Posted: October 27th, 2022
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Discussion Two: Application
New Employee Onboarding–
Psychological Contracts and Ethical Perspectives
Purpose – This paper clarifies the importance of Human Resource Professionals (HRPs) improving the
onboarding and assimilation of new employees and explains why this important task is so essential as
part of the psychological contract between employers and those new organization members.
Design/methodology/approach – This paper is a conceptual paper that identifies a problem based upon
findings in the management literature, explains the nature of psychological contracts and ethical duties,
and identifies action steps for improving the new employee onboarding process.
Findings – The paper identifies a ten.-step model for improving employee onboarding and explains why
HRPs and those who oversee them need to reexamine their assimilation of new organization members.
Originality/value – This paper contributes to the management literature by addressing a major problem
that is poorly managed in many organizations. The mismanagement of this important onboarding
process undermines organization effectiveness, decreases trust, and violates the psychological contract
held by new employees about the organization’s duties owed to them.
Key Words: Employee Onboarding, Employee Assimilation, New Employee Orientation, Psychological
Contract, Duties of Human Resource Professionals.
New Employee Onboarding–
Psychological Contracts and Ethical Perspectives
Assimilating new employees into an organization is an important task of Human
Resource Professionals (HRPs) and an essential element of their responsibilities as technical
experts in their discipline (Huselid, et al., 2009, pp 196-199). Ineffective onboarding destroys
benefits achieved by hiring talented employees and increases the likelihood that the hard work
spent in recruiting and selecting those employees will be wasted (Smart, 2012). Because many
organizations view their onboarding process as an expense rather than an investment, they
adopt a short-sighted approach to the process. The predictable result from this false economy
is that the transition into the organization for new employees will be painful–leading to
potential underperformance, minimizing the organization’s capability to fully utilize the skills
and abilities of these new employees.
The purposes of this paper are 1) to identify why improving this important Human
Resource Management (HRM) function greatly benefits those new employees and the
organization itself, 2) to clarify the ethical obligations implicit in new employee onboarding, and
3) to provide top managers and HRPs with a model for improving the new employee
onboarding process that meets the ethical expectations and psychological contracts of
incoming employees. The paper begins with a brief explanation of the onboarding process and
the nature of the psychological contract that exist between an organization and its employees.
Building upon a model introduced by the University of Michigan ethics scholar, Larue Hosmer, it
then presents twelve ethical perspectives that identify how employees perceive the nature of
their onboarding process. The paper then introduces a ten-step model for conducting a top
quality onboarding process, identifying how each of those steps honors the ethical expectations
of the psychological contracts of new employees. The paper concludes with the contributions
of this paper.
The Onboarding Process
Onboarding is the process of introducing a new employee into his or her new job;
acquainting that employee with the organization’s goals, values, rules and policies, and
processes; and socializing the employee into an organizational culture (Watkins, 2016).
Wanous and Reichers (2000) explained that the new employee orientation process occurs while
employees are under a tremendous amount of stress. The typical new employee onboarding
process provides employees with a volume of information that is overwhelming, impractical,
and impossible for new employees to incorporate within a short period of time. In compiling
research about the state of the art of employee onboarding, Srimannarayana (2016) noted that
some organizations included too many complex tasks and information for employees to
realistically digest while other organizations offered too few items that fail to adequately
Bauer (2010) has explained that an effective onboarding process included four critical
building blocks to improve performance, inoculate against turnover, and increase job
• Compliance: This building block is the lowest level of onboarding and includes reviewing
or teaching employees about basic legal and policy-related rules and regulations
associated with working in the new organization.
• Clarification: This key function ensures that employees understand their new jobs and
all its related expectations. Frequently, this function is poorly handled and lacks
• Culture: Providing employees with a sense of formal and informal organizational norms
is often overlooked because members of the organization assume that the
organization’s values, assumptions, and norms are easily understood.
• Connection: This key activity refers to creating vital interpersonal relationships and
explaining information networks essential for employees to perform successfully.
