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Employee onboarding guide: Definition, importance, best practices and checklist

So you’ve spent hours searching for, interviewing, and negotiating with your ideal candidate for that vacant position at your company. The offer letter is signed, their first day is scheduled: nothing to do now except kick back and revel in your recruitment success, right?

Wrong.

If you think like that, then you’re ignoring perhaps the most important phase in the entire recruitment process – employee onboarding.

What is employee onboarding?

Employee onboarding is a program that all new hires are put through when they join a company to teach them about the team, culture, and their responsibilities.

It’s more than a simple orientation that says “here’s your desk, get to work.” Employee orientation or onboarding is just as much about training as it is about showing new hires the benefits of working for your organization. It involves making them feel welcome, fully informed about the company, integrated into their team, and empowered to start contributing.

For recruiters, employee onboarding can be thought of as ensuring your promises from the interview phase are kept. You want to follow up your exciting sales pitch with an onboarding experience that meets the hype. Falling short here can leave the new employee questioning whether they made the right decision, and might even lead to their early departure from the company.

Why is employee onboarding important?

Having a clear and engaging employee onboarding process is the most effective way to ensure that a new hire doesn’t turn into a former employee one or two months down the road. It’s critical to employee satisfaction, retention, engagement and, above all, their performance, and value to your company.

If you don’t believe me, let’s take a looks at some facts about employee orientation pulled together by The Undercover Recruiter.

  • 91% of onboarded employees feel connected to their new companies.
  • 89% of employees feel strong integrations into their teams.
  • Employees are 14 times more likely to have strong role clarity in their new positions.
  • Job satisfaction for onboarded employees is 30 times higher than those who were not onboarded.

As a result, onboarded employees are 18 times more likely to be committed to their company long term.

The bottom line is that companies who invest the time in employee onboarding see deeper bonds between co-workers, increased engagement and stronger cultures. New hires also get up to speed quicker and can start contributing sooner. All of these benefits combined result in drastic improvements to a company’s success.

Employee onboarding best practices

There are a number of tried and tested employee orientation best practices that you can use to plan your own process. But, you should also take a look at what makes your organization unique – and what makes the specific candidate and role unique – and tailor individual onboarding plans to meet specific needs. Don’t assume that all employees will respond to their onboarding process the same way.

You can start the onboarding process during the recruitment stage by sharing information about your company’s vision and goals for the future. That way, candidates are engaged with your organization from the very beginning. It also helps if you can give them an idea of what your company culture is like, from understanding what type of leadership they can expect from the line managers/supervisors, what the work ethic is like, what a typical day looks like, the norms of working there (flexible hours, remote working, traveling for conferences, etc.) Paint a picture of your organization, so that prospective employees know what they’re walking into.

In the same way, you can also extend the candidate experience beyond the job offer. You can do this by delivering on expectations that were set during the recruiting stage. For example, if you promised an international candidate that you’d help them with their relocation and visa paperwork, deliver on that promise and provide them with all the information they need to make the transition as smooth as possible from candidate to employee. Not only does this reflect well on you as a recruiter, but you also set up your new employee for success and satisfaction at your organization, which is the ultimate goal.

With that being said, here are some common new hire onboarding best practices for you to consider.

1. Stay in touch with your employee before their first day

It’s good practice to keep the lines of communication open with your new hire before their start date. This will allow you to give them details like where to park, public transportation options, dress codes, lunch plans, and what they can expect on their first day.

This will ensure that your new hire knows you’re on top of their onboarding process and will allow them to prepare for their first day at your company.

2. Develop a general checklist of onboarding essentials

While the employee onboarding plan will obviously vary depending on the role you’ve hired for, there are some things that every new hire has to complete, regardless of position.

These include administrative tasks like filling out payroll and benefits forms, getting computers and tech devices set up, programming badges and passes, and so on.

Make a detailed checklist of these administrative onboarding activities so that they are completed during the new hire’s first week.

3. Make their first day as enjoyable as possible

First impressions matter as much for your organization as they do for the new hire, so you should make sure you’re putting your company’s best foot forward. There are many ways to do this, including:

  • Setting up their workspace with their computer, company swag, a welcome sign, and some creative decorations.
  • Bringing them around to meet their team members, explaining what everyone’s roles are and where the new hire fits in.
  • Planning a fun team lunch to make the new hire feel like a real part of the team.
  • Showing a presentation or video about the company’s culture, values, and vision. This will help the new hire understand what type of organization they’ve joined and how they fit.
  • Any other fun and creative activity you can think of to make the new hire’s first day an amazing one.

4. Plan an on-the-job training program with short term goals

While having fun with their new team members is obviously important, most new hires will want to start making an impact as quickly as possible.

To help them get there, develop a detailed on-the-job training program as part of their employee onboarding. Get them working on tasks they’ll be expected to complete while offering support and guidance where needed. Throw in some small projects and short term goals due in their first month to get them contributing to the team right out of the gate.

5. Continue onboarding even after their first week or month on the job

Employee onboarding is all about developing and engaging your new hires until they’re a high performing member of your team and culture. It’s not necessarily a one week or one month exercise, and it shouldn’t be scheduled with rigid timelines like one.

You should be continually working with your new hires to understand how they’re doing, how they’re enjoying their new job and the team, whether they have any concerns, and so on.

Evolving your employee onboarding from a welcoming ceremony into a development program and then into a talent management and retention exercise will help you accomplish your initial goal of finding the absolute perfect fit for your organization.

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 tested 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.

Conclusion

In a candidate-driven market, it’s now more important than ever to emphasize the candidate experience during onboarding, as it could be a competitive differentiator.

The best talent will always attract your competitors and innovative start-ups, as such, creating a candidate experience where your employees feel valued and geared for success could be the deciding factor for them to stay with you, instead of being poached. As the old saying goes, first impressions count for everything, so make sure you make the right one!

A positive onboarding is also likely to encourage your current employees to refer more candidates your way, helping you to boost your existing talent pipeline. Not to mention word of mouth marketing from your new/current hires, which also attracts the attention of even more candidates your way.

It’s simple maths: the greater the experience you can provide during your employee onboarding, the higher the chance of you being able to attract more high-quality candidates to your company faster. It’s a win-win for both you and your new employees.

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