In these times of confusion and uncertainty, onboarding is a much-debated topic. But let’s start by explaining what it is. Onboarding refers to the process of accompanying the new employee “on board” in the new environment; in other words, the set of activities and processes aimed at helping the new staff acquire the skills and abilities needed to become an integral part of the organization. What happens very often is the tendency to trivialize this process, identifying it as simple steps ranging from filling in the recruitment documents and explaining company policy to office assignment. But this process is far from trivial as it carries with it a crucial opportunity to influence the new employee’s future performance, success in their role, and job satisfaction. In this article we will try to understand together why onboarding is important and how to optimize it, starting from an analysis of the psychological aspects that come into play during this process and ending with the innovative methodologies that are being developed. 

Let’s start from a basic assumption: the new employee finds himself in a new context and this novelty brings with it both concern and a desire to do. In this situation one finds oneself dealing with people one has never seen before, with whom one has to start sharing a lot of time from then on. In addition, the new employee is preoccupied with proving to his or her superiors that he or she has made the right choice, with the constant imperative to do well and understand the characteristics of the job as soon as possible. All this at a psychological level can result in high levels of anxiety and stress, which can lead to a consequent lowering of performance levels both in the newly recruited employee and in other employees. On the other hand, however, as mentioned above, novelty can also be a motivating force for change; in other words, the individual puts himself back into the game by experimenting with his skills, strengthening them, and acquiring new ones. Therefore, on a psychological level, the new employee can “see” all this as a chance to broaden his/her soft skills and hard skills (technical abilities) and above all for growth on a professional and personal level.

The onboarding process is crucial for the newly recruited individual to balance those psychological aspects presented above, favoring their involvement and loyalty to the company. This is also confirmed by a study by the Academy of Management Journal, which found that the first 90 days of employment are crucial to creating a lasting relationship with the company. At this point you may be asking yourself: at a time like this when smart working is becoming increasingly popular, how can onboarding be done effectively? This is where technology comes in. For some years now, various realities have been building up that include in the onboarding process the use of VR or other cutting-edge tools, to keep up with technological progress, but the health emergency we are experiencing today has made this phenomenon a necessity. In addition to the traditional process of accompanying recruits, there is the so-called digital onboarding, which has potential advantages but can become obstacles if it is not managed optimally. In today’s smart working environment, virtual reality plays a key role in ensuring that the new employee feels welcome and confident from day one, despite the difficulty of approaching other colleagues to ask questions and the absence of company events. The main characteristics of digital onboarding are the absence of a physical environment, the flexibility of content, affordable costs, usability, and innovation. As I said before, these are advantages that contain within them the risk of becoming an obstacle for the person. Let’s take the physical environment as an example: the advantage is the possibility to undertake this pathway in any place (at home, in the office, etc.), while the risk is that the person does not get to know the other colleagues and does not become fully aware of the working spaces. Content, in the same way, can be customized according to the company and the characteristics of its employees, but one has to be very careful about how it is presented, how it is constructed. Digital onboarding can be accessible from different platforms such as smartphones, PCs, tablets, Oculus visors, but again the risk is that the individual spends too much time on those tools, one of the sources of stress, mixing professional and personal life. Certainly, some aspects could make the digital onboarding effective starting from the content: it would be a good starting point to try to understand the needs of the new employee and the context of the home in which smart workers work, thinking about content suitable for a home office. In my opinion, it could be a good solution to use an integrated onboarding methodology, with online and virtual reality courses alternating with face-to-face training (where possible), to facilitate the new employee’s integration into the new company context. This requires a multidisciplinary team of graphic designers, programmers, and experts in marketing, communication, and psychological processes. An example of this is Vrainers, which, thanks to its team, is structuring training courses integrated with virtual reality to maintain the focus on wellbeing and promote growth opportunities for workers and consequently for companies. So, structuring an onboarding course that is engaging, effective, and stimulating at the same time is one of the biggest challenges for companies; I would also like to say that, if we think of the period we are living in, we must be even more committed to transforming obstacles into opportunities for growth. 

As usual, I would like to conclude with a statement by a great Austrian economist, who had already recognized the potential of technology: “Innovation is the specific tool of entrepreneurship. The act that fosters success with a new ability to create wealth’ (Peter Drucker).  

Bibliography and Sitography:

Stein M. Successful Onboarding: Strategies to Unlock Hidden Value Within Your Organization.

Bauer, T. N. (2011). Onboarding new employees: Maximizing success. Alexandria, VA: SHRM Foundation’s Effective Practice Guideline Series.

Bauer, T. N., & Erdogan, B. (2011). Organizational socialization: The effective onboarding of new employees. In S. Zedeck, H. Aguinis, W. Cascio, M. Gelfand, K. Leung, S. Parker, & J. Zhou (Eds.). APA Handbook of I/O Psychology (Vol. 3, pp. 51-64). Washington, DC: APA Press.

Sims D. Creative Onboarding Programs: Tools for Energizing Your Orientation Program.

Bauer, T. N. (2013). Onboarding: The power of connection.

Zidena, A.A., & Joob, O.C. (2020). Exploring Digital Onboarding for Organisations: A Concept Paper. International Journal of Innovation, Creativity and Change, 13(9), 734–750.


Francesco Palazzo

Degree in psychological sciences and techniques from the University of L’Aquila. Master’s degree in Psychology of Well-being: empowerment, rehabilitation, and positive technologies, at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Milan. Master’s degree in Sport Psychology. Specialized in the use of Positive Technologies applied to different psychological fields, conducting an experimental study on cognitive enhancement and technical-motor gestures on young competitive tennis players through an integrated training of mental training and virtual reality.



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