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A guide to effective onboarding

Chris Fajou
min read
HR Team member onboarding a new employee

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How to make sure your new hires get off to a great start

Starting a new job, for many, is simultaneously the most exciting and stressful part of their career within an organisation. On the one hand, it can be an opportunity to stretch yourself to obtain new knowledge, learn new skills, and experience new situations. On the other hand, the uncertainty of a new role brings with it a lot of unanswered questions: Will I get along with my manager? Will my colleagues like me? Can I actually do this job? 

While many organisations rightly dedicate significant resources to attracting and selecting talented individuals, an effective onboarding experience is critical to ensuring that potential translates into a long and successful career in your organisation.  

This article will look at ways you can optimise your onboarding program and explore how collecting feedback from new starters can support you in making improvements.

Xref branded green graphic with text that says why is onboarding important

Why is onboarding important?

An effective onboarding experience predicts a number of immediate and longer-term outcomes for new staff members.


An immediate outcome often-cited in the research is ‘Newcomer Adjustment’ – the extent to which a new employee successfully integrates into their role, immediate work unit, and the broader organisation.[i] This consists of four separate dimensions:

1. Role clarity: the newcomer’s understanding of their role responsibilities[ii]

2. Role confidence: the newcomer’s belief in their capability to carry out their job[iii]

3. Social acceptance: the extent to which a newcomer feels accepted and integrated within their team[iii]

4. Knowledge/alignment to culture: the overall knowledge a newcomer has about the history, power structures, and values of an organisation, and their alignment with that culture.[iv]

Successful onboarding programs provide the information and support that a newcomer needs, consequently increasing the extent and speed of their adjustment. 

Engagement, Wellbeing and Performance

In the longer-term, better adjustment predicts higher levels of job satisfaction, organisational commitment, intentions to remain, wellbeing, and overall job performance.[iii] Creating an onboarding experience that effectively integrates a new staff member into their role, team, and the broader culture will set them up for long-term success and is a worthwhile investment.

Xref branded green graphic with text that says What are the drivers of a positive onboarding experience

What are the drivers of a positive onboarding experience?

According to research evidence, the drivers of an effective onboarding experience can be clustered into four major domains:

Introduction: Getting to know the organisation and team

A critical component of onboarding is providing necessary information to a new staff member so they can understand the way their new workplace and team operates. In this early stage of onboarding, three practices are particularly important:

1. Recruitment:

During recruitment, applicants are given a representation of 1) the organisation’s culture; 2) their role and 3) an opportunity to meet key organisational stakeholders to facilitate early social integrations. The realism of the information provided prior to entry, in comparison to their actual experiences, is predictive of both adjustment and long-term engagement.[v] Furthermore, perceived fairness of the process impacts the attractiveness of the organisation, advocacy intentions,[vi] and job performance within the first 18 months.[vii]

2. Orientation:

A formal orientation session provides new staff with the opportunity to meet HR representatives and senior leaders and provides key information on how the organisation operates. A successful orientation process has a clear plan and schedule of activities, explains the broader purpose, values and direction of the organisation, and is supplemented with sufficient one-on-one time with the newcomer’s direct manager.[viii]

3. Welcome:

Given that a key component of adjustment is feeling socially accepted within one’s team, it is critical new staff feel welcomed. Welcoming a new staff member should come from all levels within the organisation, starting with a personal welcome from a senior leader, engaging in social opportunities and activities to get to know their co-workers on a more personal level, and being introduced to colleagues outside of one’s own team.[viii]

Productivity: Enabling work effectiveness

When you’re excited to delve into a new role or company, nothing is as frustrating as the feeling of twiddling your fingers waiting to be given the equipment, information and access required to begin real work. Two practices in particular enable early productivity:

1. Resources:

While important for all staff, it is particularly important for new staff to have access to the equipment and information required to perform their role.[viii]

2. Health & Safety:

In order to immerse themselves into their new role, newcomers need to feel physically and emotionally safe at work. Provide any safety equipment and training required as part of their role, and ensure they know who and where to go to when feeling unsafe.

Guidance: Building capability and support

It’s no surprise that a positive onboarding experience requires a lot of guidance for the newcomer. Often this is provided through training, but better onboarding programs are more comprehensive:

1. Learning & Development:

Many organisations focus on the ’learning’ and less on the ’development‘. While new staff should be provided plenty of opportunities for training, they should also receive regular feedback on how they are performing and begin the process of broader career goal-setting.[viii]

2. Support:

Feeling supported by supervisors and co-workers significantly contributes to a new staff member’s role clarity,[ix] proactivity,[x] and engagement.[xi] Practices focused on social support for newcomers have the strongest impact on short-term adjustment and long-term engagement.[xii]

Individual proactivity

The onboarding experience of new staff is a two-way street – while organisations can enhance this experience through support and structured processes, newcomer characteristics and behaviours significantly impact their adjustment. Employees who proactively seek information about their role and the organisation, seek feedback on their early performance, and build relationships with their immediate team and other key stakeholders adjust to a greater extent.[xii] Furthermore, these proactive behaviours elicit greater support from supervisors, which in turn contributes to further adjustment.[xiii]

Xref branded green graphic with text that says tMeasuring onboarding effectiveness

Measuring onboarding effectiveness

If you’re looking to assess and improve your onboarding practices, here’s how an onboarding survey can help:

1. Surveys are quick:

When a new staff member is learning the ropes, the last thing they want is to juggle another meeting or interview to capture their early experiences. A survey can quickly capture this feedback, and seamlessly integrate into any onboarding program. 

