Employee onboarding

How long should employee onboarding last?

Adrian Witkowski
How long should employee onboarding last?

We only hold a new president accountable for his or her performance after 100 days in office for the first time. Why do we expect other employees to be introduced to their new workplace after just one month or even earlier? How long should an effective onboarding process actually last? And what does the word 'effective' actually mean?

The question about the optimal duration of new hire effective onboarding process is, in fact, a question about a much more important issue, specifically, its true purpose. When talking about employee onboarding process in a new company, we think about completing formalities, providing equipment, showing the employee around the office or sending some general materials about the work environment to his/her work email inbox, then yes - such new hire onboarding process, by all means, can take as little as a week. The question is whether this is the scenario we should intend.

Full onboarding means full efficiency

According to a study by Aberdeen Group up to 68% of organisations consider a new hire ability to reach the state of full employee productivity (as soon as possible) to be the main goal of effective onboarding strategy. 

Bingo! This is what should set our onboarding timeline. "State of full productivity" means a situation in which a new employee is already fully autonomous and integrated into his or her team, knows the organisational mechanism well and knows how to select colleagues to complete a specific project. Does it mean the end of all learning and the beginning of free drifting in the calm waters of the organisation? Absolutely not! Actually, it is only at this point that all the professional fun begins, but that is a topic for a separate entry.

Well, so when can we talk about achieving a state of full employee performance? Of course, a lot depends on the size of the organisation itself and the complexity of the job. It is, however, assumed that it takes on average eight months to reach this point by new employees. Remember this figure well - we will come back to it.

What does it look like in practice? How long does the onboarding process in Poland last?

The goals and ideals are one thing, the reality is another. Unfortunately, in practice it rarely happens that new hires onboarding lasts longer than a month, and even such a result is rare (!) - also in Poland.

Our survey indicates that companies in Poland complete the onboarding process for new team members very quickly. In the case of 56% of those asked, it took less than a week - of which 21% took just one day to get to know the new company's culture, and 35% took between 2 and 6 days. Only 16% of employees had more than 1 month to settle into their job responsibilities and the company culture. Interestingly, 8% of employees did not have onboarding experience at all.

How long does onboarding take and how long does it take to fully implement a new employee?
How long does onboarding take and how long does it take to fully implement a new employee?

Meanwhile, the needs of NEW employees are much greater. As many as 41% felt fully prepared for their responsibilities after several months, while 23% needed between one and four weeks. 29% 'came in' to the new work environment within a week, 12% of whom did so within a day. 

It means that the organisation's approach to the good onboarding process diverges spectacularly from the expectations of the new employees!

Adrian Witkowski, CEO Gamfi

Adrian Witkowski, CEO Gamfi

‍Onboarding is a multi-stage process: it starts with formal issues, processed before the first day of work, and then moves into theoretical training and key practical implementation. From this point of view, it is an organisation-wide process, involving IT and HR departments, managers and colleagues, and in practice takes between 3 and 9 months. Closing down this process in a much shorter period of time can be painful for the employer and the new employee.

A person who experiences poor onboarding may, be considered an undervalued 'acquisition' and consequently dismissed or may resign on their own after the probation period. This results in a loss of many thousands in expenses spent on implementation and increases recruitment costs. The circle closes.

Company size matters

The participants in our survey were also asked about onboarding timeline at their current company. Between 2 and 6 days - this is the predominant onboarding time in any company regardless of size. It was indicated by 34% of representatives from the SME sector, 45% of those employed in large companies (250 to 999 employees) and 28% of those from the largest organisations with more than 1,000 employees on board.

And in every company, regardless of its size, new hires need considerably more time for successful onboarding process, more than a month. It is only after such a period of time that 39% of representatives of SMEs, 49% of representatives of large companies and 46% of representatives of the largest organisations get the feeling that they are fully prepared for their duties.
More than 1 month to implement - needs vs. facts
More than 1 month to implement - needs vs. facts

Our onboarding statistics also show that the larger the company, the more time is spent on onboarding employees into their organisation. In the micro, small and medium-sized company sector, onboarding lasted at least one month for only 12% of people, in large companies this was declared by 18% and in the largest organisations by 28% of those asked.

