How Long Should Onboarding Take?

Onboarding is crucial to employee success, but how much is too much? We explore the factors that impact how long the onboarding process can take.

In the ever-evolving landscape of Human Resources, the onboarding process remains critical. It serves as the pivotal moment when new talent transitions from enthusiastic candidates to valuable team members who are fully integrated into their new roles. 

However, the onboarding process varies between jobs and roles; deciding how long onboarding should last is a challenge. As HR professionals, we face a tough choice between efficiency and effectiveness. We want to make sure new hires feel at home quickly, but we also want to give them all the knowledge they need and set them up for success.

This article dives into the factors that affect how long onboarding should be and how to strike that perfect balance between efficiency and effectiveness. 

Factors Influencing Onboarding Duration

Job Complexity

Every company is different, and thus, every business has a different onboarding process. Some have an onboarding program that only lasts a week, while others keep new employees in the process for three months. It comes down to a number of factors, but an important want to consider, especially for employee retention, is the job complexity.

If your new employee is about to take on a relatively simple job, the onboarding process doesn't have to last for months. However, if it's challenging day-to-day, your new hires could benefit from you extending onboarding programs. For example, onboarding an employee for a cross-functional role like that of project manager may take longer because they need to understand the dynamics of various departments and establish effective communication channels.

It's important to make sure they get comfortable in the work environment, as well as with your team. Your onboarding program should generally be centred around training them for their daily duties, first with a mentor, and then gradually giving them more responsibility. Finally, the onboarding process should also be pushing them towards their own individual development as a member of your team.

Start with giving your new employees an overview of the business' vision and mission. If the job is complex, your main priority should be clear communication. Give them the time to understand their daily tasks, ask questions, provide feedback, and more.

Organisational Culture

Organisational culture can significantly impact the length of an onboarding process in several ways. The way a company operates, its values, and the overall work environment can influence how long it takes for a new employee to become fully integrated and productive. 

Let’s look at some examples of what we mean. 

In a company with a collaborative culture, teamwork and open communication are highly valued. New hires are encouraged to actively participate in group projects and contribute ideas from the start. This supportive environment may lead to a shorter onboarding process, as the new employee quickly becomes integrated into the team and feels comfortable seeking assistance or guidance.

Example: A tech startup with a collaborative culture might involve new hires in brainstorming sessions and collaborative projects, allowing them to feel like valued team members from day one.

Organisations with a strong hierarchical culture have clearly defined levels of authority and decision-making processes. In such settings, the onboarding process might be longer, as new employees need time to understand the chain of command and how information flows within the organisation.

Example: A government agency with a hierarchical culture may have a formal onboarding structure that includes introductions to various departments and management levels to help new employees understand the organisation's structure.

A really great employee onboarding program improves employee retention by allowing new hires to embrace the company culture. Make this inclusion from the get-go and ensure that employee onboarding doesn't rush the process of embracing organisational culture for new hires. Give them the time to learn all about it, and then make their decision. At the same time, don't let the onboarding timeline run too long.

Employee Readiness

You need to prepare new hires for their job, from informative employee handbooks to the entire process of employee onboarding. This is about teamwork – it benefits you when your employees are productive, but your employees cannot be productive if they do not feel ready. The longer it takes them to feel ready, the longer employee onboarding will take.

For the first few weeks, have a regular feedback session with new hires. Ask them how they're enjoying the work, what they might have problems with, if they have any questions, etc. It also helps to keep these sessions anonymous in the form of an online questionnaire – that way, they won't feel under pressure or scared to speak up. If your new hires feel ready to face any challenge, your onboarding process has been very successful. 

Readiness also refers to the skills and experience that the new employee already possesses for their role. When new hires possess certain skills, knowledge, or experience relevant to their roles, the onboarding period can be shortened. Conversely, if employees lack critical competencies, the onboarding process may need to be more extensive to bridge those gaps. Here are two examples: 

  • A marketing manager with extensive experience in the industry might have a shorter onboarding period in a new company. They can quickly adapt to the organisation's marketing strategies, tools, and processes, requiring less time for orientation.
  • A recent computer science graduate joining a software development team might require a more extended onboarding process. They may have theoretical knowledge but need training on specific programming languages, tools, and the company's development methodologies.

