The experiences employees have as they join and/or leave your organization are critical. Positive onboarding, strong initial training, and opportunities to connect with others are related to motivation, employee commitment, intent to stay with the organization, and good collaboration among your teams (Bauer, & Erdogan, 2011; Klein, & Polin, 2012). Similarly, when employees leave, it is important to create the best possible experience; positive exit experiences impact organizational brand, communicate specific values (desired or undesired) to other employees at the organization, and leave the door open for the exited employee to return someday.
Let’s say your company adheres to best practices and collects information from employees during these critical events via onboarding/exit surveys or interviews. When done right, this information allows you to assess and improve your processes to foster desired business outcomes. As with any form of feedback, the key is what you do with the information and how it is shared stakeholders.
Regarding onboarding and exit data, there is a doozy of a question that perplexes many organizations: Should you wait until there is enough data to aggregate before you look at and interpret it? Or, should you consider onboarding and exit data in a continuous fashion to immediately respond to potential concerns or big red flags? There is no right or wrong answer, but there are a variety of factors to consider to help you determine the best process for your organization. Consider:
Share and respond to aggregate onboarding and exit data
You will have confidence in the data and findings with larger sample sizes; if you wait for a group of data and interpret the patterns in responses, you’ll be less likely to focus on a one-off, random complaint that doesn’t have a substantial impact across the group.
When data is aggregated, confidentiality is protected. This fosters trust and encourages people to be honest when sharing about their onboarding or exit experiences.
If you’re a small company, in particular, it may take quite some time – months, even years if you are very small – to have enough data to aggregate. Waiting for more data prevents you from promptly addressing concerns.
Aggregated data prevents you from identifying and addressing one-on-one situations that are important to recognize and resolve for individual employees, especially for new employees.
Share and respond to onboarding and exit data continuously and immediately
If you immediately analyze and interpret results, you can promptly identify and respond to critical concerns and issues.
If you dig into specific employee responses, you can provide individualized solutions and attention, which may be particularly important during onboarding. New team members want to feel heard, valued, and respected, so their concerns and challenges should not go unaddressed.
Singling out one employee or that employee’s manager for specific perceptions and actions may backfire if not handled correctly. If an onboarded employee reports he/she did not get proper training and the manager is reprimanded, this may damage the new employee-manager relationship.
It’s unrealistic to think you’ll be able to address all concerns or dissatisfaction. Reviewing your data as it comes in, rather than in aggregate, may distract you from overarching patterns that would be most beneficial to address.
Purpose of the Data:
Why are you collecting onboarding and/or exit data? Are you monitoring the employee experience, targeting specific issues, revamping programs, etc.? It may sound simple, but your purpose for collecting the information will provide the best direction around how and when to use it. For example, if you’re monitoring programs and there is no urgent problem, aggregate results may be your best approach. Alternatively, if you’re aiming to detect if people are not adequately trained to fulfill their positions, identifying them right away may be the best bet for you (e.g., if a healthcare professional reveals he/she did not complete training and thus, should not provide care to patients).
What is your sense of trust among your workforce? If you have a trust-rich culture, addressing concerns and issues on a one-off basis may be welcomed and appreciated. High trust environments create the right space for productive one-on-one follow-up conversations.
However, if there is a general sense of distrust or skepticism among your people, aggregated data is likely the best way to view and interpret results. By collecting information confidentially, people know they cannot be singled out and will not face negative consequences for sharing their input, so they will be more likely to be honest. And, when they see progress as a response to the survey, you may be able to rebuild trust.
If you’re a large organization and collecting lots of data quickly is not a challenge for you, continuously reacting to data and having data in aggregate can both be achieved. However, if you are a small organization where few people are hired or termed in a year’s time, you may have no other option than to look at immediate, individual data. If this is your case, tap into resources about crucial conversations, feedback, and change management to build trust with employees, despite the lack of confidentiality.
Your Change Environment:
Change is something all organizations have to manage, but in times of especially rapid or tumultuous change, reacting quickly to data may be the best approach. As best as possible, try to collect a representative sample, but when you need to make an urgent decision or change, reactivity may be a necessity.
Think about onboarding and exit as processes. Collecting information is one part of the process and there may be multiple sources of data that can inform future decisions (e.g., interviews, surveys, follow-up conversations, focus groups).
Share results with your workforce. Let them in on what you’re learning, what priorities emerged based on the information, and what you plan to do about it.
Involve managers in conversations about exit and onboarding results. Managers have a large impact, arguably the biggest impact, on employee experiences as they enter and exit the organization. Having managers in-the-know about what’s going well and what could be improved with these processes is essential to the program’s’ success.
Consider if there are some questions that you want to address immediately versus others that can wait and be reported in aggregate. There may be questions on your survey or interview that you want to flag for an immediate response and others that are not as critical to address right away. For example, logistical and check-the-box type of items can be easy to address in a nonthreatening way. If an employee reports that he/she did not complete important paperwork, this should be addressed immediately. Feelings of belonging, value, or fit are vulnerable and may be better addressed at a team or department level than by singling any one person out based on their responses.
Consider sharing aggregate data with high level leaders to start, and then share it deeper as more data is collected. This allows senior leaders to be aware of key trends and begin to think through opportunities for improvement while also maintain confidentiality.
ABSOLUTELY DO NOT:
Most of what you learn in exit or onboarding data should not warrant scolding or reprimanding managers or employees. Use detected concerns and issues as learning opportunities rather than as requiring discipline or punishment. In stressful and sensitive situations like onboarding and exiting employees, it is important to handle situations carefully. Use the challenges you uncover with data as opportunities to build relationships and a positive work environment.
Bauer, T. N., & Erdogan, B. (2011). Organizational socialization: The effective onboarding of new employees. In S. Zedeck (Ed.) APA handbook of industrial and organizational psychology, Vol 3: Maintaining, expanding, and contracting the organization (pp. 51-64). Washington, DC, US: American Psychological Association.
Klein, H. J., & Polin, B. (2012). Are organizations on board with best practices onboarding. In C. Wanberg (Ed.) The Oxford handbook of organizational socialization (pp. 267-287). New York, NY: Oxford University Press, Inc.