Unfortunately, Acevedo and Yancey (2010, 349) concluded that most organizations do a
mediocre job of assimilating new employees and, few organizations utilize its full scope or
Bauer (2010) explained that effective onboarding has short-term and long-term benefits
for both the new employee and the organization, noting that employees effectively assimilated
into an organization have greater job satisfaction and organizational commitment, higher
retention rates, lower time to productivity, and have greater success in achieving customer
satisfaction with their work. In contrast, poor onboarding leads to lower employee satisfaction,
higher turnover, increased costs, lower productivity, and decreased customer satisfaction.
Holton (2001, 73) noted in his study of factors associated with onboarding that “(t)he most
important tactic (for effective onboarding) was allowing new employees to fully utilize their
skills and abilities.” Unfortunately, most organizations focus on establishing managerial control
systems rather than on building commitment and empowering employees (cf. Pfeffer, 1998).
Onboarding and the Psychological Contract
The employment relationship is inherently an interpersonal relationship with profound
ethical implications associated with HRM (Hosmer, 1987). That relationship is based upon social
exchange theory in which the employer pays money to the employee in exchange for his or her
services (Cropanzano & Mitchell, 2005). The expectations in this relationship frame the
psychological contract that exists between the two parties – a contract that is typically
unwritten and that rarely perfectly coincides but reflects the reciprocal obligations of the
parties (Rousseau, 1995; Robinson & Rousseau, 1994). Consistent with expectancy theory, new
employees are also concerned about 1) how they will benefit as an organization member, and
2) whether it is feasible for them to obtain promised outcomes (Shea-Van Fossen &
Vredenburgh, 2014). The implied psychological contract between employers and employees
has evolved over the past several decades (Pfeffer, 1998), but a growing body of evidence
confirms that employers who create relationships with employees based upon high trust create
organizational cultures in which employees exhibit increased extra-role behavior, are more
creative and innovative, and more profitable than employees in comparable organizations (cf.
Well qualified employees who add the greatest value, or create the most organizational
wealth, for their employers expect to be treated with dignity and respect; given the
opportunity to advance in their organizations; be treated as valued “owners and partners” in
improving the organization; and valued as “Yous,” or as unique individuals, rather than as “Its,”
or fungible commodities with no individual identity (Buber, 1996; Covey, 2004; Block, 2013).
Although some employees are highly committed and inherently dedicated to giving extra-mile
performance, even in the face of poor treatment and ineffective leadership (Organ, et al.,
2005), research evidence documents that employers who treat employees with high trust, who
demonstrate a personalized approach to employees as valued partners reap the rewards of
better quality, improved employee performance, and increased employee satisfaction (Pfeffer,
1998; Paine, 2003; Smith, et al., 2016).
Louis (1980) examined the problem of employee dissatisfaction with the new employee
entry process more than thirty-five years ago, yet new employees continue to be surprised by
the inadequacies of many organizations’ onboarding systems (Lawson, 2015, Ch. 5). Although
the expectations of incoming employees about the perceived duties owed to them in the
onboarding process may vary, employees feel betrayed when those duties are breached – with
an inevitable decrease in organization commitment (Morrison & Robinson, 1997). A realistic
job preview reduces surprises, clarifies supervisor expectations, provides an opportunity for
employees to ask questions about desired outcomes, and clarifies the psychological contract
(Tekleab et al, 2013).
Hosmer (1995) explained that trust and ethical expectations are closely related and
derived from well-accepted philosophical foundations. Table 1 presents twelve ethical
perspectives, a brief summary of each perspective, and a summary of how new employees
perceive onboarding duties owed to them.
==== Insert Table 1 about Here ===
Each ethical perspective confirms that it is in the best interests of an employer and their
employees for the onboarding process to occur effectively and with high quality (cf. Hosmer,
1995). New employees typically perceive that they are an excellent onboarding process as part
of the psychological contract owed to them (DeVos, et al., 2005; Klein & Weaver, 2000). The
evidence also confirms that effective onboarding serves all stakeholders, benefiting
organization both long-term and short-term (Bauer, 2010).
