The Ultimate Guide to Successful New Employee Onboarding: Best Practices to Welcome Your New Hires

What is employee onboarding? The employee onboarding process—sometimes referred to as company onboarding—is the practice of welcoming and integrating new hires within an organization. While every company will apply their own method of onboarding, the style of which often derives from company culture and values, effective onboarding aims to ensure that new employees are equipped with the right tools, knowledge and corporate insights in order to adjust and perform well in their new role, usually spread throughout the first year of employment.

Employee Training and Onboarding: Same Thing?

While it is true that new employee training can occur during the onboarding process and work hand-in-hand, training and onboarding are not the same thing. Training covers the knowledge required to complete the technical aspects of a role—such as how to use a certain software, or operate equipment needed to perform tasks—while onboarding covers employee integration within a company outside of the job itself, touching everything from corporate culture to team bonding. All in all, onboarding nurtures the feeling of belonging as part of something. 

What Are the Benefits of Employee Onboarding?

Overall, employee onboarding benefits an organization’s employees, projects, employer brand image and profitability.

More and more, we’ve been reading on the importance of cultivating company culture. One of the first and most critical introductions to an organization’s vision, corporate values and culture is through the onboarding process. It is always suggested to make first impressions count, and this is why—the earliest stages of onboarding set up a new employee on the right foot, ensuring they can reach their maximized potential as early and seamlessly as possible, while also fostering engagement towards the organization and their peers. While there is a learning curve to bear in mind for any new employee, a strong onboarding program will help smooth out this curve—especially in the first months, which are critical. Studies have shown that up to 17% of employees leave within their first three months of employment, and up to 30% leave within their first six months. Oftentimes, poor or ineffective onboarding is cited as the most common reason for early departure from a job. 

The bottom line is that all employees are human, and no human wants to feel like just a number or an afterthought. Employees who feel most connected to their place of work have higher employee engagement towards their job. Based on findings by Gallup, highly engaged teams show 21% greater profitability. Less absenteeism and lower turnover rates means better ROI for every dollar invested in training new hires—directly benefiting any company’s bottom-line. This fact alone should be enough for any business to feel that onboarding is a worthwhile investment in both time and money.

Who Is Involved in Employee Onboarding?

Most tend to have the reflex to direct new employee onboarding responsibilities strictly to HR managers. However, effective onboarding demands team effort from multiple company players:. 

HR managers, project managers and team leaders should work together in order to co-build a comprehensive onboarding program to welcome the new hire, ensuring that clear steps are laid out for them. 

Peers, especially ones part of the main team the new employee will be joining, should be invited to help make the newcomer feel welcomed and supported—often, a buddy system further addresses this. 

The IT department will have to plan ordering and setting up the right equipment or software in preparation for the new hire’s arrival. 

In some cases, directors and department leaders will also take the time to arrange for a meet-and-greet or one-on-one lunch, helping create a supportive environment and good first impression. 

This approach is applicable to new employee onboarding or onboarding existing employees in new roles—what is often referred to as cross-boarding

While onboarding may seem second nature to HR heads, this may not always be the case for some managers. Ceridian recommends giving periodic refresher courses for managers so that they can be involved and leveraged in the onboarding process.

What Are the Key Elements Involved in Employee Onboarding?

While each organization applies its own onboarding process, there are key elements that are important to consider when building an onboarding program or onboarding plan:

  • Onboarding Timeline: Outlining the different cycles or stages of an employee’s onboarding journey, an onboarding timeline provides a structured guideline as to which best practices to apply and when. This tends to consider key stages including pre-boarding, the first day, the first months, and the first year.
  • Key Milestones: As with any good business plan, every action should meet an objective and every objective should be time-bound. Key milestones should be identified within the employee onboarding program to ensure that the onboarding tactics are effective to the new employee’s integration and that performance can be appropriately measured.
  • Right Templates: Organizations, big or small, should aim for cohesiveness in tools and communications—this usually starts with owning the right templates and/or processes to use company-wide. Solid but flexible templates to leverage when building onboarding programs for new hires will ensure efficiency, save time and track the many elements progressing throughout the onboarding process all the while leaving room for personalization. Smartsheet currently offers several different free templates to help start you off. Trello also provides a great platform to help track those milestones in a dynamic way. 
  • Complementary Documents: Similarly to using prepared templates to help build a strong and effective onboarding program, a well-prepared package of documents—such as corporate guidelines and an employee handbook— will round out the onboarding process and help enhance the new employee’s integration even further. 
  • Good Planning: Creating an immersive and engaging onboarding experience is a team effort, requiring for HR managers, team leaders and peers to work together in ensuring the onboarding process is well supported. It takes a lot of work to put together an effective onboarding program. From HR managers greeting the new employee and going over legal paperwork, to team leaders planning training sessions and touchpoints, it is important for all parties involved to join forces and work in tandem with each other. 

Realistic Expectations: Each role is different and company circumstances can vary greatly, so expectations should be approached on a case-per-case basis. That said, the general consensus—and according to RecruitShop—for a new employee to realize their fully-onboarded potential and maximized productivity is between the one and two year mark. Of course, this is under the assumption that effective onboarding took place. It is important to remember that, even with the highest level of employee skill set, good onboarding practices applied and best intentions, a new employee starting to work at 100% productivity right off the bat is wishful thinking, and continued and long-term support is key for new hires to get up to speed quickly. Understanding this, it is unfortunate to know that almost two-thirds of HR managers spend less than a month onboarding employees.

What Are the Key Stages of the Employee Onboarding Process?

As mentioned in the onboarding timeline, the key stages of the employee onboarding process consider the pre-boarding stage, the first day, the first months, and the first year, which should include periodic progress reports and personal check-ins throughout. We will be covering this topic in greater detail in our next article. For now, make note of:

  1. Pre-boarding
    This stage considers the recruitment and interview process, which lays down a firm foundation for both employer and employee expectations. Onboarding starts as early as the first contact, with an opportunity to set the tone of the company culture and build a good rapport during early communications. Once an employee is hired, it is important to share a clear procedure and path before the start of the employment.
  2. The First Day:
    This stage sets a crucial tone for the employee experience, which includes many factors such as the orientation process, meet-and-greets and setting up the new employee with the right tools and equipment.
  3. The First Few Months:
    Usually broken down at the 3 and 6-month mark, this stage relies on providing an appropriate  organized task list and setting clear expectations for the coming months. Providing support, training tools, and mentoring continues to be essential throughout these first months.
  4. The First Year:
    Reaching the one-year milestone is an important one, as it is a strong indicator of having fostered solid employee engagement with the new hire, ensuring employee retention. Still, it is important to keep an honest dialogue between the new employee and managers, and to continue to provide ongoing support where needed. Usually, quarterly and/or yearly performance reviews fall within this stage, weather through formal or informal one-on-ones.

Onboarding: The Key Takeaways 

Company onboarding is a largely layered subject that considers both the recruitment and hiring stages, the employee life cycle, as well as tactics to foster company culture and employee engagement, requiring teamwork, good planning and a structured approach. That said, implementing an effective onboarding program for new employees is beneficial all around regardless of an organization’s size, and the time and efforts spent in mapping out timelines, checklists and onboarding templates are well worth the investment. 

Stay tuned for our next article, where you’ll find an essential onboarding checklist guide to help build a comprehensive employee onboarding program, and make sure to sign up to receive Softstart—an app to help you ideate, implement, and review onboarding experiences under one roof.