Overcome the 7 employee onboarding challenges that ACTUALLY prevent productivity

August 17, 2022
June 26, 2023
Employee Onboarding

If we’re in agreement that the primary goal of onboarding is to get someone settled and productive in their new role, then we might need to redefine what an onboarding challenge is.

Loads of paperwork, poor welcome emails, not building a great experience, managing change – these are the sorts of things that pop up when this topic gets discussed, but they’re either too indirectly related or too wishy-washy to be clarified as a challenge.

Paperwork is your problem, what does it have to do with getting an employee to productivity!? And adaptation and experience building are bigger issues, symptoms of the specific challenges that prevent people from feeling at home in the company and their role.

Unfortunately, this is what happens when you get bogged down in the process – which affects the leader – and neglect the issues directly influencing how happy and productive a new employee is.

What makes this list different?

All those reasons above are why we’ve built a new list of employee onboarding challenges that:

  • Keep that core goal of settled, productive employees in mind
  • Reflect the post-pandemic world we’re working in.
  • Are worded as if they’ve been asked by your new employee to hammer home these points.
  • And offer advice on how you can answer and solve them (you’re welcome).

Will my experience differ if I’m onboarding remote, hybrid or in-person?

Remember, the debate isn’t about which is better or if one can get a person to productivity sooner. It’s a question of giving people consistent, high-quality experiences, regardless of which onboarding avenue they take.

Let’s be real, if you have some sort of flexible hiring and working policy, you’ll have to tackle all three at some point anyway! And given that the majority of companies allow remote work in some capacity, this is now the rule, not the exception.

Where do employees crave consistency during onboarding?

In short, access to people, information, and opportunities!

In the past year, 56% of remote workers struggled to find digital documents – typically because they’re scattered across multiple places, and they don’t have the same quick access to people’s brains as their in-person counterparts. Let’s face it, a shoulder tap is harder to ignore than a Slack message.

When asked about their fears regarding remote work, “loss of community and connection to colleagues” and “reduced collaboration for individuals and teams” made up two of the top three responses in McKinsey research.

And another report revealed that just under half of UK hybrid workers (46%) worry their working arrangement could impact their career development, while just over half (54%) were concerned they’d miss out on spontaneous learning opportunities with peers and more senior employees.

What can L&D or people development teams do to solve the issue?

Bring your resources, learning, and insights from your internal experts into one single place. The biggest enemy to all of the above is not centralising information, people, and development opportunities…

If all your resources can be found at the end of a single search, everyone has the same level of access. If you’re capturing insights from your most-knowledgeable people in there, you’re enabling consistent social learning regardless of where people work. And those two things go a long way to reducing fears around development.

Remember, information is most useful when there’s a challenge we need to overcome. And the nature of onboarding, when there’s so much we don’t know, means this happens far more frequently. That centralised place connects people to the right information far quicker while providing contextual information that’s more easily applied.

How do we know? HowNow is that centralised place for fast-growing hybrid companies and global enterprises, and we’d love to chat about how we could become the same for you!

The company culture: Can I be involved on my terms?

People don’t particularly care about making friends at work anymore, and that’s something that seems to have gone under the radar during the pandemic.

In fact, in late 2022, only 11% of employees ranked relationships with managers and co-workers as an important factor in job satisfaction – putting it dead last in the list of responses. Compensation, on the other hand, topped the list at 46%.

Less than three years earlier, employees were ten times more likely to stick with a company for friendships than they were for a pay increase! Being part of the team has been relegated down the pecking order.

Why are employees less concerned about making friends at work?

Two issues seem to be responsible, hybrid working and higher turnover.

  • Only 24% of hybrid and remote knowledge workers report feeling connected to their organisation’s culture. And 50% of remote employees stated they were ‘minimally’ or ‘not likely to’ attend employer-organised voluntary events in the future.
  • The great resignation was seemingly followed by a period of high-profile redundancies, contributing to higher turnover in many industries and companies.

    “And 63% of employees experiencing above-average turnover on their team agree that higher turnover has made it less worthwhile for them to socialise with and get to know their co-workers”.