A Ten-Step Model for Quality Onboarding
HRPs who incorporate highly effective onboarding programs honor the psychological
contract expectations of their new employees and fulfill their strategic role as ethical stewards
(Huselid, et al., 2009;). The following is a ten-step model for quality onboarding, including steps
prior to the actual arrival of a new employee.
1. Establish the Relationship Online Immediately after Hiring. Typically, the decision to
hire an employee occurs well before the employee actually begins work. Initiating an
online relationship enables an organization to create an immediate personalized
relationship with a new employee–a well-recognized element of effective leadership
(Kouzes & Posner, 2012, Ch. 1) and an opportunity for an employee to learn a great deal
about the organization.
2. Appoint a Trained Mentor-Coach for Each New Employee – The evidence indicates the
quality of mentoring for new employees can make a significant contribution to
employee socialization and learning (Ragins, et al., 2000). Mentoring can be highly
effective at helping employees to improve employee work attitudes, engagement, and
extra-role behavior (Van Dyne & Pierce, 2004).
3. Focus the Onboarding on Relationships and Networks – Assisting new employees to
create relationships with key organization personnel can shorten the socialization and
assimilation process. Sharing information with key organization personnel about the
employee’s qualifications and assisting the employee to become familiar with the
organization’s values communicates to the incoming employee that (s)he is an
important contributor to the organization’s success (Brown, 2007; Rousseau, 1990). The
relationship with the supervisor and the natural work group are both essential elements
in this transition (Parker, et al., 2013).
4. Prepare a Well-Developed and Complete New Employee Orientation Booklet –
Integrating the many diverse pieces of information that new employees needs in
relocating; acquainting the employee with the community and organization culture;
identifying the organization’s values, mission, and history; explaining employee benefits
and policies; completing required paper work and documentation; and identifying key
job tasks in contributing to the organization’s ability to create value enables a new
employee to obtain this critical information and is consistent with employee
psychological contract expectations (Sutton & Griffin, 2004). Providing that information
in one location also facilitates an employee’s ability to share that information with a
5. Prepare Physical Location, Office, and Staffing Support Prior to Onboarding – A
properly equipped office and appropriate staffing support enable an employee to get
off to the best possible start. Initiating those actions prior to a new employee’s arrival
demonstrates that the organization has carefully thought through the new employee’s
assimilation (cf. Marks, 2007).
6. Assist in Transitional Logistics – Recognizing that a new hire may have had to relocate,
sell or buy a home, arrange for schooling for children, and/or make other stressful
transitions of significant proportion, reaching out to new employees to assist them in
those time consuming tasks communicates that an employer is aware of the need for
work-family balance and is committed to the employee’s welfare (Dewe, et al., 2010).
7. Clarify and Affirm Priorities and Expectations – Immediately upon the new employee’s
arrival to the organization, the employee’s supervisor should meet with the new
employee to clarify job responsibilities, key outcomes, and the employee role with the
entire work group; identify key resources and the role of the supervisor; and listen
carefully to the employee’s personal goals and job-related concerns. Creating a high
trust relationship with the new employee is facilitated by such a meeting in addition to
building employee commitment (Leana & Van Buren, 1999).
8. Engage, Empower, and Appreciate the Employee – Employees actively engaged as
owners and partners in an organization are more likely to contribute creative ideas, add
organizational value, and improve organization productivity (Adkins, 2016; Smith, et al.,
2016; Beer, 2009; Saks, 2006;). Building employee self-efficacy and confidence reduces
employee stress, facilitates assimilation into the organization, and enhances employee
performance (Peterson, et al., 2011).