2. Surveys are comprehensive:

While interviews can provide more depth on key subjects, surveys have the advantage of quickly providing data across a range of different areas of interest. Furthermore, translating survey data into quantitative measures is faster and more reliable than qualitative methods.

3. Surveys are reliable:

By asking the same questions at the same point of time, the data provided from surveys is reliable and comparable across individuals, teams and areas of the organisation. 

Tips for administering an onboarding survey

When administering onboarding surveys, there are a few ways to optimise the survey experience for both the new starter and those managing the feedback.

Survey timing

When is the best time to administer an onboarding survey? It depends! Here are a few guidelines:

1. Earlier experience is particularly impactful:

Earlier experiences disproportionately impact adjustment and later experiences.[xiv] Earlier interventions are therefore encouraged and to help mitigate any long-term impacts from early negative experiences. Try to measure earlier (within 3 months) rather than later.

2. Adjustment can vary:

Newcomer adjustment can be volatile within the first 3 to 6 months.[xv] Naturally as a new staff member is exposed to more challenging aspects and experiences within their role and team, this will impact their overall perceptions of how they are tracking. Administer at a consistent point of time for reliable measures of onboarding.

3. It’s not just about time but also events:

Discrete events can also impact the onboarding experience.[xiv] Exposure to a challenging project, a pandemic, or identified misconduct within a team will no doubt impact a newcomer’s adjustment. Consider checking in more than once if you know that a new staff member may be experiencing a unique early experience.

4. Role complexity:

Roles that are more complex typically consist of a longer training period and more complex onboarding programs. You may wish to push out an onboarding survey a little longer to ensure that the data is captured at a meaningful point of the program, but not so long as to miss out on the option of early intervention if required. 

Survey process

Since onboarding surveys are live and ongoing, automating some tasks can be helpful to reduce the time and resources needed to maintain the process. At Xref Engage, our system automatically sends out invitations and reminders based on a new staff member’s start date.  It can also be configured to use APIs to automatically add new staff members when they are added to your internal HRIS systems. 

An onboarding survey is another tool in your arsenal to ensure that you are supporting optimal engagement throughout an employee’s tenure. Providing a great early experience is one step in setting new staff members up for success. To find out more, please don’t hesitate to reach out to your Consultant, or get in touch with us.


[i] Bauer, T. N., Bodner, T., Erdogan, B., Truxillo, D. M., & Tucker, J. S. (2007). Newcomer adjustment during organizational socialization: A meta-analytic review of antecedents, outcomes, and methods. Journal of Applied Psychology, 92(3), 707-721. https://doi.org/10.1037/0021-9010.92.3.707

[ii] Bauer, T. N., & Erdogan, B. (2012). Organizational socialization outcomes: Now and into the future. The Oxford handbook of organizational socialization, 97-112.

[iii] Saks, A. M., Uggerslev, K. L., & Fassina, N. E. (2007). Socialization tactics and newcomer adjustment: A meta-analytic review and test of a model. Journal of vocational behavior, 70(3), 413-446.

[iv] Chao, G. T., O'Leary-Kelly, A. M., Wolf, S., Klein, H. J., & Gardner, P. D. (1994). Organizational socialization: Its content and consequences. Journal of Applied psychology, 79(5), 730.

[v] Major, D. A., Kozlowski, S. W., Chao, G. T., & Gardner, P. D. (1995). A longitudinal investigation of newcomer expectations, early socialization outcomes, and the moderating effects of role development factors. Journal of applied psychology, 80(3), 418.

[vi] McCarthy, J. M., Bauer, T. N., Truxillo, D. M., Anderson, N. R., Costa, A. C., & Ahmed, S. M. (2017). Applicant perspectives during selection: A review addressing “So what?,”“What’s new?,” and “Where to next?”. Journal of Management, 43(6), 1693-1725.

[vii] Konradt, U., Garbers, Y., Böge, M., Erdogan, B., & Bauer, T. N. (2017). Antecedents and consequences of fairness perceptions in personnel selection: a 3-year longitudinal study. Group & Organization Management, 42(1), 113-146.

[viii] Klein, H. J., Polin, B., & Leigh Sutton, K. (2015). Specific onboarding practices for the socialization of new employees. International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 23(3), 263-283.

[ix] Jokisaari, M., & Nurmi, J. E. (2009). Change in newcomers' supervisor support and socialization outcomes after organizational entry. Academy of Management Journal, 52(3), 527-544.

[x] Kammeyer-Mueller, J., Wanberg, C., Rubenstein, A., & Song, Z. (2013). Support, undermining, and newcomer socialization: Fitting in during the first 90 days. Academy of Management Journal, 56(4), 1104-1124.

[xi] Sluss, D. M., & Thompson, B. S. (2012). Socializing the newcomer: The mediating role of leader–member exchange. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 119(1), 114-125.

[xii] Fang, R., Duffy, M. K., & Shaw, J. D. (2011). The organizational socialization process: Review and development of a social capital model. Journal of management, 37(1), 127-152.

[xiii] Ellis, A., Nifadkar, S., Bauer, T. N., & Erdogan, B. (2017). Examining Managers’ Perception of Newcomer Proactive Behavior during Organizational Socialization. In Academy of Management Proceedings (Vol. 2017, No. 1, p. 10592). Briarcliff Manor, NY 10510: Academy of Management.

[xiv] Ashforth, B. E. (2012). The role of time in socialization. The Oxford handbook of socialization, 161-186.

[xv] Bauer, T. N., & Erdogan, B. (2011). Organizational socialization: The effective onboarding of new employees.

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