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date: 18 May 2021

Facilitating Organizational Socialization: An Introduction

Abstract and Keywords

This handbook focuses on organizational socialization, or the process through which individuals acquire the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviors required to adapt to a new work role. This chapter launches the handbook by defining organizational socialization, differentiating this term from the related concept of onboarding. The importance of organizational socialization is discussed, and the major sections and contributions of this handbook are outlined.

Keywords: organizational socialization, onboarding, new employees, employee adjustment, learning new jobs, expatriation, proactivity, work transitions, diversity

Organizational socialization is about new beginnings—individuals starting new jobs within an organizational context. This handbook comprehensively examines the organizational socialization process from a number of angles: why does it matter, what types of employees adapt most quickly, and what organizations, coworkers, and the new employees themselves can do to promote successful adjustment in a new job. There are two main purposes of this handbook: (1) to take stock of where the field is with respect to the knowledge and practice of new employee socialization, and (2) to stimulate ideas for future research and excellent practice in this area. Several thought leaders in the area of new socialization were invited to write chapters. The resulting volume takes an expansive view of organizational socialization, discussing a wide array of topics including organizational, individual, and coworker-related factors that facilitate new employee success, current socialization practices in companies today, and future research and practice needs.

Defining Organizational Socialization

For purposes of this handbook, organizational socialization is defined as the process through which individuals acquire the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviors required to adapt to a new work role. Organizational socialization may pertain to a new employee beginning work at an organization (i.e., an organizational newcomer), or to an individual moving into a new role within the organization (i.e., a promotion, lateral transfer, expatriate assignment, etc.). Over the last decade, a new term, onboarding, has also entered the scene. The term onboarding has been particularly popular in practice-oriented outlets and organizations, such as the American Society for Training and Development and the Society for Human Resource Management (e.g., Derven, 2008; Skrzypinski, 2011). The emerging view is that the terms onboarding and socialization should be differentiated and that care should be taken that the two terms are not used interchangeably (e.g., see Klein & Polin, Chapter 14 of this volume). (p. 4)

A primary differentiation between onboarding and socialization is that onboarding is a narrower term. According to Klein and Polin, onboarding refers to the specific practices initiated by an organization or its agents to facilitate employee adjustment to new roles. These practices might include doing something to make the first day on the job feel special to the employee, providing a mentor for the newcomer, or clarifying roles and responsibilities (Bauer, 2010). Organizational socialization may also include onboarding, but furthermore more broadly encompasses the information seeking, learning, and other adaptation processes involved in socialization on the part of the newcomer. Socialization occurs within the newcomer and numerous factors, onboarding included, can influence that socialization. Hypothetically speaking, socialization could occur without any onboarding activities and onboarding activities could fail to assist socialization (Klein and Polin, this volume). Agreeing with this differentiation, Chao (in press) states that in contrast to the term onboarding, the term organizational socialization (a) captures the broader learning and adjustment processes that individuals go through when they adapt to a new role, and (b) includes efforts on the part of both the organization and the individual.

Organizational Socialization is Important

Do those first days on the job really matter? If so, how do they matter? Chapter 15 of this handbook begins with a story about a young woman on her first day of work. It is only midmorning before this young woman begins to question whether or not she made the right choice about taking her new job. From time to time, when I see these stories on newcomer socialization, I admit to thinking the socialization literature may be guilty of making much ado about nothing. To the new employee that is questioning her choice so quickly, I want to say: “Deal with it!” “Adapt and move on!” Yet, the empirical research (and practical experience) that we have at our disposal suggests that socialization, and first impressions, do matter.

First, from the newcomer’s perspective, beginnings are not easy. Individuals face a great deal of uncertainty in their first few weeks and months in an organization. They may want to prove themselves and their worth, or they may merely want to make sure they keep their job. Individuals also have a high need to belong. It is sometimes difficult for a newcomer to break into existing employee networks and to feel at home in a new work group. Meta-analytic evidence suggests that the tactics that an organization uses, as well as efforts on the part of the newcomers themselves, are related to higher levels of role clarity, social acceptance, and self-efficacy (Bauer, Bodner, Erdogan, Truxillo, & Tucker, 2007; Saks, Uggerslev, & Fassina, 2007). Higher role clarity, social acceptance, and self-efficacy are also related to higher job satisfaction, commitment, and intention on the part of the newcomer to remain with the organization (Bauer et al., 2007).