It is crucial for HR departments and managers to assess each new hire's readiness level to tailor the onboarding experience accordingly. By recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of incoming employees, organisations can optimise the onboarding process to foster a smooth integration and accelerate their productivity within the company.

Designing Customised Onboarding Programs

With so many factors to consider when designing an onboarding program, it can get a little complicated – especially because you don't want to miss anything important. A successful onboarding process means crafting a development and onboarding program that creates a space for collaborative learning, employee engagement, an introduction to your company's culture, and training in soft and technical skills. Plan activities down to the T – make sure you cover all your bases.

By bases, we mean that every day (or at least every week) should be scheduled with activities that help your new hire comply with company rules, understand what is expected from them, emerge them in your company's culture, and connect with their team. Clear communication all the way is a major key to success!

If you'd like some professional help designing a programme for onboarding employees that will help your company thrive, try our onboarding and HR recruitment software. With powerful tools for automating onboarding processes and creating onboarding checklists, XCD’s software tool helps you achieve standardised onboarding success every time.

You may also be interested in: Tips for effective employee onboarding

Striking a Balance Between Efficiency and Effectiveness

You might be wondering how you can make the new hire onboarding process effective, while still moving at a decent pace. We get it – it can be a difficult line to balance. You want to make sure you have a good onboarding process, wherein your new hire understands their role completely and is able to get the job done. However, you also want to give your new employees responsibilities and move their careers along as quickly as possible. 

Streamlining onboarding might be the goal to maximise productivity, but an effective onboarding process will allow new employees to contribute to the company with sufficient time to learn the ropes. Rushing the process is likely to overwhelm your employees, leading to lower team morale, a lack of connection, and reduced sense of being valued.

Taking your time can help them forge deep connections, get a better understanding of their role, and improve employee retention. The only way to properly strike this balance is with very careful planning, where you stack up your business needs against your employee's needs, and find the middle ground for onboarding success.

Considerations for Different Roles and Individuals

Planning carefully doesn't mean having one set onboarding plan for every employee, it means planning differently for different roles and individuals.

You should, of course, have standard procedures that must remain the same for all role-based onboarding processes. However, certain roles, especially more complex ones, might need more time to adjust. More straightforward roles might need less time. The background of your new employee also plays a role. You need to consider their level of experience in the role and their learning style, to make an informed decision.

Relational onboarding helps you build a meaningful connection with your team because it shows that you pay attention and value them as individual people, rather than an employee number. Overall, this increases team morale, employer trust, and productivity.

And, of course, inclusion should always be at the forefront of onboarding. To make onboarding more inclusive, companies can implement various strategies. For instance, providing culturally sensitive orientation materials, offering translation services for non-native English speakers, and creating affinity groups that connect new hires with colleagues who share similar backgrounds or experiences. 

Additionally, promoting open dialogue on diversity and inclusion during onboarding sessions can encourage all employees to share their perspectives, fostering a sense of belonging and contributing to a more cohesive and dynamic workplace culture. Inclusive onboarding practices demonstrate a commitment to creating an environment where every individual's unique contributions are celebrated, leading to greater employee satisfaction and organisational success.

You may also be interested in: Employee onboarding checklist for line managers

So, How Long Should Onboarding Take?

Now that we've looked at a range of factors that impact the length and complexity of the onboarding process, it should come as no surprise that there’s not a simple answer to this question. When it comes to onboarding, there’s no one-size-fits-all: it could be anywhere from a few days to a few months or even longer! 

Most importantly, your onboarding process needs to be standardised and planned in advance, with customisation available for different roles and individuals to help them fit in. For this, XCD HR and payroll software is a must-have. Offering powerful recruitment and onboarding tools and streamlining HR functions across the organisation, XCD’s single solution is the answer to your onboarding struggles. Get in touch today or request a demo to find out more.

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