Adoption of HR onboarding software accelerating, says one study

HR onboarding is an area of talent acquisition that is getting a lot of focus. First impressions count, and there's a link between a bad onboarding experience and turnover.

Today, onboarding is increasingly being seen as a critical tool to increase engagement, reduce attrition and help make employees more productive sooner.

That wasn't always true. When Accenture PLC installed an onboarding system in 2009, there weren't many HR onboarding software tools or users in enterprise businesses.

"There were not many options out there. There weren't even many people doing it, and we were one of the to really dive in there," said Cortney McArthur, onboarding process and technology lead for Accenture North America HR.

Accenture adopted the SilkRoad onboarding system to automate and streamline its processes. McArthur said that an effective onboarding process creates an engaging and positive employee experience. Starting on the right note reduces turnover and helps make employees productive faster.

"The point that you accept your offer is when we need to continue to show you how much you are valued and how much you will enjoy your career with us," McArthur said.

HR onboarding software adoption is up

Accenture is now part of a larger group of HR onboarding software users. According to research data from Brandon Hall Group Inc., the adoption of onboarding is accelerating by leaps and bounds.

The 2018 survey from the research and analyst firm, which will be released in a few weeks, found that 40% of the more than 580 small and large organizations surveyed have an onboarding technology platform. That's compared to a similar survey finding in 2017 that reported only 26% had an HR onboarding system, said Daria Friedman, principal analyst of talent acquisition at Brandon Hall.

"That's a huge increase -- there's no question about it," Friedman said.

[The survey] found that 40% of the more than 580 small and large organizations surveyed have an onboarding technology platform.

A key reason for this increase is a desire to reduce attrition. Brandon Hall has found that firms that take a mature and strategic approach to onboarding have a lower attrition rate compared to companies that don't. It's just a one point difference -- 9.5% versus 10.5% -- but for firms that hire a lot of people, a strategic onboarding process can save a substantial amount of money in turnover-related costs, Friedman said.

Friedman is expecting another large jump in the adoption of HR onboarding software in 2019 driven by low unemployment and the need to improve retention.

Onboarding systems automate and organize an employee's hiring process. Essential forms are handled electronically and the platform introduces a new employee to the firm. It can be used to coordinate IT services, provide initial training materials and introduce the new hire to managers and co-workers. One goal for HR onboarding tools is to create a positive and smooth experience and help employees quickly reach productivity.

Recruiting ties into onboarding

Others have seen the importance of good onboarding, as well, including Oliver Cooke, an executive director at Selby Jennings, a firm that specializes in filling jobs in the financial services industry, such as at hedge funds and investment banks. It places about 3,000 people per year globally in mostly permanent positions.

Cooke said his firm checks in with placements to make sure they are satisfied. Few leave their new jobs, but those who leave within three to six months may do so because a company's expectations weren't clear, the employee wasn't tested for the right skills, "or it was an issue with the onboarding process of that employee," he said.

Onboarding is considered part of talent acquisition, and Cooke says it's important that all the aspects of the process work well.

"If the interview process is strong, then likely the onboarding process is going to be strong, as well," he said.

A positive experience is critical

For new hires, a positive experience is critical, McArthur said. Accenture begins helping employees before their day, which saves a lot of time.

Prior to starting, hires get all the necessary forms, benefit enrollments, tax information, business card ordering information, information about the people they will work with and welcome notes. Getting this paperwork out of the way made the -day orientation more engaging and more focused on where a employee fits in the organization.

Accenture tries to create a personalized experience with the goal of helping employees understand that "we value everything that they are bringing to the company: their diversity, their skill set, their personalities, their hobbies -- everything," McArthur said.

McArthur said she can see the value of HR onboarding software through reduced turnover. The motivation to improve onboarding was based, in part, on learning that some people who left the firm early into their job tenure said that the negative experience began with onboarding.

In HR tech, many vendors only focus on one step in an HR process, which is a problem for customers, said Michael Rochelle, the chief strategy officer at Brandon Hall. For example, there are a lot of vendors offering all types of talent acquisition technologies.

What Rochelle describes as a problem for HR today is the opposite of what Accenture's McArthur faced a decade ago. Talent acquisition professionals "are now drinking from a fire hose as far as technology decisions, and it's very complicated," Rochelle said.

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