Effective socialization is also critical to the organization in a number of ways. The socialization tactics used by organizations, as well as proactivity on the part of the newcomer, have been associated with important organizational outcomes including job performance and turnover (Bauer et al., 2007; Saks et al., 2007). We are also learning more about how the first few weeks of an individual’s experience with an organization shape newcomer attitudes and behaviors. Good experiences may result in good outcomes, which may lead to additional good experiences. For example, positive interactions with others in the work group, as well as receiving challenging assignments and information about one’s job, foster “learning, confidence, and credibility, thereby paving the way for further growth opportunities and additional learning, confidence, and credibility” (Ashforth, Sluss, & Harrison, 2007, p.2).

Overall, research to date suggests that what organizations and individuals do in the organizational socialization process can make a big difference with respect to a variety of important outcomes including employee satisfaction, commitment, retention, and performance. This handbook will explore more deeply what we know about the socialization process, what current companies do well and might do better, and where we need more research.

Overview of this Handbook

Part One of this handbook (Introduction and Foundations) highlights a chapter by Sue Ashford and Samir Nurmohamed, titled “From Past to Present and Into the Future: A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Socialization Literature.” This chapter is meant to be a fun “jump start” into the socialization literature. The chapter describes the progression of the socialization literature over time, major theoretical perspectives that have been used in socialization research, primary research questions in this area, and necessary next directions. Their hitchhiker’s guide includes fun facts about the socialization literature (such as the most cited socialization article) and ends with a list of “Top Ten Socialization Reads.” (p. 5)

Part Two of the handbook reviews what we know (based on previous literature) and still need to know (future research needs) about the antecedents and outcomes of successful newcomer adjustment. The practices that organizations use to socialize newcomers are reviewed by Saks and Gruman (Chapter 3). These authors conclude that the literature on organizational socialization practices is fragmented and underdeveloped, and introduce a valuable new framework (titled Socialization Resources Theory) to organize 17 resources that organizations should provide to enhance newcomer adjustment. A variety of proactive behaviors used by newcomers as they adapt to a new job are summarized by Cooper-Thomas and Burke in Chapter 4. Their extensive review covers positive and negative consequences of proactive behavior, characteristics of newcomers likely to engage in proactive behavior, patterns of change over time in proactive behavior, and future research needs in this area.

The importance of newcomers’ social networks to the socialization experience is covered by Jokisaari and Nurmi in Chapter 5. Jokisaari and Nurmi make a compelling argument that socialization research has not sufficiently addressed the role of social networks. They propose a framework for examining how newcomer networks have significance for an array of important socialization outcomes including learning, sensemaking, and success in the organization. Finally, Bauer and Erdogan (Chapter 6) provide a comprehensive discussion of socialization outcomes, reviewing research that has shown how effective socialization, as indexed by acceptance by insiders, role clarity, and self-efficacy, is related to a wide array of important outcomes including job attitudes, job performance, and retention. Collectively, the authors contributing to this section put forth several new and stimulating ideas.

Part Three of the handbook addresses issues of person–organizational fit. In Chapter 7, Hurst, Kammeyer-Mueller, and Livingston address issues faced by new employees who are different from their coworkers with respect to three forms of diversity: separation (e.g., differences in opinion), variety (e.g., difference in knowledge), and disparity (e.g., differences in a socially valued asset such as being a member of a majority group). The authors integrate research from a variety of literatures to propose relationships between these forms of diversity and important socialization outcomes, including work group cohesion and newcomer retention. Their proposed model portrays individual (e.g., identity formation, proactivity) and interpersonal (e.g., support, conflict, and exclusion) processes that are likely to mediate diversity/outcome relationships, as well as individual and organizational variables that may act as moderators. The authors of Chapter 8 (van Vianen and DePater) discuss person–organization fit from the perspective of congruence between the newcomer and the organization’s culture. This chapter discusses what we know about changes in person–organization fit during the socialization process, and to what extent changes are due to changes in the person, the workplace, or both. The two chapters in this section provide excellent fodder for future research.

Part Four of the handbook includes two chapters focused on socialization dynamics, methods, and measurement. In Chapter 9, Ashforth makes a compelling argument that researchers need to better integrate the examination of time into socialization work. Within the chapter, a framework for explicating the various ways in which time plays a role in socialization is provided. The chapter is thought provoking, and creates a long list of research opportunities and prescriptions for improving our understanding of how newcomer learning and adjustment unfolds across time. Chapter 10, by Vancouver and Warren, is a valuable “go back to the basics” chapter. The chapter includes discussions of specific methodologies, as well as threats to validity associated with these methodologies. But rather than being a dull treatment of these issues, the chapter stimulates reflection on the limitations that are characteristic in socialization research and ways in which research designs can be improved or triangulated to counter these limitations.