9. Involve Upline in Onboarding Training and Orientation – Actively involving Top
Management Team members and supervisors in the new employee orientation
process–particularly in explaining organizational values and cultural factors–
communicates to employees that organizational leaders are committed to those values
and that they are prepared to perform according to the values that they espouse
(Schein, 2010; Kouzes & Posner, 2012).
10. Create an Ongoing Coaching Process – As part of the new employee orientation, both
the mentor and supervisor should identify the resources available to assist the
employee to become a highly productive contributor and the checkpoints that will be
used to help the new employee to be assimilated into the organization to achieve time-
targeted performance results (Bachkirova, et al., 2011).
Each of these ten steps communicates to the new employee that (s)he is a priority of the
organization. This ten-step process communicates, “We value you and want you to succeed. We care
about your success, and we have carefully thought through our responsibility to bringing you on board
successfully so that you can have a great experience in our company.” In the words of DePree (2004,
Ch. 1), this approach to the onboarding process and to helping the employee to succeed honors the
“covenantal” obligation of leaders to be “a servant and a debtor” committed to each employee’s well-
being and success. That psychological contract expectation of being valued as a person is the desired
hope of new employees as they transition into organizations. Although all ten of these recommended
steps might not always be practical in every situation, this model provides a guideline which has
applicability for many organizations in a variety of disciplines.
Caldwell and colleagues (2015) have provided a Virtuous Continuum of ethical conduct for
leaders and organizations for evaluating performance outcomes and ethical duties. That continuum,
indicated as Diagram 1, suggests that the responsibility of organizations and leaders is to optimize value
creation and organizational wealth by pursuing the best intetests of all stakeholders.
==== Insert Diagram One about here ====
Similarly, Cameron (2011) has explained that virtuous leadership is also “responsible leadership” and the
obligation of leaders to those whom they serve. A growing body of evidence confirms that honoring this
virtuous responsibility creates organizational wealth, greater commitment, improved customer service,
and better quality (Cameron & Spreitzer, 2012; Beer, 2009; Pfeffer, 1998).
Contributions of the Paper
Like many practical HRM issues, onboarding of employees is a profoundly ethical process with
implications for the psychological contract between the employer and employee (Hosmer, 1987). This
paper makes five significant contributions.
1) It identifies the nature of onboarding new employees as an ethical and practical opportunity
to improve the relationship between new employees and their organizations. The
responsibilities of HRPs and immediate supervisors in assimilating new employees honors
“covenantal” obligations that benefit organizations and the individuals working for them
2) It identifies the ethical nature of onboarding in comparison with twelve highly regarded
ethical perspectives and as a key element of psychological contracts. By elaborating on the
ethical nature of the onboarding process, this paper integrates those ethical perspectives with
the expectations of employees directly impacts their trust, commitment, and willingness to
engage in value-creating behaviors.
3) It confirms the value of a Virtuous Continuum approach to examining the current practices of
onboarding for HRPs. Honoring duties owed to stakeholders and optimizing value creation are
responsibilities of HRPs and supervisors and the Virtuous Continuum is a useful criterion for
evaluating an organization’s onboarding process (Caldwell, et al., 2014).
4) It identifies a ten-step model for onboarding with each step identifying how each onboarding
activity strengthens the ability of an organization to honor ethical and psychological contract
expectations of employees. The specifics of this proposed model comply with best practices for
onboarding in HRM (Bauer, 2010) while meshing with ethically-related assumptions about the
psychological contract (Rousseau, 1990).
5) It provides an opportunity for practitioners and scholars to increase their dialogue in
promoting the discussion of ethics in practice. The link between academicians and practitioners
is often weak and scholars are frequently criticized for being impractical (Van Buren &
Greenwood, 2013; Caldwell, 2014). This paper bridges that gap and provides an opportunity for
scholars and HRPs to work together to improve the onboarding process.
