Candidate Experience

How to create (and build) the ultimate employee onboarding checklist

February 15, 2019

How to create (and build) the ultimate employee onboarding checklist

11 min read

Most people by now are aware that the employee onboarding process is perhaps the most crucial step in when hiring a new candidate. This is where you can either make or break your new hire’s experience with your company and their future productivity and loyalty to your team. Onboarding new employees is something that most companies want to get right and with good reason. And in order to make sure they get it right, recruiters and hiring managers often rely on detailed onboarding checklists that can be easily reused for each new hire.

Static onboarding lists are a great approach if every employee you hire is exactly the same. On the one hand, they help ensure that you cover all critical onboarding activities. But on the other hand, recruiters and hiring managers should be aware that all new hires are different, and the employee onboarding checklist you use should be flexible enough to adapt to each new candidate that comes through your door.

With that fact in mind, let’s take a look at how you can create the ultimate – but also flexible – new hire onboarding list for your candidates.

What is employee onboarding and why is it important?

Before we dive into what constitutes the “ultimate” onboarding checklist, let’s have a quick recap of what employee onboarding is, and why it’s important.

In a nutshell, employee onboarding is the “initial process of assimilating new hires into an organization.” This can involve anything from filling out all of the necessary paperwork required to work at your company, to customized training plans to social activities with the team. The employee onboarding process starts before your new hire walks through the door for their first day and continues until they’re a fully independent member of your team.

Onboarding new employees is important for multiple reasons. It helps make new employees feel welcome, increases your retention rates, improves performance, and contributes to long-lasting employee loyalty. Take a look at some of these onboarding and retention stats to see for yourself:

  • Onboarding new employees increases employee retention by 25%.
  • A good employee onboarding process improves employee performance by 11%.
  • Employees with proper onboarding are 69% more likely to stay with that organization for longer than 3 years.
  • 15% of employees said no effective onboarding program was a factor in them leaving.

These stats speak for themselves – an effective employee onboarding process is incredibly important to the success of your company. Luckily, by understanding how it works and creating a detailed and flexible onboarding schedule to guide your process, you can reap the benefits that come with happy and engaged new hires.

Building the ultimate onboarding checklist

When creating your employee onboarding list and process, it’s important to keep a few things in mind.

  1. Employee onboarding is not just a one-day activity.
  2. Always adapt and evolve your employee onboarding process as needed.
  3. Look beyond your onboarding list for opportunities to improve.
  4. Think of onboarding new employees as a precursor to performance management.
  5. Listen to your employees – let them tell you what works and what doesn’t.

In other words, always be aware that your employee onboarding process can (and will!) evolve over time. It’s part of a larger recruitment process with the end goal of getting the absolute most out of individual employees and the team as a whole.

With that being said, let’s take a look at what goes into the ultimate new hire onboarding schedule.  Onboarding processes are often broken into the following phases (feel free to adapt as you see fit):

  • Phase 1: After you say “you’re hired!”
  • Phase 2: Before the first day
  • Phase 3: First day
  • Phase 4: First week
  • Phase 5: First month
  • Phase 6: First three to six months
  • Phase 7: First year

As you can see already, employee onboarding can take a bit of time!

Phase 1: After you say “you’re hired”

The moment you call your candidate and tell them the exciting news that you’d like to hire them for the job, you have begun the onboarding process. You should do everything in your power to make sure the candidate knows that your team is excited for them to join. This is a time for celebration, so have some fun with it!

Here are some ideas to add to Phase 1 of your employee onboarding list:

  • Call the candidate and tell them “You’re hired!”
  • Gather the team and create a welcome video.
  • Send them a welcome gift or a piece of company swag.

Phase 1 is all about making sure your candidate is happy to say yes to your job offer and get them excited to meet the team behind the hilarious welcome video.

Phase 2: Before the first day

Once your candidate has been thoroughly welcomed, you can now focus on preparing for their first day on the job. This phase really lends itself to an onboarding list because it’s predominantly a laundry list of to-do items (with some fun in it too).

Let’s get some of the more boring – but important – items onto your onboarding list. These can include:

  • Assembling and preparing all relevant paperwork (payroll forms, benefits, etc.).
  • Preparing their work station (why not throw in some welcome signs and decorations).
  • Gathering all of the tools the new hire will need.
  • Creating all the required accounts (email, payroll, travel, expenses, etc.).
  • Draft a list of required readings and meetings for orientation.
  • Make a first-day schedule.

It’s important that you don’t go MIA (Missing In Action) on your candidate during Phase 2 of the onboarding list. Make sure you keep the lines of communication open and notify the new hire of what they can expect on day one.

Some fun items that you can add to your employee onboarding schedule that will help keep this “in between period” as engaging as possible include:

  • Send daily or weekly “teasers” about what the employee can expect on day one (make this fun, but don’t freak them out).
  • Encourage your hiring managers to send over previews of exciting work they’ll be a part of.
  • Tell them where they’re going for lunch on the first day.
  • Anything else you can think of. Be creative!

Once you’ve thoroughly prepared for the arrival of your new hire, you’ll be ready to go for Phase 3.

