Dr. Jamie Gruman
Employee On-boarding: The Science and Practice of Building Relationships at Work
I had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Jamie Gruman recently about employee on-boarding, a topic that employers and managers continue to grapple with in the workplace. Dr. Gruman shared some of his research and insights on how employers can help employees make the most of their initial days on the job and why that should matter to employers.
Dr. Gruman is an Associate Professor of organizational behaviour and serves as the Graduate Coordinator in the Organizational Leadership stream of the Ph.D. in Management. In addition to being a member of numerous professional associations, Dr. Gruman is a founding member and serves as Chair of the Board of Directors of the Canadian Positive Psychology Association.
Natalie: Thanks so much for joining me, Jamie. Could give us a little bit of background about the type of work that you do at the University of Guelph?
Dr. Gruman: Sure. I’m a Professor of organizational behavior in the Department of Management. My research focuses largely on positive psychology, positive organizational psychology. My point of entry is often the on-boarding process. I’ve done research looking at employee engagement and psychological capital, which is the combination of hope, optimism, confidence, and resilience, workplace spirituality, and well-being in general. I often will look at newcomers in organizations and how they’re on-boarded as my entry point to investigate how well-being and these other positive psychology topics are promoted in the organization.
Natalie: You touched on some really important concepts that we’re all talking about in the workplace these days. I’d love to hear your thoughts on on-boarding and where employers might be able to adapt some of their current practices to make it easier for new employees integrate into organizations?
Dr. Gruman: Let’s get the lay of the land. The way people are typically on-boarded these days is they’re given an enormous policies and procedures manual, which is now online. They’re told to read it, and they’re shown their cubicle and, “Here’s the washroom,” and there you go. The on-boarding process is largely about providing people with information to get going. Certainly information is important, but what the research shows us is that it’s not even the most important piece.
If your objective is socializing people, you have should have two objectives. First is to produce adjustment. You want them to feel integrated. You want them to feel like they know what they’re doing. You want them to feel like they’re part of the team. Those adjustment variables lead to business outcomes. That will lead to performance and productivity.
Dr. Gruman: The problem that most organizations have is they focus almost exclusively on providing people with information to make this happen. But the research shows us that that’s not the most important thing that leads to integration and performance. In fact, what’s most important are the relationships that people develop. If you look at decades of research on- onboarding, what you find is that a host of variables related to social activities of the relationships. People develop a number of relationships. The quality of the relationships, whether they have buddies and mentors, those are the things that lead to successful on-boarding outcomes.
What people need to do to produce better outcomes and to keep their turnover low and keep their cost low, is shift their focus from information provision to (in addition to that), provide them with other resources that they need, the most important of which need to be relationships. Do things to help people build relationships. What my colleague, Alan Saks (Alan’s a former colleague of mine at the University of Toronto) have developed what we call Socialization Resources Theory (SRT). Based on a thorough review of both the academic and the practitioner literature we’ve come up with a list of 17 resources that organizations can draw from to best integrate newcomers.
Natalie: Can you share with us maybe two or three of those resources to get organizations started on the right track?
Dr. Gruman: Sure. We have information as one of the resources. We have things like feedback, giving people feedback on a regular basis on how they’re doing. I mentioned how important it is to integrate people socially, so are you holding social events? Are you having get-togethers? Are you taking people out for drinks at the end of the day? Do you put newcomers on the company softball team or hockey team? These are the sorts of things that are going to promote effective integration. Are you giving them a buddy and a mentor? Do you have a formal orientation program? I know a lot of places don’t even have that. The nature of the assignments that they have early on: are they bored at work? Or are you challenging them appropriately, so they can build confidence and feel like they’re an effective member of the team?
Those are some of the resources that we’re focusing on. We’re in the process of building a scale to measure all of these. We have a number of studies that we’ve done looking at how each of these resources relates to various adjustment and more distal outcomes, like productivity and performance.
Natalie: Thanks for sharing some practical tips on how that can help with employee on-boarding. I’m looking forward to hearing more about your on-boarding scale – I know it will certainly be valuable for so many organizations.
To recap, here are my two key learnings from my interview with Dr. Gruman:
Create an on-boarding program that facilitates relationship-building, while still maintaining the critical information piece of the process
To enhance job performance and productivity first focus on formal on-boarding
Provide new employees with appropriately challenging work to build their confidence and to help them see that they are a contributing member of the team.
Part 2 of my Interview with Dr, Gruman will be posted on October 23rd, 2015, where we focus on what we know about employee engagement.
Dr. Gruman can be found on:
Google Scholar at: http://bit.ly/1VFhPhS.
What are your best on-boarding practices?