to ensure that their workforce feels valued and recognised?

The impact of gratitude

One of the most important factors involved in the beneficial impacts of workplace recognition is gratitude, and the psychological effects that gratitude has on us. When we are shown appreciation and gratitude, the hypothalamus area of the brain is activated, and the neurotransmitter dopamine is released – this neurotransmitter is often known as the “reward” neurotransmitter, as it feels good, and it results in us repeating the actions that result in its release. Therefore, when we are shown gratitude, in engages our brain in a virtuous cycle, that makes us re-engage in those behaviours which elicit gratitude and release dopamine.

These dopamine boosts not only feel good, but they also improve sleep habits, increase metabolism, and reduce stress. Therefore, workplace recognition is going to have a beneficial impact on employee well-being and health, which will in turn have positive knock-on effects in terms of employee engagement and motivation.

Furthermore, showing recognition and appreciation to colleagues encourages more social and prosocial interaction. So when employees are shown gratitude in the workplace, they are more likely to spread their positive feelings with their peers, through altruistic and helpful acts – and as acts of kindness in the workplace have been shown to increase work performance and productivity, this is another example of the potential positive impact of implementing a culture of recognition and appreciation in an organisation.

Increasing workplace recognition

Despite the well-established positive effects of workplace recognition, the American Psychological Association (APA) found that only 51% of working Americans felt valued by their employers, while 36% reported receiving no form of recognition in the past 12 months. So it would appear that many employers are not taking advantage of the benefits that workplace recognition and reward can deliver – but there are some simple steps that can be taken, in order to improve employee recognition, and to make it a priority in the workplace:

  • Make it personal: there are many different ways in which a employee can be rewarded for their hard work, but the most important thing is that the employee is shown gratitude for their individual contribution – there is a big difference between a company-wide email of appreciation sent to everyone involved in a project, compared to an individually-tailored card, email, note, or meeting, outlining the specific role that an individual has played in achieving a positive outcome for the organisation.
  • Facilitate peer-to-peer recognition: acknowledgements from colleagues can be just as valued, if not more valued, than recognition from management. Peer-to-peer recognition programmes can be introduced, which encourage co-workers to demonstrate gratitude and appreciation towards one another – perhaps through one-on-one meetings, group sessions, or feedback forms.
  • Do some research and investigation: not all of your workforce will value the same types of recognition. You can learn about what the individual preferences of your employees are through surveys and meetings, and you can therefore find out what types of incentives might motivate the different individuals in the organisation.
  • Build recognition skills: familiarise yourself with the characteristics of effective recognition and how to apply them, by talking to HR experts, CEOs, or organisational psychologists – get to know the different types of effective rewards, and how best to implement them in the workplace.
  • Make it fun: aside from the more standard incentives and rewards, such as gift cards and bonuses, employees will also appreciate more creative and fun methods of recognition, which don’t have to involve much expense. A rotating trophy or plaque for the best team-player, a fun day out for a whole team, or the renting of a karaoke machine/chocolate fountain are some fun examples, which will demonstrate to employees that time and consideration has gone into making sure that they are acknowledged and shown appreciation.


Guest Author: Counseling Psychologist, Dr. Jennifer Fennel