Only 12% of employees strongly agree that their company has a good employee onboarding program, according to a Gallup study. Only 29% said that they felt set up for success in their new job.Employee onboarding matters. Research has shown that nearly a third of new hires quit within six months of joining an organization. And low employee engagement has been associated with everything from high attrition rates, to low productivity and increased absenteeism.
Developing a program that incorporates employee onboarding best practices will ensure your hires develop strong relationships and connections to the organization’s culture and goals. Here’s how to get started.
An onboarding program is more than just a new hire orientation. It’s an opportunity to ensure strong employee engagement right from day one. A good employee onboarding program can mean the difference between hires who feel like they’re joining a team—and hires who feel isolated and ready to look for the next opportunity.
Here are some of the top new employee onboarding best practices.
The typical onboarding program lasts a few weeks and includes technology setup, HR documentation and information on company goals and resources. Valuable information, to be sure—but not a foundation for long-term learning.
True learning is relational, not transactional. It happens incrementally, over time, and allows workers to integrate new information into their everyday practices on the job. Because this learning requires space and support, expect to invest at least six to nine months in your employee onboarding program. Best-case scenario, your onboarding program will integrate seamlessly with continuous employee learning, providing support and engagement for the long haul.
Create chances for new hires to build meaningful relationships with experienced employees. Mentors can help new employees learn the ropes, feel comfortable in the work environment, connect with the company culture and develop good habits that boost productivity over time.
Employee onboarding programs can also provide a way for new hires to form organic connections with each other and with long-time employees. Giving employees chances to network in-house helps create a sense of community that provides essential support.
An effective employee onboarding program includes a way to measure the impact of the initiative. Be sure your program includes tasks, milestones, check-ins and a definitive endpoint (even if the plan segues into continuous employee learning). Build metrics around business objectives like employee attrition rates, new hire time-to-productivity, and employee skills assessment.
Employees who have a good onboarding experience are happier, more productive, and show greater intent to stay. In a BambooHR survey, a third of respondents said that they’d left a job during the first six months after being hired. The following interventions would have helped keep employees on the job, according to respondents:
Clear guidelines on responsibilities
More effective training
More helpful or friendly coworkers
Pre-onboarding is a crucial period in a new hire’s experience with the organization. Taking place after the hire accepts the position and before their first day of work, pre-onboarding is when you set the tone for the employee’s relationship with the company. Use this period to give important information about the first days on the job, establish a few key people in their onboarding and make them feel welcome.
The welcome email provides two functions: it sets the new employee at ease, and it conveys essential information such as their first-day schedule. Use this email to welcome the new hire to the team. Then, provide any info they need to get started. For example, they may not know where to park or how to enter the building before they receive their keycard. Or if the company is mostly hybrid, inform them whether they will be spending their first day in-person or remote.
These procedures include activities related to payroll, tax documentation and human resources, as well as information about the new employee’s first few days at work.
Ensure that the new hire completes all necessary paperwork, including an I-9, tax withholding forms, and direct deposit forms. Ensure that any background or reference check material, including any drug testing or physical exam, is completed and appropriately filed. Get the employee’s signed acknowledgment that they’ve received and reviewed the employee handbook and security or IT policies.
Review the employee benefits package and enrollment forms related to health insurance and retirement plans. Go over paid time off policies related to vacation time, sick time, etc.
Provide a detailed agenda for the first day, including the employee’s start time. Typical first-day agenda items include filling out paperwork, receiving an overview of company policies, getting set up with technology, and meeting teammates. Be sure to leave plenty of time for the employee to connect with their new team. It’s also nice to include a few breaks or moments of downtime for them to process what’s occurred so far.
During the first week, employees should have an opportunity to meet with their managers one-on-one. This meeting helps set the tone for the relationship, as well as outlining expectations for the short- and long-term. It’s also a good idea to plan a team lunch or virtual/in-person social gathering to help the new hire get to know the team.
The employee should also begin receiving training on their role during this time. Ideally, they’ll have some deliverables during that first week, even if they’re only training related so that they can feel engaged quickly.
Onboarding is also a time to provide a formal framework of support for the new employee. Mentors and managers are two pillars of this support.
Mentoring has benefits for mentees, mentors and organizations, including improved engagement, retention and productivity. From your employee’s perspective, mentors provide key advice, feedback and guidance. In short, mentors show new hires the ropes. This can have tangible benefits for their careers, as studies show that participating in these programs can lead to higher earnings and more promotions.
Mentoring programs include extended onboarding, buddy programs, mentoring circles, high-potential mentoring, diversity mentoring and more. Any of these can be integrated into your long-term learning programs and used to support new hires.
Mentoring programs can be formal or informal, but the important thing is to set expectations right away. Determine how often mentors and mentees will meet and what those interactions will look like. Provide resources and training to illustrate how to set goals and milestones within a mentoring relationship.