Although organizations depend greatly upon the ability of their employees to add value and
improve organizational creativity (Christensen, 2011; Beer, 2009), they often overlook the importance of
helping employees to succeed (Pfeffer, 1998). Van Buren and Greenwood (2013, 716) have noted the
importance of “involvement of business ethics scholarship in debates about important ethical issues in
employment practices.” By addressing the ethical implications of onboarding and assimilation in the
psychological contract that exists between new employees and their organizations, this paper furthers
that purpose while providing specific suggestions for improving a key HRM process.
As HRPs improve the onboarding and assimilation process for new employees, they enhance
each employee’s reason for wanting to connect as invested partners in the success of the organization,
the work group, and the supervisor with whom they work (Yamkovenko & Hatala, 2015). By improving
onboarding and new employee assimilation, HRPs and organization leaders honor the psychological
contracts and ethical assumptions of employees’ and create an organizational culture that generates
greater long-term wealth while serving the needs of their work force (Caldwell, et al., 2011).
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Table 1: Twelve Ethical Perspectives and Their Ethical Implications for Onboarding
Ethical Perspective Basic Summary Organizational
Employee Perceptions and Ethical
Society benefits when we
pursue self-interest without
encroaching on others’ rights.
Seeks to optimize
Excellent onboarding and quality training enable
new employees to quickly become contributors
in creating organizational wealth or value (cf.
Caldwell & Hansen, 2010)
(Bentham & Mills)
A law or act is “right” if it
leads to more net social
benefits than harms.
Recognizes the need
to identify costs,
benefits, and impacts
The Return on Investment of onboarding saves
an organization money in the long-run and
increases commitment (Pfeffer, 1998)
(Plato & Aristotle)
Standards must be adopted to
govern relationships and
articulate virtuous behaviors.
govern according to
correct principles and
Creating an excellent onboarding process is
congruent with the virtuous obligations that
leaders owe to others (DePree, 2004)
Compassion and kindness
must accompany honesty,
truthfulness, and temperance.
respect and kindness.
Treating employees as valued “Yous” rather than
as “Its” honors the obligations of Religious
Injunction (Buber, 1996).
“Live by both the letter and
the spirit of the law in
honoring duties owed to
others, but remember that the
law by itself is a minimal
Complying with the
letter and spirt of the
law builds trust and
Treating new hires as valued partners and with a
concern for their best interests is not a legal
obligation but complies with the spirit of the
implied contract between the parties and is an
important means of building trust (cf. Caldwell &
Inspired rules govern action,
resulting in the greater good
Universal rules and
Kantian rules mandate that individuals are
treated as valued ends rather than as means to
ends (Kant & Wood, 2001).
An articulated list of
protected rights ensures
individual freedom and
obligated to honor
duties owed to
Employees are likely to view organizations as
owing them a complex series of “covenantal”
duties and rights (Covey, 1992).
Seek the maximum output of
needed goods and the
maximization of profits.
importance of wealth
creation and value.
Onboarding is win-win benefit that maximizes
value creation (cf. Bauer, 2010).
Avoid taking any actions that
harms the least of us in any
treatment at all times.
Ineffective onboarding actually harms employees
who are under great stress and impedes their
ability to succeed (Acevedo & Yancey, 2010).
Avoid actions that interfere
with others’ self-fulfillment
obligation to assist
employees to become
Poor onboarding conflicts with the Ethic of
Contributing Liberty because it undermines the
effectiveness of new employees (Bauer, 2010).
Ethic of Self-
Seek to fulfill one’s highest
potential and to maximize
one’s ability to contribute to
creating a better world.
potential serves all
The Ethic of Self-Actualization is best served by
empowering new employees and helping them to
succeed (Smart, 2012).
Ethic of Care
Emphasizes the importance of
creating caring relationships
and honoring responsibilities
to those with whom
Focuses on the
importance of each
person and helping
them to honor their
The Ethic of Care enables new employees to
honor their responsibilities to others. It is also a
duty owed to them which demonstrates that the
organization cares about their welfare (cf.
Diagram 1: The Virtuous Continuum as an Ethical Framework for Leaders and Organizations
Caldwell, Hasan & Smith, 2015
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