The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

Three Elements of a Successful Onboarding Program

Onboarding programs consisting of a brief history lesson about the institution and instructions for how to get a parking pass aren’t likely to inspire new hires. Here are three elements of onboarding programs that go beyond the basics to create a deeper understanding of campus culture and a sense of belonging.

Orient New Hires to Higher Education

Learning industry-specific skills and knowledge is essential for employees to thrive in their workplaces. Higher education is no different. New hires must quickly get up to speed on how their departments function within the context of their institution and its mission. This can be overwhelming for anyone, especially someone new to higher education.

To address this learning curve, CUPA-HR created Understanding Higher Ed Course 1 — An Overview of Higher Education for All Employees. The course is designed to help all higher ed employees understand different types of institutions, terminology, cultural hallmarks of the higher ed work environment, the basics of higher ed funding, and key soft skills that support success in the workplace.

Create a Sense of Belonging

A crucial aspect of the workplace that can’t be captured in a new-hire orientation video is the sense of belonging employees experience. And if staff members work remotely, opportunities to connect with coworkers and build community may be even more difficult to achieve.

To overcome these challenges, the University of Florida’s Academic and Professional Assembly (APA), led by several HR employees, reconsidered their approach to onboarding. Through their Warm Welcome experience they helped create a campus culture that fosters a sense of belonging for new staff. The APA helps spark campus connections by hosting welcome events and small groups where new hires can interact with high-level leaders. During these events, leaders share personal stories and insights about leadership, diversity and inclusion and the value that staff bring in the pursuit of the university’s many goals. This storytelling approach draws out leaders’ personalities, camaraderie, sense of humor and transparency, and allows staff to see the “human” aspect of a large institution. Read more about UF’s Warm Welcome experience to learn how to design a warm welcome experience for your staff.

Partner With Other Departments

Onboarding shouldn’t fall solely on HR’s shoulders. Support from many areas of the institution is critical for a successful onboarding program. Additionally, shared responsibility for onboarding can positively affect organizational culture, departmental buy-in and employee retention. Presenters from the University of Colorado Boulder shared their strategic partner model in a 2019 CUPA-HR on-demand webinar “Onboarding: A Strategic Partner Model for Bringing About Cultural Change.” Watch the webinar recording to learn more about UC Boulder’s model to increase employee engagement, retention and productivity while keeping the focus on institutional goals.

There are many reasons employees are drawn to work at an institution, and a successful onboarding program shows them why they should stay.