Fast Tracking New Employees – The Penn Way

When you start a new job the onboarding process can seem endless. You have your technology trainings, security trainings, even getting your email set up can take a day or two to get set up. Seriously. Pennsylvania is working to streamline the onboarding process by going digital.

“The state set up an online onboarding program for all new hires. New workers (about 200 each week) receive a login and password about two weeks before their start date from the HR department to a website where they can fill out paperwork, enroll in benefits, learn about office policies and explore their new jobs. Not only does the program lead increased productivity and reduced workload, it also means that new employees are prepared to start their new jobs on day one,” reports Governing Magazine.

One of the men behind the onboarding process is James Honchar, Pennsylvania’s deputy secretary for human resources. He told me during GovLoop’s state and local spotlight interview that already the program has saved more than a million dollars a year.

The online onboarding is just the latest step in Pennsylvania’s quest to make human resources functions more streamlined.

Back in 2010, the state of Pennsylvania centralized its human resources functions for executive branch departments, creating a one-stop shop for all employee transactions from the moment they’re hired to the moment they stop working for the state. “Rather than maintaining an HR function in each department, this single office completes all employee services, including benefits, payroll and health care,” said Honchar.

Bringing all the HR functions into one building has been a huge cost savings for the state. “We have saved the commonwealth of Pennsylvania about 3.5 million dollars a year. We were also able to reduce about 70 HR professional positions,” said Honchar.

The online onboarding system links to Pennsylvania’s internal enterprise software for HR, payroll and budgeting. Once an agency has made an offer, and the employees, the new employee’s accepted that job offer as a new hire, HR will then reach out to that employee via email. The onboarding system will provide them with a link to the website with a temporary user ID and password, that will be specific to them. “Based on the position for which they’re hired, they will go our onboarding process online specific to the specific benefits and entitlements that they have that go along with that position,” said Honchar.

The onboarding process doesn’t stop with email, the system can also help get employees trained before they start. “A new employee will travel through our online process. We call them tours. Their tour will involve things like enrolling themself and their dependents in their healthcare plan, medical, prescription, dental, vision plans, enroll in our pension plan, and then the other tour is more focused on what are our agency specific policies that we have that go across the entire enterprise,” said Honchar.

And if you aren’t too tech savvy don’t worry, you can still onboard the old fashioned way. “We have employees that are hired that may not have access to technology throughout most of their workday. For example our corrections officers. They can call our, our service center, and contact one of our live reps that would enable them to literally walk them through the portal,” said Honchar. “If they still feel uncomfortable with that, we also do have a manual process that deals, I’ll say the traditional online, or the offline process where they can fill out the, the paperwork in effect, and then either our HR service center or the agency can actually then make sure that is transmitted into our system.”

While this process has been understandably revolutionary for new employees, it is also having a major impact on managers.

“Managers have been cleared from the ancillary type of work, their new employee literally can hit the ground running. Because we have all of this proprietary information from the employee in advance.”

The program has been so successful it is spreading to other states too. The State of Michigan is going through an onboarding implementation overhaul modeled after Pennsylvania right now.

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If only the federal government would continue the process of centralizing larger parts of onboarding. For example, why is OPM not able to adjudicate once whether, and to what degree, a person has veteran preference? There is merit to improvements in the process, is pre-start date tasking one of them?

I am concerned about the uncompensated nature of this new, improved, onboarding. Without a cost factor to limit the pre-employment demands of employers what will control its growth? How often is the new employee already a government employee using their current agency’s resources to complete onboarding elsewhere in the government?

Perhaps my biggest personal concern is that a canidate for a position is rarely told that they will be expected to spend “X” amount of time completing onboarding tasks in an uncompensated status. All the while, the threat of not receiving the final offer letter is hanging over their head. If only the HR employees of most agencies had their careers literally hanging in the balance of meeting deadlines.

Yes, it is a competitive world out there and only the people able to successfully balance work, family, commutes, job searches, and the countless other expectations of a “successful American middle-class life” will make it. However, employers beware, the dime you are saving by having “pre-employees” filling out your employment paperwork will be spent by your employees moving to other employers.