The onboarding process and the psychological contract

Yellow and white balloons on orange surface

No one disagrees that the few weeks in a new job are quite stressful for the new hire and for the team. There’s a lot to learn and a new whole culture to assimilate. It is therefore very clear that the integration of new employees is an essential part of the process that follows hiring.

The onboarding issue uses to be poorly managed in many organizations and sometimes it is not even addressed. Not without consequences: Caldwell and Peters (2018) believe that a poor onboarding process “undermines organization effectiveness, decreases trust, and violates the psychological contract held by new employees about the organization’s duties owed to them”.

For them, “ineffective onboarding destroys benefits achieved by hiring talented employees and increases the likelihood that the hard work spent in recruiting and selecting those employees will be wasted”. They agree that many organizations view the onboarding process as an expense rather than an investment.

The problems of a bad onboarding

The onboarding stage promotes the integration of new talent into the cultural environment of the company. Far from being just a bureaucratic period for handing in paperwork, this is also a time of adaptation and testing for the new employee and the team. The employee needs to feel welcome and be measured that he or she made a good choice.

Make it harder for the new hire and you can be sure that the integration will be painful, leading to underperformance or even early dropout. This stage is not only the moment where the employee gains access to the skills that he or she needs to do their job, but also the perfect moment to transmit the organization’s goals, values, rules, and policies.

The typical new employee onboarding journey provides a volume of information that is overwhelming, impractical, and impossible for new employees to incorporate within a short period of time. There’s this feeling that the employee has to learn everything as soon as possible, while we all know that much of the information will be lost in the middle of the way.

It is recommended that the onboarding process lasts at least three months. In fact, the longest, the best: this paper suggests that employee retention can be increased if the onboarding process is extended throughout the entire first year.

What is the perfect onboarding process according to science?

Good onboarding is composed of what’s called the 4 C’s:

  • Compliance: this block includes transmitting to the new employees the policies, rules, and regulations related to the new organization.
  • Clarification: this phase is about making clear to the new talent what his or her functions are and the expectations around them. It is important to set boundaries so everyone knows what to expect from the employee. and vice-versa.
  • Culture: here, the company has the obligation to provide new employees with a sense of formal and informal organizational norms, values, and goals.
  • Connection: this is about the relationships that are forged with other people who will be essential for the employee to perform their work in the company.

Here enters the psychological contract. An employment relationship is an interpersonal relationship with profound ethical implications: someone is get paid to provide a service in exchange. Expectations are set around this relationship, framing the psychological contract that exists between the two parties.

It is psychological because this set of expectations underlies the formal juridical contract. This also makes it hard to conciliate and manage both parties’ expectations because it is not clear what to expect from each one. Usually, employees want to understand how they will benefit as an organization member, and whether it is feasible for them to obtain promised outcomes – like a chance to learn a skill or become the next CEO.

The onboarding process provides some ground where trust can be built and the contract strengthened. Employers who create relationships with employees based on trust create cultures in which employees are more engaged, creative, and innovative.

Creating a structured onboarding process

It is possible for any organization to create an onboarding process that will fulfill the needs of the company. To accomplish that, here are a few tips on how to organize your integration journey:

  • Establish relationships immediately after hiring, by using online channels. This allows the organization and employees to start working together in this new relationship. Think about this as a teaser: the new hire can start to get acquainted with the culture of the company, its core values, and principles.
  • Assign a mentor to the new hire. This person can make a significant contribution to employee socialization and learning.
  • Focusing on relationships and networking is a nice idea during the onboarding phase. It helps the new hire to create the necessary connections and feel less isolated.
  • Prepare an orientation booklet that integrates many pieces of information that new employees need. Have some practicalities, such as benefits, required paperwork, and documentation, but also on the internal culture, values, mission, and history of the company.
  • Prepare the location prior to onboarding, by having a properly equipped office and appropriate staffing support. In addition, to facilitate the start, it also shows that the organization cares about the new employee’s assimilation.
  • Provide assistance if the employee needs transitional logistics. Sometimes, people will have to relocate to start working for you and it may be useful for them to have some help to sell or buy a home, arrange for schooling for children, etc.
  • Clarify the priorities and expectations immediately upon the new employee’s arrival. This can be done in a meeting with the supervisor where the employee and the management can clarify job responsibilities, key outcomes, and the employee’s role with the entire work group.
  • Engage, empower, and appreciate because employees actively engaged as owners and partners in an organization are more likely to contribute with creative ideas, and improve organizational productivity.
  • Involve top management team members and supervisors in the employee orientation process. Ask them to explain organizational values and cultural factors to show to employees that organizational leaders are committed to those values.
  • Provide ongoing coaching. The mentor and supervisor can work together to assist the employee to become a highly productive contributor.

Essencialia can help you with most of these tasks. The platform allows you to design an onboarding process for new employees in all your company’s departments. The platform orchestrates the chaos of the onboarding process by providing information when the employee will likely need it. With Essencialia you can design an onboarding process at any length. This will help you to manage long onboardings and avoid forgetfulness.

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