Reduce Time to Productivity and Boost Employee Retention by Bringing Microlearning into Onboarding

As the first interaction your employees have with the company after being hired, onboarding is a critical part of every employee’s experience. Onboarding sets the stage for what’s to come.

A company whose onboarding consists of a stack of HR paperwork, a quick hello at the department meeting, and a passing, “Good luck,” will find they struggle with unproductive employees who leave quickly. In fact, while the overall annual voluntary turnover rate is 22%, more than half of that voluntary turnover happens within the first year of employment.

In contrast, companies who have a structured onboarding program that introduces employees to the culture, company and their role will have employees who get up to speed more quickly and stay longer. That’s because, according to the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), good onboarding should do four things: compliance, clarification, culture and connection.

SHRM says, “Every organization has its own version of the complex process through which new hires learn attitudes, knowledge, skills and behaviors required to function effectively…. No matter what the terminology, the bottom line is that the faster new hires feel welcome and prepared for their jobs, the faster they will be able to successfully contribute to the firm’s mission.”

Microlearning can help facilitate a faster, more effective onboarding process that engages employees at the start to ensure they stick around longer. The shorter pieces of information allow you to build an onboarding process with all the information your new hires need, in a faster, more flexible format.

Improve New Hire Time to Productivity

One of the key outcomes every company hopes to gain from onboarding is getting new hires up to speed as quickly as possible. If you can improve the time it takes to get employees productive, you also reduce the cost of hiring and turnover.

And the research proves strong onboarding can help companies do that. According to SHRM, 60% of organizations surveyed saw effective onboarding improve time to productivity, with BambooHR CEO Ben Peterson saying good onboarding can improve performance by up to 11%. For example, a study of the onboarding process at Texas Instruments found “employees who went through an improved onboarding program were fully productive two months faster than employees in a traditional program.”

Unfortunately too often onboarding is rigid and covers only a handful of mandatory policies, while neglecting the things that build employee confidence and competence, like interpersonal network development, cultural mastery, early career support, and strategy immersion and direction, according to Successful Onboarding.

Microlearning can help you build an improved onboarding process, by creating a network of information to address the factors that most impact long-term employee success, satisfaction and retention. One of the mistakes training managers make when thinking about microlearning (or its predecessor, chunking) is that it’s simply a mass of unrelated learning pieces. In fact, when done right, microlearning, like onboarding, should be a part of a larger learning strategy. Microlearning is not simply breaking up long pieces of content; instead, it’s about intentional design and integration of shorter learning pieces into an overall learning strategy.

When applied to onboarding, microlearning means your company can maintain a core framework for onboarding—HR paperwork, key company policies, ongoing followup—while providing the kind of flexibility that allows you to focus on needs relevant to individual employees or roles, thus building productivity. Microlearning helps you address diversity in job roles, differing skill levels or additional support by using an onboarding core, supported by pieces targeting the components that differ from person to person. Those pieces can then be added or removed, saving time for new hires who didn’t need them, while giving support to those who did.

In an interview at Fast Company, Dr. Jim Harter, Gallup’s chief scientist of workplace management and well-being, says if companies want to improve engagement and performance, they must set clear expectations and give people what they need to do their job. Harter says, “Gallup finds that only half of people surveyed have clarity on what’s expected of them—and this causes enormous frustration.” He adds, “When employees don’t have the equipment, support, or knowledge to do their jobs effectively, they quickly conclude their organization isn’t paying attention to them.”

Microlearning can address the lack of clarity, as well as improve access to support and knowledge throughout onboarding, by providing micromodules that give new hires role-specific expectations and assistance, and easy to access on-the-job resources. By giving employees the clarity and support they need, instead of a stack of paperwork and a company overview, you actually better prepare them for the work to come and make sure they’re productive more quickly.

Drive Employee Retention

Onboarding doesn’t just allow you to get employees productive more quickly; it also helps you keep those productive employees for longer.

David Lee, founder of HumanNature@work, writes at ERE Media of several employee retention success stories. Employees who attended a structured orientation at Corning Glass Works were 69% more likely to remain with the company after three years than those who did not. Hunter Douglas reduced turnover from 70% to 16% by upgrading their onboarding process. And an onboarding upgrade at Designer Blinds was a key part of their reduction in turnover from 200% annually to less than 8%.

However, he warns, “structured” is not the same thing as endless, nor is it the same as all at once. One of the biggest mistakes Lee says organizations make is using the sink-or-swim approach to onboarding. He says, “Throwing a new employee into the fray without appropriate support and coaching is one of the most common, and damaging, mistakes an organization can make. Not only does it dramatically increase the odds the employee will leave, it communicates to all employees two morale and pride damaging messages: ‘Management doesn’t care about their people’ and ‘Management doesn’t have common sense.’”

Instead, he says smart organizations bring microlearning into new hire training. Introducing microlearning avoids two critical onboarding problems that impact retention.

  1. Avoid cognitive overload with your new hires. You can’t bundle all of the information someone needs to onboard effectively into a few hours. So don’t try. When you have a true onboarding strategy, microlearning can be used in a number of ways that help you avoid overloading the newbies. Plus, spacing out information helps you fight the forgetting curve, which means employees are more likely to feel like they have and know the information they need to be good at their jobs.
  2. Avoid a one-size-fits-all approach. One of the 15 “onboarding killers” Dr. John Sullivan lists in his ERE Media article is ignoring diverse needs. It’s difficult to create training that is adaptable to a diverse workforce in diverse roles when that training is in a monolithic block. Microlearning means you can still check the HR onboarding boxes, but also tailor the information to meet the needs of individuals or smaller groups.

By giving employees enough time to process information and better addressing workforce diversity, microlearning can help you drive employee retention through improvements in your onboarding strategy.

Conclusion

Many companies are now realizing a strong onboarding program is critical to the performance and retention of employees. But improving onboarding is more than adding a few slides on culture to your existing onboarding meeting. A thoughtful look at your onboarding strategy will likely include at least some microlearning modules, as you create training that accelerates learning and supports new hires over the long term.



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