In Part One of this series, I outlined the basic premise of organizational socialization (OS), briefly describing some of the sub-theories associated with the practice.
Now, I’ll expand on those concepts, detailing how HR teams make them an active part of the onboarding process. As noted in the previous post, the key principles associated with OS are social exchange theory, the need to belong, social identity theory and uncertainty reduction theory.
Before describing how to transform these methods into practices, we must enter the discussion with the chief objective in mind: turning new hires into valued, active participants in day-to-day operations.
Applying social exchange theory to teamwork
Milan Zafirovski, professor of sociology at the University of North Texas (UNT), defined social exchange theory as the idea that people who interact with one another trade rewards, which may come in several compensatory forms. The principle stands that, when people interact with one another, they’re contributing to relationships by investing their time, energy and (at times) resources.
Due to this definition, social exchange theory has been closely linked to economic behavior. If a new employee recognizes the resources and energy a mentor is putting into their relationship and understands the desired objectives, he or she may feel compelled to hold up his or her end of the bargain.
Managing the need to belong
The need to belong refers to people’s desire to develop and maintain strong relationships with their peers. In the workplace, this sentiment could translate into a new hire’s desire to be included within an organization’s operations and culture.
Effective talent management practices and tools can be of assistance in this regard. HR professionals, coworkers and direct managers will identify a newcomer’s strengths and weaknesses. Then, they may determine how the employee’s skill sets can support processes where a dearth of expertise persists. This approach satisfies the new hire’s need to belong and bolsters the organization’s return on investment.
Social identity theory
Social identity theory is closely related to the need to belong, but is not exactly the same. While the latter focuses on an individual’s desire to be included, the former discerns how a person fits in within a particular community.
The concept was introduced by renowned social theorist Henri Tajfel, who proposed that a person’s self-esteem is partially linked to the social group he or she associates with. This is part of the reason people try to increase the prestige of a particular group — it raises their value.
In this regard, HR teams should highlight areas where their organizations succeed. This can be implemented during the talent acquisition phase, as delivering a strong brand enables HR to identify potential hires who want to be associated with their operations. Those are the kind of workers who will have the drive and initiative managers often look for.
Uncertainty reduction theory
Uncertainty reduction theory conceptualizes the manner in which people learn about one another. The basic premise, according to Professor Yan Tian of the University of Missouri, is that uncertainty creates a sense of risk. When people enter unfamiliar environments, they cannot make calculated decisions that will work to their benefit.
Uncertainty can be a bane to workplace productivity and the onboarding process in general. In order to eliminate this discomfort, HR departments must employ honest, face-to-face communication. It’s not about divulging trade secrets, but rather informing new hires of what they can expect of the workplace, the organization’s norms and mores, as well as other operational details.
Each of these four theories has a place in onboarding. When applied simultaneously, they systematically enable HR to indoctrinate new hires into their organizations.