Phase 3: First day

First days are all about welcoming your employee to the team, showing them around the office, introducing them to everyone, and getting them started on the right foot. There are many tried and test first day rituals and you should look to create your own traditions that are in line with your culture.

Here are some onboarding checklist ideas for your new hire’s first day on the job:

  • Meet and welcome the new hire to the team.
  • Show them around the office (their work station, the kitchen, the washrooms, etc.).
  • Help them log in to the system and their emails.
  • Have them sign any required new hire documents.
  • Introduce them to their new team members.
  • Create any access badges or parking passes that they’ll need.
  • Provide an orientation or an overview of the company culture and values.
  • Review the first week’s schedule (required meetings, training sessions, etc.).
  • Assign training and orientation materials.
  • Take them out for lunch with members of their immediate team.
  • Assign a mentor or a buddy to help with their first week.

The first day should be fun and welcoming, but also cover all of the necessary items required to get the new hire up and running as soon as possible. You don’t want to overwhelm your new hire, but you do want them to feel informed and prepared for their new role.

Phase 4: First week

After the excitement of the first day has died down, the new hire can begin to get their feet wet with some real work or by simply completing the orientation tasks that you assigned to them in Phase 3. The goal for the remaining phases of the employee onboarding process will be to transition your new hire into being a full and productive member of your team.

Here are some new employee onboarding items you should consider for Phase 4:

  • Assign your new hire their first project.
  • Explain expectations and projects for the coming months.
  • Communicate opportunities for “quick wins” to help build confidence.
  • Set professional development and job goals for the coming months.
  • Meet with the new hire daily to ensure everything is going well, equipment is working properly, and that they are feeling supported.
  • Encourage the new hire to socialize with their new team members.
  • Hold the first week debrief to discuss how things are going.

As always, it’s important to keep the lines of communication open and honest with your new hires. This is particularly important in the first week of employment. It doesn’t take long for a new hire to start feeling disillusioned or lost, so you’ll want to make sure that you’re providing all of the necessary support.

This is also the phase that a rigid onboarding routine can start to break down. As we’ve mentioned, all employees are different, so you have to make the effort to adapt and evolve your employee onboarding process to account for those differences. If you’re following your onboarding list and everything’s going well, then great! But don’t be afraid to think outside of the box and evolve your process.

Phase 5: First month

By Phase 5, your new hire should be starting to come into their own and be getting involved with important company projects. They likely won’t be a fully productive member of your team just yet, but the good news is that you’re entering the bridge period between “newbie” and “superstar”. Encourage your new hire to continue learning, developing and asking questions.

During Phase 5, you should expect to cover the following items on your employee onboarding checklist:

  • Continue to provide (and receive) regular feedback.
  • Discuss what has worked during onboarding and what work still needs to be done to ensure the best development possible.
  • Review any assignment completed during the first month and explain learning opportunities.
  • Assign increasingly important and challenging assignments to test your new hire’s abilities.
  • Ensure the new hire is on schedule with the training schedule you assigned them.
  • Make sure the employee’s payroll and benefits are working properly (address the issue if they are not).

You likely won’t have enough of a sample pool just yet to provide a full performance review of your employee, but there should be signs that your new hire is coming into their own. Encourage them to keep going and provide support along the way.

Phase 6: First three to six months

Your onboarding checklist in Phase 6 will be largely based on your company policy around probationary periods and performance reviews. By this phase, your employee will likely be quite comfortable in their new role and regularly contributing to projects and team success. There is still a need for regular coaching, so keep holding regular check-ins and review meetings.  

Some items to put on your onboarding list for Phase 6 include:

  • Hold an informal or formal performance review, depending on company policy.
  • Review the assignments they have completed.
  • Continue to give and receive feedback on individual and team performance.
  • Set goals and objectives for the second half of the year.
  • Discuss and arrange the end of the probationary period, if applicable.
  • Continue to assign increasingly important and challenging projects.

Phase 7: First year

By the end of their first year with your company, employees should be fully productive members of your team. Phase 7 is something of an informal transition from onboarding to general performance management. At this phase, your employee will be able to provide valuable, retrospective insight into your onboarding process and provide feedback into how you can evolve and improve it for future hires.

As the employee moves into their second year, your onboarding checklist will begin to look a bit repetitive and, in reality, evolve into a list of best practice activities for performance management.

Items at Phase 7 of your onboarding checklist will likely include the following:

  • A yearly performance review (ideally on the heels of many smaller performance reviews along the way).
  • Recognition for completing their first year at the company.
  • A discussion of goals, projects, and plans for the next year.
  • A meeting about professional development plans and future movement within the company.
  • A talk about compensation and raises if warranted.

As said at the start of this article, employee onboarding is critical to the success of your team and your company- make sure you don’t forget it. There is no “one onboarding routine fits all” approach to this process. It’s something that should be grown and evolved over time and adapted based on the needs of each individual employee.

It may seem like a lot of work, but having a team of fully engaged, productive and happy employees will be well worth the effort when it comes time to look at your company’s yearly revenue numbers.

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Brendan is an experienced writer and content marketing professional with experience working for various HR tech and SaaS companies in Canada. He has an extensive background in web content marketing and journalism.
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