Buzzwords: Onboarding

The process by which a new employee is integrated into a company, from learning where the bathroom is to understanding the company culture

Back Article Feb 4, 2020 By Jessica Laskey

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If you’ve ever started a new job and were told you were going to be “onboarded,” you may have had nightmarish visions of being connected up to the Borg or having your retinas scanned. (No? Just me? Maybe I watch too much science fiction.)

The term has been around since the early 1990s, but its usage seems to have taken off in the last two decades as a way to capture not just the process by which a new employee gets comfortable at a new job (the location of the bathroom and all that), but also the process by which that employee begins to feel like they’re an integral part of their new company (the Borg and all that).

The Buzz

The term appears to have replaced “orientation” as a way to capture the depth and breadth of an employee’s connection to an organization — to be truly “on board” and move forward with the company in sync.

And while onboarding is most commonly used to refer to the employee-employer relationship, it’s also starting to be used as a term for how companies get customers to fully adopt their products and services, to build brand loyalty and, ultimately, create more business from those customers.

The Word

The term may sound wonkish (or Borg-ish), but it’s really meant to capture the essence of the old adage, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

“Onboarding sets the tone for the ongoing relationship (an employee) will have with your organization and the people in it,” explains Regina W. Romeo, chief human resources officer of CPS HR Consulting in Sacramento.

To that end, having a solid process by which an employee is integrated into the company is the key to making sure that an employee is not only comfortable from day one, but is likely to stay with the company past day 30. Making sure a new hire knows to whom they report, where to go with questions and what’s expected of them has a direct effect on how successful that person will be in their new job. Research conducted by the Aberdeen Group in 2009 reported that an effective onboarding program improved retention rates by 50 percent, meaning that once a company finds the right candidate, proper onboarding increases the likelihood they’ll stay on board and not jump ship.

“Onboarding is above and beyond just signing forms and distributing a handbook or setting up an email account,” Romeo says. “It’s getting that employee to feel connected with the organization and understanding your culture, goals and career path.”

If they ask for a retina scan, though, I’d start looking for other employment.

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