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The Complete Guide to Employee Onboarding

In Hiring Strategy — by Dave Anderson

Whether or not you’ve ever gone through a formal onboarding process, you’re probably familiar with all the questions that come with a new job. Day one brings equal parts excitement and uncertainty. You walk into the workplace full of questions like: Where do I go? What should I work on first? How do I get paid? What’s that person’s name and what do they do?

An effective onboarding program answers all the questions floating around the new hire’s mind, as well as the numerous ones they haven’t considered. The process helps them get assimilated to your workplace, policies, operational procedures, and culture. There is also a personalized, role-specific component where they learn how their position fits in with the department and broader organization. An onboarding experience provides the new hire with every little tidbit of information they need to know.

But it’s not limited to an orientation presentation and new hire paperwork. Onboarding is also a great way to provide a warm welcome to your newest team member. You put their mind at ease and help them overcome the social anxiety of being the new person in the workplace. The goal is for them to come back on day two, and each successive day, with less uncertainty and more excitement.

To recap, here are the high-level goals of new hire onboarding:

  • Complete all required action items for bringing a new hire onto the staff.
  • Provide answers to the common questions new hires have when they join your organization.
  • Brief the new hire on how their role supports their team and the wider organization.
  • Welcome the new hire and help them feel comfortable.

As you’ll learn, there is a lot that goes into accomplishing these four goals. This blog post will teach you everything you need to know to implement a successful onboarding program. You’ll come away understanding why it’s a must for growing organizations and everything the process should include.

Why is employee onboarding important?

It’s easy to see why your new hires appreciate you answering their questions and making them feel welcome. But what benefits does onboarding bring to you, the employer?

  • Increases productivity – Crossing off everything on the onboarding checklist frees the new hire to get right to work without any lingering questions or worries on their mind. 
  • Boosts collaboration – Good ideas come when people start talking. Fostering relationships between new hires and their colleagues promotes a collaborative work environment.
  • Enhances your culture – Culture is too often a series of vague organizational values listed in the employee handbook. Onboarding provides the opportunity to showcase your culture firsthand to everyone who joins your staff. 
  • Reduces new hire turnover – In some cases, a new hire will resign before they even start. Kicking off onboarding immediately after they sign their offer letter goes a long way in keeping them committed.   

Above all else, onboarding is the right thing to do. Instead of leaving the new hire on their own to figure everything out, you’re there to support them, put their mind at ease, and show you’re happy they joined your team. Quite simply, onboarding is a win-win for both your organization and its newest addition. 

Preboarding: Get a jump on new hire onboarding

We typically think of onboarding as an activity that starts on the employee’s first day. Instead of getting to work, they spend most of week one in employee orientation and completing new hire paperwork.

However, let’s revisit the “reduces new hire turnover” point in the previous section. In today’s competitive hiring market, there is a high risk of new hires resigning in the period between accepting an offer and their first day. So much can happen during that time you’re completely unaware of. The new hire can second-guess their decision and decide to stick with their current job and the familiarity it offers. They can also use your offer to demand a raise from their current employer or higher compensation from another company they’re interviewing with. 

A little communication from your end during the quiet stretch goes a long way in reaffirming the new hire’s commitment to your organization—and lessens the load of onboarding activities when they finally come into the workplace. This process is known as preboarding and consists of completing some easy onboarding tasks prior to the employee’s start date. 

For example, you can email them a PDF of the employee handbook and their benefits enrollment paperwork. But even more than that, you can reassure them you’re excited they’re joining the team and eagerly awaiting their arrival. This can be as simple as checking in a few days prior to their start, letting them know you have their workspace set up and asking if they have any questions. We’ll cover preboarding steps in-depth in a later section. In the meantime, check out our other resources on the topic:

How long should an onboarding program last?

Now that you know when onboarding should start, let’s talk about when it should conclude. Some people say it ends when the employee exits the organization because they’re always learning and growing. Others have a more practical viewpoint, believing onboard is finished once all new hire activities are completed and the employee has settled into a daily routine.