What can L&D or people development teams do to solve the issue?

From an onboarding perspective, it’s important to understand how your new employees view company culture and friendships at work early on.

Remember, we want people to feel settled and comfortable. So if forced fun really isn’t their thing, mandating ‘get to know me’ games might do more harm than good for employee engagement. People want to engage with company culture on their terms, and while we want them to experience it during onboarding, we have to consider the individual as we build and adapt their onboarding journey.

Let’s also think of this from a perspective of building a place where everyone feels considered and included! If you’re welcoming neurodiverse people to the team, for example, forcing participation really might make them feel uncomfortable – this again links back to listening and personalising your approach to each person.

Culture isn’t a fixed thing or something to hang on the wall. It evolves over time and is shaped by your people, so rather than always talking about culture when you welcome new employees, spend some more time listening.

Is the tech here going to help or hinder as I get up to speed?

According to Freshworks, 91% of employees are frustrated with work tech and 57% by legacy tech. Now, a big part of that is just how fast the world is changing, with 61% of business leaders believing their technology won’t be ‘fit for purpose’ in 12 months.

But if we think about it from a purely onboarding perspective, there are some interesting numbers and concerns around the adoption of technology.

68% of business leaders feel that new software has a high learning curve which makes it hard to use, 69% believe employees aren’t given sufficient time to learn how to use it, and 67% are concerned that benefits are not explained to the sufficient level.

People who’ve been around a while find ways to make tech work for them, hacks that are often passed on to newbies. However, that hardly answers the question of whether it’s fit for purpose, and it certainly doesn’t provide employees with intuitive tech that gets them up to speed speedily.

What can L&D or people development teams do to solve the issue?

Have an honest conversation about your tech stack, asking whether the tool at hand solves the problem or task at hand in a painless way.

Essentially, there are two outcomes. The answer is no, and you may choose to pursue a different tool or use new employees as an honest feedback channel for why it doesn’t help solve a challenge while they have fresh eyes and try to overcome it for the first time.

Or you might decide it does, and therefore it’s time to tackle those issues business leaders flagged above. How do you flatten that learning curve and convey the benefits of using the tech before people have used it for the first time? Thinking in terms of the problem it solves and giving the guidance needed to do that is a good starting point.

It’ll also help with giving people sufficient time to get to grips with it. If you set milestones and then pitch the tool as a means of reaching that before moving on to the next, you’re asking people to learn how to do a single task using it. Rather than simply asking them to learn how to use it, which lacks context or a goal.

Am I going to be thrown in at the deep end or neck-deep in too much information?

Really we’re talking about personalisation here. If you take a blanket, one-size approach, you’ll end up sending people information that’s not relevant or simply isn’t useful at that moment.

Not everyone needs to know everything, and even the things people do need to know, don’t all need to come at once.

What can L&D or people development teams do to solve the issue?

As you’re building out the onboarding journey, ask yourself what someone needs to perform their role or what the key milestones are in ramping up.

Let’s say you’ve got a brand new sales rep. Do they really need information on closing deals during week one? No! You’d start with context around the product and customer, adding in knowledge checks to measure their understanding. Then you might move them onto cold calling and prospecting, setting the goal of a practice scenario or supervised outreach.

Once they’ve nailed that, it might make sense to connect them with colleagues and information on closing out deals.

Will we set solid goals during the onboarding period?

52% of employees said the pandemic left them questioning the purpose of their day-to-day job. Obviously, this is in the context of the job overall and the mission of the organisation, but we can also look at this on a level of day-to-day tasks.

People want to know that the things they’re doing have a purpose or push them in the right direction with their role and career. Otherwise, what’s the point of doing them!?

Ultimately, when you’re new to a company, your overall goal is to become productive at the role in a time period that makes you feel like a contributing member of the team. And without being dramatic, this comes back to the quality of the goals you set through those first three to six months – that’s the role of the team leaders and hiring manager.

What can L&D or people development teams do to solve the issue?

In a nutshell, set goals that are tied to the role and that indicate progression towards the ability to perform it well.

