Retaining what is learned during employee onboarding

The human brain forgets 90% of what is learned in 24 hours.

You have a structured and well-organized employee onboarding program in place. You have ticked all the boxes. As your company ramps up the hiring process, each new employee is trained, oriented, and engaged with the company’s values and missions through the employee onboarding program. You seem to be satisfied with everything falling into place. But when we are dealing with humans, challenges are numerous and unpredictable too! As everything seemed to be okay, you noticed a significant challenge. Though people go through a structured employee onboarding program, some employees still seem clueless about certain things at the end of their onboarding. Why? The issue is with the retention of information.

The retention capacity of the human brain is very low. Multiple studies have shown that if an individual does not make an effort to retain information, the brain loses 90% of the information within 24 hours. That is why it becomes essential to plan and organize activities to help the employees retain the information and knowledge imparted during the employee onboarding program.

Why do we tend to forget or fail to retain knowledge?

Our brain is a fantastic instrument. Though it is very powerful, it also has certain limitations that we need to live with. As per science, our brain can store a limited amount of information in its active memory part. An average human can only store about seven items in it. Moreover, psychologists have said that our brain creates a new memory for each moment since we are constantly engaged in certain things around us. The old and unengaged memories start fading whenever we create a new one. Recent research has said that memories are stored in the form of ensembles of neurons called ‘engram cells.’ We can only recall a memory when we reactivate these engram cells. When these engrams deactivate, we are unable to recall that memory. It is like that piece of information is kept in a safe, but we do not have the passcode.

So, as HR professionals, we should remember that forgetting a detail or piece of information is natural. It is a human tendency. All we can do is design an onboarding program that helps the employee retain information for a longer period of time.

Help employees retain information shared during the onboarding process

For certain roles, the onboarding program can be very intense. It involves a lot of dissemination of knowledge, and it is difficult to remember details. It is difficult, but not impossible. As we read above, it becomes difficult to access certain memories when the engram cell deactivates. Certain activities or exercises can help keep these cells activated for a long time.

Multiple learning methods

Every individual will have a different style of learning and grasping information. Certain people are more comfortable with theoretical or classroom training; some are more comfortable with pictorial representation, such as pictures, illustrations, videos, and animation. Some people are more attuned to remembering or retaining details through audio listening, such as music or poems. So, we need to design our learning modules in such a way that multiple methods or ways of learning are used. This will allow employees to learn and retain information better.

Stop multitasking and conquer them gradually

Multitasking is good. It makes things faster. But it can be a deterrent too. We must ensure that when we design our employee onboarding program, we do not make the new employees toggle between different tasks. The human brain overloads. It is like we are burning the candles from both ends. This way, employees will get exhausted quickly, and the onboarding activity may not be fruitful.

Add periodic breaks

Yes, breaks are essential. We know the quality standards of Japanese products. The Japanese workforce is also known for its great work ethic. The Japanese follow the theory of taking regular breaks. They schedule their work in such a manner that they take a 15-minute break after every two hours of working. These short breaks in between the onboarding sessions will allow the brain to rejuvenate and not overload with information.

Physical wellbeing

We are all aware of the benefits of having good health. But physical exercise not only improves our body’s health but also impacts our brain’s health and capacity to stay active. Similarly, meditation also helps to rejuvenate our brain. During long onboarding sessions, we can also plug in a 10-minute physical exercise session just before the start of a new session.

The 70:20:10 formula

Yes, we are back to the basics. Sometimes the old and tried ways are the best ones. The 70:20:10 formula is very popular among learning and development managers. According to this formula, an individual spends learning time in a way where 70% is spent in practical learning, i.e., learning by doing, 20% through peer-to-peer learning, and 10% in classroom training. The best way to internalize and retain knowledge is to implement it immediately. When we spend 70% of our time on practical learning, we make our basics strong.

Peer-to-peer learning involves learning in groups or through our mentor buddies. You must remember that in our school days, group learning was very effective. Similarly, if we organize collaborative learning activities, it can help employees better learn and retain information. Another good idea is to make groups of two and ask each pair to teach each other what they have learned. This will further help us learn and retain knowledge better. According to research, following the 70:20:10 formula helps retain 90% of whatever is learned.

Employee productivity level and retention depend a lot on the employee onboarding program, it is more than crucial than ever. Making a robust one is important, but having a strategy to concrete the same with knowledge retention tools and mechanisms is essential. It will make employees more aware, and their productivity will be high from the very start of their employment journey with the new employer.