Painful Formalities of Informal Onboarding: #TChat Preview

We’re big fans of social media and all things social here at TalentCulture World of Work. We’re also fairly informal as a social community, most comfortable with relaxed interchanges and a bit put off by super-formal processes at times.

But I’ve noticed something interesting of late in the social world — the very informality of social media is creating a new formality in the workplace, one that’s actually harder to monitor and manage than conventional interchanges happening in the workplace. How can this be? A good deal of this happens in employee orientation or onboarding, so we decided it would be a great #TChat topic. On the one hand we have loads of research showing people learn best in informal settings. On the other hand, we have companies still pushing process and culture through the employee handbook (although there are some great handbooks out there — tip of the hat to Valve.)

One weird paradox is that social media at once eliminates much of the formality and much of the human touch. And informality isn’t necessarily what the new hire craves; he or she may just want real, live, approachable human beings to deal with. I’m talking about the face-to-face, in-person, in-real-life (IRL) touch.

In real life, a formal setting doesn’t need informality to provide a real, live, approachable human. All the interactive technology and informality that comes with it lacks the human touch. And then, all of a sudden, it feels like all the things we mistakenly correlate necessarily with formalities — clinical, lacking in warmth, thin, superficial. UGH. People hire people – right?

What to do? As leaders how can we shove a handbook at someone and expect the person will pick up the company’s nuanced workplace culture? And who’s responsible for making sure new hires are brought into the workplace culture fold, anyway? Please don’t tell us you’re relying solely on social media, either. As HR turns to more automation, are we at risk of losing the opportunity to acclimate new hires in a systematic, repeatable and personally-meaningful way? I’m worried to be honest. I guess it’s time we talk it through to find some peace.

So many questions, so little time — here are this week’s questions for your consideration:

Q1: Data shows that informal learning is the best way to know, so why do we throw the “employee handbook” at folks?

Q2: How do we embed the behind-the-scenes, impromptu workplace cultural experiences into the onboarding process?

Q3: Who’s responsible for cultural acclimation, training & retention at & beyond formal & informal onboarding & why?

Q4: When does formal onboarding make the most sense & why?

Q5: Much of the hiring administrative processes can be automated today, but how can HR tech promote informal onboarding?

If you are interested in or responsible for leadership, workplace culture, employee onboarding and best practices, we hope you’ll join us at #TChat World of Work on Wednesday night, Aug. 22, from 7-8pm ET (6-7pm CT, 4-5pm PT, or wherever you are) as we explore the balance between “social” workplace onboarding and more formal, classroom-style employee orientation.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk, industrial and organizational psychologist, as well as workplace strategist (@MRGottschalk / The Office Blend), will be our guest moderator. We’ll assess the formalities and informalities of employee onboarding and new-hire orientation and discuss the merits of informal social learning vs. formalized orientation processes. I look forward to chatting with you soon.

Image Credits: UnWelcome Mat via Freaking Craft

Battle Foods Employee Handbook Cover, by John Trainor


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