Let’s say someone’s joining in a customer success role and you know the most common tasks they’ll face are onboarding new customers, running check-in calls, responding to support queries, and handling crises. If you build goals around those and in a way that creates confidence or demonstrates their competence in those areas, you’ll get people to productivity sooner and help them see the benefit.

Maybe we want them running their own customer onboarding calls within three months So we work backward from there and set challenges like pitching the product back to us, then running a mock onboarding call, and finally doing the real thing with supervision before running it on your own.

That’s the power and importance of onboarding goals. Setting something clear and tangible provides purpose but it also helps you create a more personalised and effective onboarding journey.

Are my views really going to be taken on board during onboarding?

A recent Tivian report revealed that 70% of staff said they had little or no influence over how things were done at their company, and 38% felt the company was rarely or never open to their ideas.

We’re just speculating, but you can imagine the onboarding period might be the root cause of a problem that gets worse over the time spent at a company. But if you can set the expectation that feedback is collected and actioned during onboarding and continue to do it, you can turn that ship around.

And in case you’re thinking, that could never be us! The same survey showed that there’s a huge disconnect between how HR and employees view this issue. 85% of HR teams thought they used feedback to improve the employee experience, while only 50% of their people agreed.

What can L&D or people development teams do to solve the issue?

We’ve covered the importance and benefits of collecting better feedback in a lot of detail here, so we’ll keep this brief and just offer some actionable advice.

Essentially it’s about striking a balance between qualitative and quantitative evidence. One person’s anecdotal evidence won’t help you drive actionable change, but neither will 50 survey responses that lack context. 76% might have been frustrated by a lack of communication, but there may have been multiple factors and scenarios within this.

Make sure you’re asking good questions that are relevant to the company and its people, collect and review responses frequently to nip problems in the bud and communicate how the feedback will be used – these are very simple things that often go overlooked.

But if there was one great piece of advice we’d give you, it would be to really think about timing. Stella Haniel von Haimhausen, People Operations Manager at Personio, shared this tip which we included in our complete employee onboarding guide.

In week two, a general survey is sent about the onboarding process before they send a very different one two weeks later.

As week four ends, they ask questions relating to that individual: do they feel it’s the right job for them? Are they settling? Are they struggling? This helps them understand the overall onboarding process and how that single person is doing within it.

Will I be connected to the right people when I need their help?

In many companies, there’s a mad dash to meet people in week one or two! Calendar slots blocked off, back-to-back meetings crammed in, and employees with headaches trying to remember names and job roles.

What’s the rush?

We’ve discussed careful consideration around when you connect people to information, and the same mindset should be applied to their colleagues. When will it be most useful for this employee to spend time with an experienced teammate?

What can L&D or people development teams do to solve the issue?

If you followed our advice on setting better goals, this should be pretty easy. If someone is being tasked with practice pitches in week four to get them to the real thing in week 12, that first point is the perfect opportunity to connect them to the right person.

If there’s a sales king or queen when it comes to bringing people into the pipeline, an hour of their time during that practice pitching is far more useful than week one small talk about how you’ll be working together.

But there’s a second part to this…

How can we connect people to the right subject matter experts without overburdening them?

It’s a mistake that gets repeated at a lot of companies. They get the first part of this right and identify the internal experts who can help colleagues flourish. But we’ve heard stories of team leaders giving the same talk every two weeks when new batches arrive, slowly being worn down by the repetitiveness until they seem a little jaded.

This not only eats up a huge amount of their time (and motivation), it means employees are getting inconsistent experiences.

Wouldn’t it be better if that leader could record the session once, make it available on demand, and divert that time to answering follow-up questions? Or even better, creating supporting resources that add context or tackle specific parts in more detail.

Those nuggets of wisdom should be easily captured – which is why we created Nuggets! A simple way for your internal experts to capture knowledge in clicks, share those with relevant people, and make them available on-demand.

If you’re interested in building better onboarding journeys, knowledge-sharing culture and effective learning spaces, let us know today!

Check out our other employee onboarding resources