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OHR rolling out policy for new employee ‘onboarding’

May 12, 2015

As part of HR Design, UW–Madison is enhancing new employee onboarding efforts.

Onboarding is a comprehensive process of acclimating new employees to their work environment during the first year of employment.

Thoughtful onboarding helps new employees more rapidly gain the necessary knowledge and skills to become effective contributors and feel confident and comfortable with their new roles and environments. The university’s new onboarding policy takes effect campuswide July 1, but some departments are already implementing onboarding improvements to help make new employees feel more engaged and comfortable.

“It was a genuinely warm welcome. I have never started a job where everyone I spoke with was so happy to be here and happy I was here.”

Liz Nagel

“The onboarding experience I received at UW–Madison was incredible,” says Liz Nagel, a program coordinator for the Division of Continuing Studies. “It was a genuinely warm welcome. I have never started a job where everyone I spoke with was so happy to be here and happy I was here. Everyone I work with is willing to help, (even) if they are in the middle of a job. It has been a great experience.”

Research by the Wynhurst Group consulting firm found that 22 percent of turnover occurs in the first 45 days of employment, while the cost of losing an employee in the first year is estimated to be at least three times the employee’s salary.

“Research has clearly shown that a well-designed onboarding program enhances employee engagement and retention, and shortens the time for a new employee to reach full productivity,” says UW–Madison Assistant Vice Chancellor for Human Resources Bob Lavigna. “A robust onboarding program will help us attract and retain the talent we must have to continue to be a world-class university.”

The new policy guides campus to expand on existing employee orientation programs.

Photo: Robert Lavigna

Robert Lavigna

By July, each college, school or division must develop, monitor and maintain a documented onboarding program for new employees. An onboarding coordinator will oversee activities for new hires. The process should begin when a new hire accepts a UW–Madison job offer and then spans the first year of employment to ensure that the new employee receives the necessary resources and support. Onboarding helps ease employees into their jobs and helps them succeed in what, for many, may be a very different and unique new environment.

“All of the required program activities are best practices that we encourage for every new hire,” says Christine Ray of the Office of Human Resources (OHR), who coordinates new employee programs and onboarding. “At a minimum, we’ve developed the key onboarding components.”

Ray says each unit can customize its approach, but onboarding must include these five key elements:

  • Before they start, new hires receive, from their hiring unit, the name and contact information of an onboarding contact to answer questions.
  • New hires receive an orientation to their work units. Orientation is a short-term activity, part of onboarding, that introduces and welcomes each person to the work unit.
  • The onboarding program includes a scheduled meeting between the new hire and the direct supervisor on the first day of employment.
  • A peer partner is assigned by the unit to welcome the new hire, make introductions to colleagues, help the employee understand and navigate the culture of an organization, and serve as a resource to answer specific questions. The peer partner regularly checks in with the new hire to provide feedback and support.
  • At least once in the first year of employment, the school, college or division will collect feedback from each new employee about the onboarding experience.

In addition to feedback that units collect about their programs, OHR will also collect information to gauge the campuswide impacts of onboarding.

“We want to make sure programs are up to date, active and effective,” says Ray. Feedback is the best way to understand and improve our efforts.”

Training, resources and templates are available to support the campus community to design, implement, maintain and evaluate effective onboarding programs.

Phil Davis