How will mentors and mentees communicate and how structured will those communications be? Pairs can meet in person, via Slack or Zoom, or all of the above within integrated mentoring software platforms. Formal mentoring programs should enable mentors and mentees to communicate in formats most readily available and accessible for participants. Be sure to set tasks, activities and any deliverables upfront so that all participants know what success looks like.
The saying goes, “People don’t quit jobs. They quit managers.” The data bears this out. That’s because managers are key to employee engagement. Gallup research shows that it takes a 20% raise to woo employees away from managers who inspire high engagement.
Managers also play a key role during employee onboarding. In addition to setting up training and assigning work, managers can help ensure that new hires feel like they’re part of the team. Managers should understand their onboarding responsibilities including making introductions to the team, pairing new hires with buddies or mentors, connecting hires to training resources and setting meetings for check-ins.
To create a healthy and productive manager/managed relationship, set expectations starting on the first day. Outline the employee’s role, duties, responsibilities and how the manager will support these expectations. Give a sense of how both fit into the larger structure of the organization. Showcase the timeframe for which onboarding will take place across the new employee’s first three, six or nine months on the job.
Be specific about how the manager and the employee will communicate. If one or both works remotely, will they meet on Zoom, Slack or otherwise? Talk about how often they will meet one-on-one and, with teams and with clients or other functions of the organization. When the manager takes an active role in onboarding, team members are 3.4 times as likely to feel like their onboarding process was successful.
Develop workspace and technology checklists for IT and facilities staff to ensure a smooth transition for new hires. Make sure the employee has everything they need to get started on their first day of work, including IT equipment like computers, phones, mobile devices and so on. Most importantly, make sure they have access to the systems they’ll need – email, internal communication platforms, etc.
Send a welcome email that introduces the new employee to their team. This can be company-wide or team-wide—or you can send separate messages as necessary. Be sure to include some background on the new team member including their prior experience and current role. It’s also nice to let them tell people about themselves a bit in the email. Above all, convey excitement. Your enthusiasm will set the tone for the rest of the team.
The first day of work is pivotal. Plan to make sure that the new hire gets everything they need to make it a success.
If you have multiple hires, it’s helpful to start them on the same day if possible. Not only does this save time for other team members, but it gives new employees a chance to bond with each other as well, as with the tenured members of the department.
The group orientation should include information on the facilities, systems, policies and procedures and start new hires on their training.
The new hire period is a whirlwind, and some information is bound to get lost in the storm. To help employees make sense of what they’re learning, prepare some new employee resources for their reference.
Providing an org chart does more than just show employees how they fit into the structure of the company. It can also help them visualize how their team helps the company achieve its larger goals.
In the old days, this meant a phone list or the means to acquire someone’s number in a pinch. Now, it means phone numbers, email addresses, MS Teams or Slack handles and more. Just make sure the new hire knows how to contact people—and who they’re talking to when they enter a group thread or chat. The embarrassment you save may be your own.
Don’t make your new hire ask where the bathroom is. Provide a map that outlines key facilities like bathrooms, breakrooms, supply rooms and meeting rooms.
To bolster employee engagement, remind new hires how their work fits into the company mission. Organizational histories and mission statements are also a great opportunity to convey culture to new hires, as well as give them a sense of belonging.
Another benefit of extended onboarding programs is that they help managers and employers learn, too.
Plan regular check-ins between HR and new employees in addition to their one-on-ones with managers. This will allow you to ensure they have the resources they need and clarify any points of confusion during the onboarding process.
New hires can help improve the onboarding program with their feedback. Be sure to ask whether training and mentoring initiatives have been helpful, as well as what other resources they need. Be sure to check-in and see if anything was not helpful or potentially a waste of time. This will help you make adjustments to the onboarding process over time. When employers ask for feedback, new hires are 91 percent more willing to increase their relationship out of the gate.
Don’t leave their comments in a digital file gathering metaphorical dust. Look for ways to improve processes using their feedback—especially if you’ve received the same notes from multiple new hires.
A consistent, standardized onboarding program gets everyone in the organization moving in the same direction, ensuring consistent new employee training, adoption of the company culture, and a clear understanding of departmental and organizational goals.
Software can help standardize best practices, build metrics around your business objectives and ensure consistency in training. It will also allow you to scale your onboarding program quickly and effectively. Finally, software provides measurement tools to ensure your program provides effective learning that you can measure to produce return on investment (ROI) metrics for your program.
A good employee onboarding program can mean the difference between engaged, productive workers—and those that are ready to jump ship, taking their talent and knowledge with them. Standardize your onboarding program to support a workforce that’s constantly learning and evolving to embrace your organization’s goals and face its challenges. You worked hard to hire them. Now, put in the work to retain and develop them for a brighter, more engaged workforce.