The ideal duration of onboarding is up to you and your organizational leadership team. However, we generally recommend circling back with a new hire after they’ve been on the job for a few months. By that point, they’ll have a solid grasp of what their role entails and you’ll be able to accurately gauge their performance. They can sit down with their manager and have a candid conversation about their experience to that point. 

If your organization has a probationary period for new hires, coinciding it to end with onboarding makes perfect sense. 

Onboarding steps: From offer acceptance onward

So far, we’ve covered why onboarding matters and when it should start and end. Now let’s get into the nitty-gritty and go through the action items your onboarding program should include, when they need to be complete, and who in your organization is responsible for each one. 

Stage 1: After the candidate verbal accepts the job offer

The first stage consists of only preboarding activities, as the new hire hasn’t officially joined your staff yet. It ends the recruiting process for the position and kicks off the employee-employer relationship.

  • Notify HR of the hiring decision.
    Responsibility: Employee’s Manager/Recruiter
  • Secure a signed offer letter from the new hire and agree on a start date. Return a copy signed by the CEO/Owner (or correct leadership team member) back to the new hire for their records.
  • Responsibility: Employee’s Manager/Recruiter and CEO/Owner (signature)
  • Send a document explaining terms of employment (compensation, probationary period, etc.). Co-sign with the new hire and return a copy to them.
    Responsibility: Human Resources and CEO/Owner (signature)

Stage 2: One or two weeks prior to the employee’s start date

All hiring activities have now concluded and you can move forward with other preboarding tasks. At this point, there is still time before the employee’s start date but you’re staying in touch and crossing off easy-to-complete onboarding action items.

  • Email the new hire a PDF of the employee handbook and an acknowledgment form. Request they read the entire document and sign and return the form confirming they understand organizational policies.
    Responsibility: Human Resources
  • Send payroll, direct deposit, and tax-withholding forms. Request the new hire return completed/signed forms with required supporting documentation (e.g. photocopies of government-issued ID and Social Security card).
    Responsibility: Human Resources
  • Send benefit enrollment forms (e.g. insurance and retirement savings). Request they return completed/signed forms.
  • Responsibility: Human Resources

Note on this stage: Completing new hire paperwork before the employee’s first day makes the onboarding process more efficient. It reduces the amount of busywork they’ll have when they arrive in the office and gives HR time to add them to employee systems before they’re officially on staff. 

However, this paperwork can be complicated and needs to be completed correctly. Reassure the new hire that they shouldn’t hesitate to reach out with questions. Additionally, some people might feel uncomfortable sending sensitive information like their Social Security number over the internet. If the new hire raises those concerns, be open to them physically delivering their paperwork on day one.

Stage 3: One week prior to the employee’s start date

The employee’s first day is rapidly approaching and the final preboarding activities will now be completed. Most of the points in this step involve preparing for the new hire’s arrival in the workplace and touching base to let them know everyone is excited for the big day. 

  • Set up the new hire’s workspace. Consider taking a photo of the area and emailing it to them to show you’re preparing for their arrival.
    Responsibility: Employee’s Manager/Office Manager
  • Set up the new hire’s computer and install required software. Create an email account and other necessary logins. 
    Responsibility: IT
  • Consider emailing the new hire to ask if they have any software or equipment requests (depending on the role).
    Responsibility:  IT/Employee’s Manager
  • Email the new hire their expected schedule for their first day. Share the proper arrival time and instructions on how to enter the workplace.
    Responsibility: Employee’s Manager/Human Resources
  • Order business cards, uniforms, a nameplate, and any other personalized employee materials.
    Responsibility: Office Manager

Stage 4: Employee’s first day

It’s finally here, the employee’s first official day with your organization. As you can see, there are a lot of onboarding steps to cover in a single workday. Thanks to preboarding, you’re already deep into the onboarding process, decreasing the likelihood action items spill over into day two or three.

