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Three Myths about Onboarding that Need to Be Busted

“Onboarding” is a newer and mysterious word. Although the concept of getting people onboard has surely been around as long as jobs have been around, Merriam Webster says the word for the concept sprang into existence during the 1990s. Apparently, it still wasn’t really used until the 2000s—and outside the corporate world, it’s relatively unknown.

Like many relatively unknown things, onboarding is surrounded by its own mythos. There are many false beliefs about onboarding that are held by organizations and individuals alike. Here are three particularly damaging myths that we’re going to bust, right here, right now.

Myth #1: Onboarding is the same as orientation.

Do you remember your high school or college orientation? Here are some things you might have learned:

  • How to get around campus
  • How to open your locker
  • How to buy food with your student ID

Orientation is basically what it sounds like: it’s about helping people know where they are, what they’re doing, and how to do it. It’s useful, there’s no doubt. It provides a solid foundation of knowledge. However, there are many things that orientation doesn’t teach…such as culture. Orientation usually doesn’t teach cultural knowledge beyond maybe a mission statement and a list of values. For example, here are some cultural things you probably didn’t learn at your school orientation:

  • How to please that finicky English teacher
  • How to avoid the crowd in the third-floor bathroom
  • How to make friends with upperclassmen

These items weren’t included in your orientation, but they contributed to your success in school just as much as opening your locker or buying lunch did.

In the corporate world, too often onboarding is actually orientation in disguise. As Cake HR observes, “Onboarding is confused with logistics.” While onboarding should include some logistics, it also needs to acclimate employees to the culture of their new job. The best way to learn about a culture is to immerse oneself in it, which means that onboarding can’t just be a one-time event (more on that later).

Myth #2: Onboarding begins on the first day of work.

It’s tempting to believe that an employee’s onboarding experience doesn’t begin until the employee is planted at their desk, on their very first day of work. However, that’s not the case.

Many articles agree that onboarding begins as soon as the job is accepted. That’s a startling thought—how can someone be onboarded when they aren’t even in the office for another week or two? Well, a team leader could send a new team hire a welcome email. Or an HR representative could send the dress code and insurance plans ahead of time so that the employee has time to review them at their leisure.

If nothing else, between when an employee is hired and the time they walk in the door, their supervisor needs to be prepared for their arrival. A “key aspect of onboarding is making sure that the employee has the essentials taken care of before they start,” says Kim Garcia. “The essentials” include a nameplate, a desk, a PC, a notepad, some pens, a box of tissues, and anything else deemed necessary to start the job off right.

Myth #3: Onboarding is a one-time event

Onboarding isn’t—or at least should not be—a one-time event. In fact, it shouldn’t be an event at all. Don’t misunderstand: it’s okay to hold events as part of onboarding. A half-hour class on safety procedures? Sure, okay. A meet and greet with the VPs? Could be useful. A welcome lunch complete with cake and ice cream? That sounds delightful. All of those things can be a part of onboarding. What they are not is onboarding itself.

Research suggests that it actually takes about eight months on average for a new employee to be onboarded. That means onboarding can be a long, ongoing process that extends far beyond the new hire paperwork and introductions. Employees have to take what they learned during the first few days and figure out how to apply it; they have to submerge themselves in the company culture and discover how to operate within it. They may not be “up to speed” until close to a year after they started. And, for some companies, the onboarding process actually lasts for years.

In conclusion

Now that you know that onboarding isn’t orientation, doesn’t start on the first day of work, and isn’t a one-time event, you’re ready to learn more! We have several articles about onboarding coming up here on the Allen blog. Don’t miss them!