Automation in the Onboarding Process

(and how it can save you time, money and hassle)

I conducted a quick bit of mesearch, and asked some of my friends and former colleagues in HR, what is the most time consuming part of their job. Whilst the first words that came out of all of their mouths all started with a Co, and ended with either a ‘vid or a ‘ronavirus, their second points were often around onboarding or inducting new starters.

Onboarding employees is a crucial part of any business, particularly for those with a high turnover of staff. Surveys generally indicate that between a quarter and a third of new starters leave within the first 3 months, and in higher turnover industries such as hospitality and retail, the number can be over half! The costs of this turnover can be immense, both in terms of the impact on team morale and community of having an ever changing team, but also the monetary costs to the business.

A 2018 study by employment law specialists Croner calculated that the per person cost of employee turnover is £11,000, based on the average UK salary. As well as recruitment costs, this also includes advertising and agency costs, new equipment costs, and the productivity loss until the new team member becomes fully effective in their new role. A survey from BambooHR asked why people leave their jobs within the first six months, and the top five answers were.

“Changed mind on work-type”

“Different work than expected”

“Not enough training”

“Not fun”

“Boss was a jerk”

Whilst the bottom two are of course absolutely legitimate points, they’re a conversation for us to have on a different day, and aren’t really related to your onboarding process.. The other three however are all about how you induct your new starter into your business.

You might be thinking that the first two are out of your hands, or are more down to your recruitment and advertising practices. Whilst it is of course true that you need to be as explicit and honest as possible in your recruitment advertising, this is affected by onboarding in a big way. To explore this, let’s first assume that you do have excellent, honest and clear recruitment advertising. This will however be limited to a couple of pages of copy, and maybe a video if you are lucky and it is appropriate. For a lot of new employees, the vast majority of what they find out about in their new job will be in the first few days and weeks of starting. The reason it is therefore imperative that your onboarding is as thorough as possible is that if you are going to have to lose someone, it is eminently more preferable for it to happen on day one or two rather than a week or a month in. If we look back at the costs of recruitment we discussed earlier, they will all be greatly reduced, or even removed. Your ads will likely still be active and paid for, you won’t be required to pay an agency for such a short tenure, equipment will likely be reusable, and crucially you won’t have gone through the costly unproductive training period just to lose someone.

You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t directly talked about the middle of the five points yet, “Not enough training”. Whilst it is true that onboarding and training are not completely synonymous, the two do go hand in hand. Therefore a better, more comprehensive onboarding process would naturally address that issue.

So what makes a comprehensive and thorough onboarding process a comprehensive and thorough onboarding process?

Whilst the specifics will of course vary from organisation to organisation, I believe you can split all onboarding elements into three categories. The first is operational. This will cover everything from where the bathrooms are, to what IT systems and platforms the company uses, to any company rules and regulations, and any other million and one other possibilities. These are all essentially procedural, and for want of a better word, a bit dull. The second category is social. Introducing your new hire to everyone in their team, explaining who the wider leadership team is, and maybe even organising a small welcome lunch or drinks for them. The final category is strategic, this is an element that is often overlooked. Strategic elements of onboarding will address the vision, values and culture of the organisation, as well as the goals and objectives, and crucially how your new hire fits into them all.

While you could argue the relative importance of each category, one thing that is true is that it is really only the operation elements that are completely imperative for your new starter to be able to function in his or her new role. They may not be particularly effective if they don’t know who is in charge or what their wider purpose is, but they should be able to do something. Whereas if you swap things around, your new hire could have all the company knowledge, and be a fully welcomed member of the team, but if they don’t have a login for their computer, or haven’t been given an access key, they’re not going to get very far. This is essentially just an extension of the age old discussion of urgent versus important tasks. Teams will always have a finite amount of time and resources available, and if these are limited too much then something will have to give. One solution is of course just to allocate further time and resources. In an ideal world every new starter will be onboarded through a combination of contact hours with members of the HR team, managers and colleagues. However this is not always viable or practical, or in today’s remote working world, even possible.

This is where automation can really make a difference. As I said earlier, operational onboarding is usually very procedural. Here is your email login, here is a link to the company handbook, here is a compliance training video and exam etc etc. So much of this can be done without the need for any human input. This then frees up the human time and resources to focus on the parts of the onboarding process that really add value, rather than just tick (admittedly important) boxes.

From a purely personal viewpoint, with the corresponding tiny sample size, I have been involved in two induction processes over the past couple of years. The first was all based around old fashioned in-person class room training. We listened to the training manager, and we watched videos. Afterwards, I did know where the bathrooms were, and I did have an access card, but I didn’t know any of the managers names, I didn’t know anything about the workplace culture, and I certainly didn’t feel part of the team. The second couldn’t have been more different. Almost all of the operational induction was fully automated. I had an online assistant chatbot (named Orville) who guided me through the more procedural parts of the first few days. We went through the company rules and regulations, I was directed to the compliance training modules, my laptop details were sent over automatically to the IT department, the company org chart was explained, as was the internal meeting structure. All of this was completed in the first couple of days at work in my own time. This then freed up resources for me to have introductory one on ones with everyone in my team, for the HR manager to run through the company values with me, and even for us all to get together for a virtual welcome drinks at the end of my first week. I most decidedly did feel part of this team.

A successful onboarding will never be able to be fully automated. Even in today’s world of remote working and virtual environments, human and social interactions are still as important as ever, perhaps even more so. However resources are always going to be limited, and time scarce. Today we’ve explored the effects a good induction can have on employee retention, and haven’t even looked at the effect it can have on the productivity of an employee. It may seem obvious that an employee that is brought up to speed as quickly as possible, and feels integrated within the team, will immediately start to add more value to your organisation. As with most things around employee wellbeing, it really is a win-win.

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