The experience for new employees at the Internal Revenue Service is not always positive, even though the IRS has taken steps to improve the onboarding process, according to a new report.

The report, by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, came in response to a request from the IRS for a review of its year-long “onboarding process.” TIGTA’s overall objective was to determine whether the IRS’s onboarding program was appropriately integrating new employees for positions in mission-critical occupations into their workforce to become productive employees as quickly as possible.

While the IRS has taken steps to make the new employee experience positive, managers whom TIGTA interviewed were not following best practices identified in the comprehensive guidance the IRS developed for them. As a result, some best practices that would help new employees feel welcome and help them become more productive were not fully implemented. For example, one-quarter of the new employees TIGTA contacted were not assigned a coach or mentor when they arrived, and approximately 29 percent stated that the onboarding experience did not accelerate their ability to reach full productivity.

“One of the major challenges facing the IRS involves the recruitment and replacement of skilled workers,” said TIGTA Inspector General J. Russell George in a statement. “Improvements to the onboarding process would reduce the substantial cost of replacing employees who leave the IRS and would help the IRS meet its mission by ensuring employees quickly become productive.”
The IRS would like new employees to have a consistently positive experience during their first year with the agency. To help managers make this a reality, the IRS developed guidance (a toolkit and Web site) that incorporates industry best practices for effectively integrating new employees into the IRS.

To improve the onboarding process, the IRS must obtain feedback from new employees, TIGTA noted. While the IRS and the Treasury Department use questionnaires to obtain input from new employees, these questionnaires do not address a new employee’s entire first year, and existing measures would not help the IRS identify specific areas of concern. In addition, the IRS does not have a documented onboarding strategy that would help it tie together actions being taken to study and improve the new employee experience.

TIGTA recommended that the IRS human capital officer develop an agencywide onboarding strategy with components that include a checklist to be completed by managers with step-by-step guidance that should be completed during the onboarding process. The strategy should include the establishment of a process to collect feedback from managers on how the onboarding process could be improved, and additional measures and analyses to evaluate the onboarding process.

IRS management agreed with the recommendation and responded that efforts are underway to convene an IRS team to develop a corporate IRS onboarding strategy.

However, the IRS took issue with some of the report’s findings and pointed to the small sample size of employees interviewed by TIGTA. “The IRS does not agree that conclusions can be drawn from a very small sample size of 15 managers,” wrote IRS human capital officer David Krieg in response to the report. “In the report, TIGTA acknowledges the sample size is too small to make significant conclusions yet claims that managers are not following best practices identified in the comprehensive guidance, and that they have varying degrees of knowledge about the onboarding process and the resources available to them. Also, the methodology in the draft report states that the judgment sample is non-statistical and therefore not representative of the population of managers. Despite this, the feedback gathered from managers is directly compared to survey statistics including negative employee response to the onboarding experience and employees lacking coaching. While the [Human Capital Office] agrees that the onboarding program could be bolstered by additional support to managers and an increase in management feedback, we believe the report should not suggest or link assumptions to the interviews of such a small sample of more than 9,000 managers.”