The Psychology of Good and Bad Onboarding: The Potential Costs and Gains

Despite news of recent layoffs and continued uncertainty in the economy, companies are still struggling to find and hire talent. With talent shortages still prevalent, skilled workers are difficult to procure. And changing talent expectations have also made attracting candidates more challenging. 

Modern technology has simplified many of our most common day-to-day tasks, from the way we bank to the way we shop – and workers expect that same ease and convenience in their employment practices. With unlimited job choices, talent will no longer tolerate clunky, outdated, and lengthy hiring processes. And a difficult employment experience can leave them emotionally drained and shake their psyche. 

Psychology of onboarding
Meet talent where they are through the use of modern technology tools

Conversely, a great experience empowers talent and builds trust and confidence in your agency. Therefore, even if you have the ideal candidate at your fingertips, putting them through a painful employment process will send them running for the (virtual) door. 

Staffing firms that create the best and least stressful experiences will be the ones to get and keep talent. To compete for talent, firms should look at assessing their employment processes for shortcomings or pain points. One of the most common pain points, and best opportunities to reduce talent stress, is onboarding. 

Ashley Andersen is a Senior Vice President at ClearEdge Marketing, former social worker, and current certified professional coach. She explains, “There are both technical and emotional aspects of onboarding, and most companies put greater emphasis on the technical to the detriment of the emotional. Often the missing piece, and key to winning talent, is tending to the emotional experience talent have as they get acquainted to their new role and new environment.”

First, let’s explore what it takes to make onboarding a more positive experience before we dig into how this process can impact your talent’s emotions.

What Best-In-Class Onboarding Looks Like

Onboarding as a hiring process is traditionally thought of as very functional. It involves filling out piles of forms with repetitive information, logging into employer platforms and software, and making dozens of formal and informal introductions. It’s the proverbial “drinking out of a firehose” for weeks on end. 

That won’t cut it anymore. Talent demands a modern hiring experience free from repetition and overload. According to SHRM, when onboarding is done well, it lays a foundation for long-term success for the employee and employer. So what does it look like?

Simple and Easy to Use

The average onboarding program lasts 90 days. That’s three months too long! Talent doesn’t have that kind of patience anymore. Long onboarding processes are associated with higher dropout rates, and talent aren’t afraid to say farewell.

All the tools and information talent needs to complete the process should be in one place. They should be able to enter their personal information only once, which should then pre-populate into other documents, and eliminate the need for redundant data entry. 

Understanding the psychology of good onboarding
A well-designed mobile app puts everything in one place

Modular and Configurable

A great onboarding experience for talent actually starts with what’s going on behind the scenes. Recruiters should have the ability to tailor onboarding tools and workflows to meet the requirements of individual employers, job roles, and employment locations. There isn’t a one size fits all onboarding process. 

Recruiters and staffing agencies should also be able to preconfigure or save specific recruiting workflows that are used heavily or mandated by clients. Again, this gets back to speed. The quicker talent receives direction, the faster the onboarding process becomes. 

Automation is key here. With a few keystrokes, recruiters should be able to initiate and track the entire onboarding process. 

Clear and Transparent

Finally, a best-in-class onboarding experience is clear and transparent. Talent must have clarity around key steps and immediate assistance when needed. A great process means talent knows what the expectations are, how long it should take, and what happens once they’re finished. 

Ideally, all necessary steps should be available to complete using talents’ mobile phone, but access should also be supported by desktop or in-person channels. Then, all documents and records should be digitally stored in one place. Talent shouldn’t have to search multiple different systems for their employment records. 

The Psychological Benefits of Good Onboarding

Great onboarding is what talent expects and it lays the groundwork for a positive work experience. But it goes even deeper than that. 

It’s more than simply making talent happy. It extends into how they think, operate, and ideate. When an employment experience is positive, talent feels empowered and confident. SHRM explains it by saying, “It can improve productivity, build loyalty and engagement, and help employees become successful early in their careers with the new organization.”

From a staffing perspective, those positive psychological impacts can lead to easier redeployment. When talent knows they don’t have to re-enter the same credentials and information when they redeploy, it reduces friction. By reducing friction and stress, talent will be more willing to come back and work with you over and over. 

Psychology benefits of good onboarding

“Whenever we come into something new, we judge and assess our environments to make sense of what we’re experiencing,“ Andersen says. “We’re learning a new process, culture, and language and there’s an energetic exhaustion associated with that. By streamlining the onboarding process, you’re sending the message that your organization recognizes that exhaustion and cares enough to find ways to reduce it. This can help ease the nervous feelings nearly everyone experiences when they begin a new job.” 

The Psychological Impact of Bad Onboarding

On the flip side, a poor onboarding experience has the potential to create psychological distress for talent. Eighty-one percent of new employees feel overwhelmed with the onboarding process. When talent feels stressed, overwhelmed, and confused, they start to doubt themselves and their career decisions. If talent continues with onboarding and remains with a company, those feelings can carry through and negatively impact job performance and confidence. 

“Onboarding is a time of incredible uncertainty for talent. They know their title, pay rate, and general responsibilities, but not much else,” adds Andersen. “As humans we have this innate desire to belong and feel valued. If talent doesn’t sense that during the onboarding process, or if your process isn’t organized, measured, clear, and thoughtful, you’re adding to their emotional exhaustion. As a result, they may shut down and second guess their abilities and skills.”

Bad onboarding can also produce anger and frustration and signals to talent that your staffing agency is difficult to work with. Candidates may decide the anger, frustration, and stress aren’t worth it and terminate their relationship with your firm. Or, they may decide to quit the process or ghost you altogether. Even if talent continues to work through your agency, they may tell others not to—resulting in a poor reputation for your agency and potentially for the employer your firm represents. Organizations with poorly-handled onboarding are two times as likely to cause new employees to seek other new opportunities. 

“The world is big, and the staffing industry is large in scale, but word travels fast across both. A bad reputation quickly spreads,” Andersen cautions. “How you treat talent during one moment in time, like onboarding, can lead others to assume that’s how your entire organization functions.”

Why This Matters

Psychological Impacts Are Magnified for Contingent Workers

Contingent workers are starting new positions at new companies several times a year. That means they must learn new duties, processes, and operations over and over. When the onboarding process for each role is painful, the negative impact is amplified. 

We often worry about this impact on CLI jobs, but this holds equally true for IT and professional staffing positions. Talent at every level wants a positive experience that demonstrates respect for their energy and time. 

“Contingent workers need to feel a sense of belonging,” says Andersen. “While there are clear legal boundaries companies must stay within, cultivating an experience of belonging is just as beneficial for this segment of the workforce.”

You Need Talent to Choose the Contingent Lifestyle

The more difficult and painful it is for people to be contingent workers, the more likely you are to lose them. They’ll either find another staffing firm or leave the contingent workforce altogether. 

In today’s competitive environment, successful staffing firms will find ways to assemble a stable pool of loyal, qualified talent. In order to do the same, you need to make temporary work palatable as a long-term career option. Onboarding is one of the ways you can do that. 

Associate onboarding with positivity and ease, and you’re one step closer to attracting and retaining the quality talent you and your customers want. 

Explore Onboarding Further

Onboarding is among the top 5 most critical HR and staffing processes. And a best-in-class process can serve as a competitive advantage

Learn more about how Avointé supports clients with a seamless, end-to-end mobile onboarding experience

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