One-day employee onboarding programs can be experienced in any company, but in the larger ones they are definitely less frequent. One in four representatives of SMEs (23%), one in seven representatives of large companies (14%) and one in five of those working for the largest organisations (18%) took 24 hours to complete the onboarding process, or eight hours if only the working time is taken into account.

The survey was conducted on an Ariadna panel on a Poland-wide sample of N=1090 people aged 18+. The structure of the sample was selected according to representation in the population for gender, age and size of place of residence. The survey was conducted using the CAWI method from 1 to 4 October 2021.

What does it all stem from?

What can be learned in a day or a week? Perhaps the names of your closest colleagues, where the company kitchen is and how to run the various systems on your computer, rather not much else. So why do so many organisations deploy employees in such a short space of time? What is the reason for the intense drive to shorten the onboarding programs as much as possible?

The answers are of two kinds: lack of time or insufficient understanding of what the onboarding process actually is.

To be honest, most hiring managers do not have a lot of free time, so they tend to assign the new hires onboarding process to the HR department. The HR managers, on the other hand, look at onboarding processes from the perspective of compliance, meaning general introduction to the work environment and completing new hire paperwork. But what about so-called position implementation? 

Not surprisingly, as the Employee Experience in Poland (2017) report showed, one in four employees in a new workplace feels left behind. The tactic of throwing new hires in at the deep end is still going strong. Is it effective? Not really.

How long should effective onboarding last?

Talya N. Bauer, an American management professor and creator of the onboarding 4C model in her publication 'Onboarding New Employees: Maximizing Success', states that it takes an employee about 90 days to really start to show in a new job. What if the organisation doesn't understand this and expects full employee productivity much earlier? Well...

31% of employees resign within the first six months, with as many as 68% leaving within the first quarter.
Source: Bamboo HR

Coincidence? Exactly. If we sleep through the first 90 days, relying on the new hire to "manage somehow on his or her own", we may soon have no employee. Add to this the fact that it takes a new recruit around eight months to achieve employee performance as full in his or her job and the conclusions are obvious. The ideal onboarding process should take between three and nine months, with some organisations stretching the whole process out to a year.

Why is it worth onboarding longer?

We agreed on how long the employee onboarding program should take and why longer rather than shorter. Need additional arguments for this thesis? No problem!

Gradual learning is effective learning

By giving knowledge in small doses, but systematically and according to a broader onboarding program, we are more certain that the employee will really assimilate all the information.

This applies not only to integration into the position, but also into the company's culture, the daily rhythm of work and the relationships and habits between employees.

Social learning continues

Practice shows that acquiring soft and technical skills through official channels does not compare to learning in less formal settings. This doesn't mean that focused training sessions are not needed. Rather, the point is to supplement the knowledge derived from them with the one gained from everyday experience with the aim of better understanding. After all, in the beginning of a new job, we mainly observe, question and imitate others. Sometimes, between one anecdote from a vacation and another, we can learn more from a colleague or a friend about a particular task than from a several-hour implementation meeting. The problem is that collaborative learning opportunities take time, just as it also takes time to make and maintain new acquaintances. Here lies the effectiveness of long onboarding, which greatly promotes social learning.

Less stress is greater satisfaction

Dosing information and gradually raising the bar has a positive effect on the new employee's engagement and morale. He or she doesn't feel overwhelmed by knowledge or frustrated that he or she is not yet able to meet some of the challenges and new tasks.

An employee's needs change over time

In the first few days, the new hire, stunned by everything, just wants to somehow make it to the end of the working day. His or her needs are basic: to find a desk, to learn how to log into systems, not to get lost on the way to and from the toilet, to get to know closest colleagues.

With each passing day and week, the appetite for new challenges and the opportunities to meet them grows. But to make things less colourful: further doubts and questions also arise. The ideal onboarding program should take this dynamics into account and 'grow' with the employee.

