Navigating Employee Onboarding

By: Rachel Luoma

Onboarding. It’s something we don’t need to think about unless we hire a new employee.  Right?


Image courtesy of arztsamui at

Onboarding isn’t just about hiring new employees – it is about understanding your organization’s culture and social norms and having a successful process in place to identify, recruit, hire, train, integrate and develop employees.  And that means having a strong plan in place and continuing to refine that plan so that you can implement it should the need arise.

Successful onboarding involves having a deep understanding of your organization; it involves identifying specific position requirements, adequately communicating those requirements, finding the best candidate and creating a meaningful orientation program to ensure the best possible fit and outcome for the organization.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Abraham Maslow, a renowned psychologist, spent much of his research understanding the concept of happiness.  He created Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. What makes people happy – more importantly in business, what makes employees happy?

maslow-honAn employee who seeks “belonging” wants to know they are part of something bigger, wants to feel like part of a team, wants to feel like others care about how they are doing and wants to be inspired.  Strategies to increase belonging include assigning a new team member a “buddy”, or arranging a lunch with all staff to welcome the new team member.

An employee with a strong sense of “esteem” should feel like a valued member of the team, that the work they are doing is important, that they should be proud of what they are doing and be inspired.  To increase esteem, ensure that employees receive consistent positive reinforcement during the onboarding process.

An employee who has strong levels of “self-actualization” wants to be a part of the solution, wants to inspire others, loves learning, loves challenges and wants to help overcome challenges for the organization and its team members.  To help employees achieve self-actualization, ask them about their ideas and involve them in helping to create solutions.

By understanding how important belonging, esteem and self-actualization are to your employees, you can effectively integrate these concepts into your new hire training program.

Cognitive Dissonance

cognitive-dissonanceCognitive Dissonance is that feeling of discomfort that results from holding two conflicting beliefs.  It is created when there is a discrepancy or conflict between beliefs or ideas.  In theory, dissonance creates distress and something must change in order to eliminate or reduce the dissonance.

How does this impact the employees in the workplace or during the onboarding process?

In order to prevent creating a conflict between a prospective employee’s expectations and what the new employee experiences during the onboarding process, it is important that the information the organization puts out to a potential new hire is accurate. This information helps formulate beliefs about your organization. This includes information presented on your website, in the job posting, job description, interview process, offer letter, company employee handbook and during the new hire training process.

Conflicts between the expectations that an organization creates and the new employees experience can create cognitive dissonance and impact whether employees are pleased with their decision to work at your organization and their overall job satisfaction.

As such, consistency, transparency and honesty are key during the onboarding process to minimize cognitive dissonance among new hires.

Hawthorne Effect

The Hawthorne Effect is a psychological concept introduced in the 1950s after a series of experiments at a Western Electric Factory.  The basic idea is that employees are more likely to be productive when they are observed or feel that they are being observed and when others are concerned for their well-being.

It reminds me a bit of the show Undercover Boss.  On this show, cameras follow around employees, trying to capture them working and training.  For the purpose of this example, the focus isn’t on the “undercover boss”, but instead on how behavior changes once employees know they are being filmed.  For the most part on the show, employees are on their best behavior, they follow company policy and procedure “to the T” and they all talk about how much they love their company and their job.  Well of course they do that – they are being filmed.

The point is that being observed enhances behavior.  These are the principles of the Hawthorne Effect at work.

So, remember that just as prospective and current team members are observing you, it is important that you observe them.  Pay attention to what employees are doing/not doing and respond.  For example,

  • I noticed that you are stressed, how can I help?
  • I saw that report that you were working on, great job!
  • Have you had lunch yet, I am running out to grab something, can I get you anything?

A little attention can go a long way in improving performance.

As you look at your onboarding program, understanding these important psychological concepts can help you strengthen the way you communicate your organizational culture and improve the process and the outcomes for everyone involved.


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