Part Five of the handbook examines socialization “beyond the organizational newcomer.” In Chapter 11, Daniel Feldman explores a myriad of ways in which the socialization process affects veteran (i.e., existing) employees. He argues, for example, that following the arrival of newcomers, current employees may be prompted to evaluate their own levels of career success and external marketability, as well as to contemplate whether their current employer has treated them fairly. Newcomers can also influence current employees’ global views of the organization as well as the organization’s values and priorities. Feldman describes how newcomers can influence current employees’ receptivity to change and work group conflict levels, for the good or bad. In conclusion, he suggests that “understanding the impact of socialization on insiders is the next frontier for socialization research.”

In Chapter 12, Toh, DeNisi, and Leonardelli address the socialization experience of employees (p. 6) who are assigned to do work for their companies overseas (expatriates). These authors pay particular attention to the role of host country nationals in facilitating the adjustment of expatriates to their new work environments. Their detailed review provides several excellent suggestions for facilitating expatriate socialization through paying more attention to the role of host country nationals, and delineates several opportunities for research in this area. Keith Rollag (Chapter 13) provides a fresh and new extension of socialization theory to the sphere of new customers. He argues that although several trends have amplified the extent to which companies must socialize newcomers, most organizations pay little attention to customer socialization. Rollag outlines several issues relevant to customer socialization, ranging from the layout of products, how signs and counters are used, and whether customers should be socialized as a group or individually. Finally, he provides case examples of how new customer socialization occurs in four companies, and suggests several directions for research in this area.

Part Six of the handbook, “Socialization in Practice,” begins with a chapter by Howard Klein and Beth Polin. This chapter summarizes what we know, from an academic standpoint, about practices that (a) inform, (b) welcome, and (c) guide new hires. The authors then discuss the practitioner literature, identifying seven prevalent recommendations for best practices in socialization in this literature. Because these literatures do not sufficiently inform us about what practices companies are currently using to socialize employees, the authors also provide the results of a survey of 482 human resource professionals about their companies’ socialization practices. The authors illustrate gaps in the academic literature and between what we know from research findings and what is recommended in the practice-based literature.

In Chapter 15, Stacy Doepner-Hove provides a clear and interesting account of the development of an onboarding program for the University of Minnesota. Her chapter begins with a committee’s conclusion that the university’s socialization practices were not up to par, and describes the creative and comprehensive recommendations and steps that were taken to develop an onboarding program at the university. The chapter is a valuable read for someone who must create an onboarding program, or for students wanting insight into one organization’s approach to creating such a program. Chapter 16, by Jay Conger, discusses the socialization of individuals moving into higher level jobs within the same organization. This chapter notes that organizations tend to overlook the importance of socializing promoted individuals into their new roles. Two in-depth case studies are provided as examples of how organizations can use socialization programs for newly promoted individuals as a means of preempting leadership failures.

Chapters 17 and 18 are written by practitioners that consult with organizations to improve their onboarding practices. Chapter 17 is written by George Bradt, Managing Director of Prime Genesis, an executive onboarding and transition acceleration group. George is also author of The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan (2009) and Onboarding: How to Get Your New Employees Up to Speed in Half the Time (2009). In this chapter, George points out mistakes that he has seen companies make with respect to socializing new employees, and stresses the need for hiring managers to take a proactive approach to new employee socialization. Bradt provides several suggestions for hiring managers to help new employees adjust, such as introducing new employees to important stakeholders (up, across, down; internal, external; cross-function, cross-region; etc.). Chapter 18 is authored by Dixon, Sontag, and Vappie of Menttium Corporation, a consulting group that provides cross-company and internal mentoring programs. This chapter describes what mentoring programs can contribute to the socialization experience of new employees and delineates how Menttium structures mentoring programs for newcomers.

Finally, Part Seven of this handbook includes a closing chapter by me and a colleague, Yongjun Choi. We provide a summary of necessary next directions for this field of research and also delineate general recommendations to researchers doing work in this area. Enjoy the handbook and good luck with your research and practice of employee socialization and onboarding!


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Skrzypinski, C. (2011, April 13). SHRM study: Most organizations provide orientation to new hires. Retrieved from