  • Send an organization-wide email announcing the addition of the new employee and publicly welcoming them to the team.
    Responsibility: Employee’s Manager
  • Designate someone to meet the new hire when they arrive so they’re not left wondering where to go.
    Responsibility: Employee’s Manager/Human Resources
  • Give the new hire a tour of the workplace and explain health and safety procedures.
    Responsibility: Office Manager/Human Resources/New Hire’s Manager
  • Introduce the new hire to their immediate team members, organizational leaders, and anyone else they cross paths with during their tour.
    Responsibility: Office Manager/Human Resources/New Hire’s Manager
  • Have an orientation meeting with the new hire. Share the org chart, overview of organizational values, and recap the important policies outlined in the employee handbook.
    Responsibility: Human Resources 
  • Show the employee their workspace and equipment. Train them on software best practices and brief them on the technology/equipment policy.
  • Responsibility: IT
  • Walk the new hire through their team’s long-term objectives, each colleague’s role, and how their position fits in. Outline their role responsibilities and define metrics/goals that will be used to measure their performance.
    Responsibility: Employee’s Manager
  • Enroll the new hire in any required training programs.
    Responsibility: Employee’s Manager/Human Resources
  • Add the employee to recurring meetings. Also, schedule recap meetings for the end of their first week, month, and three months on the job.
    Responsibility: Employee’s Manager
  • Take the new hire to lunch with their immediate team or have an informal get-together for everyone. The goal here is to help them get to know the people they’ll work with in a casual setting.
    Responsibility: Employee’s Manager

Stage 5: End of the employee’s first week

At this point, most of the one-off onboarding tasks have been squared away. The employee is on payroll, familiar with how the organization operates, and has rolled up their sleeves and got to work. Now you’re making sure they feel good about everything and have started off on the right foot.

  • Meet with the new hire and ask for their thoughts/feedback on week one. Ensure they understand their role responsibilities and are working on relevant, high-priority tasks.
    Responsibility: Employee’s Manager
  • Share their week two work schedule and typical daily tasks going forward.
    Responsibility: Employee’s Manager
  • Ensure they’ve completed all new hire paperwork and have the tools needed to be productive.
    Responsibility: Human Resources/IT

Stage 6: End of the employee’s first month

Onboarding is nearly finished at this point. The employee should be settled into a daily routine and over any new job butterflies. The goal now is to make sure they’re delivering the outcomes you expected when you hired them.  

  • Meet with the new hire and ask for their thoughts/feedback on their first few weeks.
    Responsibility: Employee’s Manager
  • Request feedback from the employee’s immediate colleagues or anyone they’ve worked closely with to that point.
    Responsibility: Employee’s Manager
  • Talk about the work they’ve delivered so far and give them some initial feedback. Discuss their performance metrics, if there is enough data to go off of.
    Responsibility: Employee’s Manager
  • Conclude any training program they’ve participated in and enroll them in an advanced course, if necessary.
    Responsibility: Employee’s Manager/Human Resources

Stage 7: End of the employee’s first three months 

This final stage of the onboarding process is recommended but not required. After a few months, the honeymoon phase is over and the new hire has a realistic sense for the job, making one final check-in meeting ideal.

  • Meet with the new hire and ask if they understand and feel comfortable with everything the job entails.
    Responsibility: Employee’s Manager
  • Ask what projects or initiatives they believe will help the team meet its goals. Now that they’re familiar with your organization, they should start to contribute ideas.
    Responsibility: Employee’s Manager
  • Once again, provide the new hire with initial feedback. However, the manager and employee should have regularly scheduled 1-on-1 meetings by this point.
    Responsibility: Employee’s Manager
  • Ask them to complete a new hire engagement survey. Find out where your organization excels and where it can do better when it comes to onboarding.
    Responsibility: Human Resources
  • Inform the new hire that onboarding is complete.
    Responsibility: Human Resources

Note on the stage: If your company imposes a probationary period for new hires, consider aligning it to end with the final onboarding stage. 

Onboarding is complete!

While this list might seem excessive at first glance, most of these action items apply to any organization bringing on a new employee. By systematically completing all these activities in a reasonable time frame, new employees won’t have any lingering questions as they settle into their job.

Hopefully, you found this list helpful! If you need an easily accessible version, download it as a PDF!

Additional onboarding resources:

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