Stronger bonding of the employee to the company

Longer employee onboarding allows for a multi-level introduction of the employee to the organisation. The new hires learn more and more about the company policies itself. With every working week, he opens more doors that reveal completely new contexts to him. The initial labyrinth turns into a well-tamed space. They also have more and more correlations with the workplace, including emotional ones. Such a new employee finds it more difficult to decide to change jobs and start the whole adventure all over again.

How to use the first six months wisely?

According to the onboarding 4C model, implementation at work should consist of 4 areas: Culture (implementation into the company culture), Connections (relational onboarding), Clarification (position implementation) and Compliance (formal procedures). Each C is equally important, each has its own specificities and optimal boarding timeline. Many issues in the areas of Culture and Compliance can be dealt with pretty early, even before a welcome day. Clarification and Connections are another matter. Here, time and strong onboarding process is needed.

The first 30 days are a kind of honeymoon for the new employees getting used to the position, carrying out the first, relatively simple tasks. After a month, the new team member should be firmly established in his or her role and be more courageous in handing over day-to-day responsibilities, but still in stages. We can assume, for example, a 30% performance in the second month, 40% in the third, 50% in the fourth and so on. The following months of implementation are increasingly challenging, but also guarantee continuous support from a manager, a buddy or... technology. Among other things, we have developed the Gamfi Onboarding app for this purpose. It allows you to carry out onboarding and positioning tasks in a completely controlled environment.

In the Gamfi Onboarding app, you can define an endless number of onboarding processes, with durations tailored to the specifics of the team and the needs of the position.
Find out more about the Gamfi Onboarding app >>

What solutions are worth using in the long-term onboarding programs?

  • Milestones - only give the new employee challenges that he or she is currently capable of meeting. Not too difficult, but not too easy either! They should mobilise, but not frighten. After completing a major task or project, new employees should feel that they have taken a significant step forward.
  • First practical task - assign it to the employee as early as possible, preferably in the first week. It can be anything, as long as it is small and practical. The 10:20:70 rule states that we learn fastest by acting actually (70%). Performing a specific task gives satisfaction, motivates, gives meaning and is a great opportunity for the first valuable feedback.
  • Pulse-checks - that is, regular checks on the employee's mood and opinion. The more frequent they are, the better they become. HR specialists recommend that the experience of a newcomer should be examined even on a weekly basis. Seems impossible? Onboarding automation tools make it very easy. They work flawlessly. We know this because we have incorporated them into our app.
  • Buddy support - is invaluable, as we have already mentioned. Buddy supports new employee emotionally, helps them get into the team and is the first contact for them if they have any doubts or questions.
  • Microlearning - which means giving the employee knowledge in small, easily understood portions. This is exactly what happens in our onboarding application - new hires only gain access to further bits of knowledge once they have gained the previous ones. It's mobilising and effective, as we also argued some time ago.
  • Feedback - like pulse-checks, should take place regularly and be about achieving milestones. Talya N. Bauer advises that broader onboarding feedback should be given to the employee on an average monthly basis: after 30, 60, 90, 120 days and so on.

When does implementation start? On the importance of pre-boarding

We have said quite a lot about how long onboarding should take. But at what point should the timer actually be turned on? The answer is one: certainly well before day one.

So-called preboarding is still an underestimated part of the onboarding process. It lasts from the moment the candidate is informed of his or her acceptance into the new position until day one. Depending on the situation, this period can be a few days or even a few months. It is not too bad if the first option is the case. However, if the employer remains silent for several days after the lavish congratulations, the situation becomes increasingly tense. The new employee becomes stressed, the number of doubts grows, and the motivation to start a new career path slows down. And indeed, all this time can be used perfectly.

Preboarding is a great time to complete the formalities, organise the equipment, make the first contact with the newcomer and tell him or her a little about the work environment where they are about to start their professional adventure.

The result? We keep the new hire's excitement and motivation levels high. But that's not all! We also make them ready to get down to their duties on the very first day at work.

Onboarding is a long-term process which, if properly planned, brings outstanding results - both for the company and for the employee himself.

Checkout our employee onboarding application

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