Onboarding Image by Mabel Amber from PixabayCezanne HR has published a fascinating report titled ‘The Psychology of Onboarding: Optimising the new-starter experience in the digital age’ (Registration required). It draws on a study of 589 office workers from the UK, Ireland and the US completed in March 2020. There are also contributions from subject matter experts Nadine Michaelides, Business Change Psychologist, and Dan Lucy, Principal Research Fellow at the Institute for Employment Studies.

Nadine Michaelides, CEO of Anima / Business Change Psychologist
Nadine Michaelides, CEO of Anima / Business Change Psychologist

Onboarding is important as it helps to build up the psychological contract between employee and employer. Done badly it can harm a new employees engagement. As Michaelides notes: “a bad onboarding experience can have long-reaching consequences.” Citing academic research, the paper adds: “first impressions can last for months and affect perceived characteristics such as trustworthiness and competence.


The Cezanne HR study seems to back up this view. 77% of respondents have already decided they have made the right decision in moving role during the first week of employment. The report details the three stages of transition between jobs: separation, transitional/liminal and incorporation explaining their relevance in the onboarding process.

The report and study then looks at the three stages of onboarding.

  • Preboarding
  • The First day
  • After day one

Each section is broken down with a mix of information from the study, analysis, case studies and advice. The advice is given so that the reader can quickly take actions to improve areas that they feel they fall short in.


Pre-boarding is important. Cezanne HR found that communication before the first day increased enthusiasm by 64%. However, it is the nature of that enthusiasm that is noteworthy. Communication focused on administration was only 40.6% likely to increase enthusiasm. Where companies focused on either engagement or engagement and administration that figure rose above 70%. The study also recommends that communication during this period is two way rather than just by email or letter, both of which are still used.

The first day

Most people are anxious on their first day. This anxiety rises if they are still unsure about whether they made the right decision. What would have been interesting is if the report had looked in more detail at how the level of pre-boarding engagement impacted the level of apprehensiveness.

Shockingly, 20% of organisations did not have the equipment for new starters ready on day one. Not only does this set a bad impression it will also decrease the productivity and increase the ramping up time for new employees. Getting it right on day one can also help cement the psychological contract. If the first day goes well, 19.5% of people decide they made the right decision in changing job. Only 6.8% are likely to do so where the equipment was not ready.

Besides equipment, the study calls out the importance of networking early in an employee’s career. New colleagues can also have a strong impact on how workers feel welcome. After all people miss colleagues the most from their old jobs (39%). They are even more important (65.5%) in how people feel welcome in the new job. Interestingly while colleagues (79%) and managers (77.6) often leave a positive impression there is room for improvement by senior management (50.8%).

After day one

Better performing organisations have a programme of events lined up for new employees. A proper onboarding process can make a difference. People come to the conclusion faster about whether they made the right decision, at all stages of the onboarding journey.

The study looked at the different types of onboarding processes. Job-specific training (61%) and on the companies mission/goals (71.7%) were common. Less common were 1-1 engagements such as stakeholder introductions (21.5%), a buddy or mentor (34%) and ongoing manager check-ins (48.6%).

Enterprise Times: What does this mean

Onboarding is important, even more so perhaps during the lockdown. A pulse survey during a recent CezanneHR webinar revealed that 65% of people had onboarded staff during the lockdown. With face to face contact almost impossible, interaction is critical at this time.

This report (Registration required) is well worth a read for both HR leaders and small business owners to highlight how they can improve their onboarding process. The study also found that small businesses were less likely to have a solid onboarding process. The report is both well written and interesting. It offers several pieces of advice for the reader independent of any software solution selected. However, the Cezanne HR product does include an onboarding and lifecycle management module.

One statement in the report Enterprise Times disagrees with. “The psychological contract that starts when someone joins an organisation, is continually revised during their tenure.” We believe that it can start before that. In most cases during the recruitment and selection process which is equally important. In some cases, it starts when potential employees first engage with the corporate brand. This is less an HR issue and more marketing but it is a factor that some companies should consider more.


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