Employee Onboarding: Everything You Need to Know

Chris Ronzio

November 05, 2021

Hiring top talent is only part of building a productive team. Once secured, you still need to take new hires through your employee onboarding process to get them up to speed and positioned to succeed in their new role.

So, how do you know if your onboarding program will do all this? Here is every need-to-know about employee onboarding, including a comprehensive checklist and best practices.

What is employee onboarding?

Employee onboarding is the process of equipping new employees with the tools and knowledge necessary to succeed, both in their role and at the company. Meaning, when you hire new people, onboarding is when they learn everything they need to know to thrive in their role.

This onboarding process includes getting devices running, meet and greets with the team, and overviews of your company’s health benefits – just to name a few tasks at hand. 

But the onboarding process also offers new teammates a look at your company’s core values and how you operate. This is the time to show off your business as the place where your new hires can develop and grow in their careers. 

By the end of their onboarding program, your new hire should not only know what’s expected of them but should also be adding real value to your company as a whole.

Depending on the company, this process can take anything from a day to 2 years. But according to most HR professionals, most new hires are successfully onboarded in about 3 months. This timing depends primarily on how challenging the role is, how quickly your new hire learns, and the quality of your onboarding process.

Admittedly, 3+ months is a long time. It’s an investment of your company’s resources, so you want to make sure that by the end of the program, you’ll have a fully engaged and satisfied employee.

And the key to an effective onboarding process (and all the benefits that come with it)? Consistency.

By documenting all your processes, policies, and procedures, every new hire learns the same things the same way. Chances are good that new employee onboarding will run more smoothly if your company can develop a standard operating procedure for the process.

🔥 Tip: Not sure how to start documenting your onboarding procedures? Try Trainual, the best online onboarding and training platform.

Why employee onboarding is important

Employee onboarding is important because it introduces your new hires to your company and prepares them for their roles. Companies that have their process down are more likely to have a better company culture and retain top talent longer. 

First impressions are important – your new hires have opinions on your company from the moment they start. Onboarding is the moment when new hires either jump on board or decide they’ve made a mistake. 

It’s the difference between engaging employees for the long haul and constantly having to reinvest resources toward filling your roster. Every new hire costs your company roughly $3k and a hundred hours on the onboarding process alone. And those numbers don’t include the added hidden costs if your onboarding process fails to bring your new hire fully up to speed.

Think about it just in the day-to-day. The average employee wastes 100+ minutes searching for the information they need to do their job every day. This can cost your company hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars per week. That’s money that can be saved with proper employee training – training that starts with onboarding.

Plus, having a good onboarding plan helps your business retain employees. Nearly 20% of all turnover happens within the first 45 days of employment. And it’s usually due to an awful employee onboarding experience. 

When this happens, your company is back at square one, hiring someone new. And filling the role becomes more and more costly.

But companies that can build a strong onboarding process see lower onboarding costs, higher retention, and better results every time. Just having a standardized onboarding procedure can bring 50% more new-hire productivity. And a great onboarding experience can convince 69% of employees to stay with a company for at least 3 years. 

If you want to build a team that’s engaged in the company culture, you want to focus on making their first impressions great. And that means having an onboarding process that prepares them for the job at hand. And the process should convince your new employees that your company is the best place for their personal career growth and job satisfaction.

Pre-onboarding: Check it off the list

So, you’ve just hired an exciting new candidate who can bring dedication and skill to your team. Now that they’ve accepted your offer,  you’re ready to start onboarding!

But first, there are a few ways you need to prepare before onboarding officially starts so your candidates have the perfect beginning. And you can start by ticking these boxes from your employee onboarding checklist. 

New hire paperwork

Think about it this way – before a sports team can put their new player in the game, the contracts need to be signed. Your new hire paperwork is your company’s equivalent. If you’re located in the US, hese forms will probably include the following:

So, as soon as you get a verbal “yes” on your extended offer, send the candidate these next steps in an email, along with the documents they need to digitally sign. (We love HelloSign for this!)

If your new employee plans to come to the office on day one, you can also sign these forms in person. But that can make their first day a little hectic. 

So, we always like to file digital versions of the onboarding documents beforehand. That way, we can jump right into onboarding!

Communication before day one

Starting a new job is intimidating enough. So, communicating with your new hire before their first day should be informative and friendly. And you should be emailing your new hire pretty regularly up to their first day. 

You want your new hires to know you’re excited for them to start. You want to develop a strong working relationship with them even before they start so your new hires understand you are committed to helping them succeed in their new role.

At Trainual, we check in weekly before our new people start and then more frequently in the few days leading up to the start date! When we reach out to our new hires, we want them to have all the tools they need for success and make them feel welcome to our team.

When you reach out to your new employee, the goal is to answer all of their questions so that they don’t need to be asked. Let your new hires know what to expect and any action items they need to know about before their first day. Such as: 

  • What time will they start? 
  • Who are they meeting with? 
  • What’s expected from them on their first day? 
  • Do they need to prepare anything? 
  • If they’re working remotely, how do they connect with the team? 

By opening those lines of communication and making yourself available, you show your new employees that you’re welcoming them with open arms. And hopefully you help them feel as comfortable and confident as possible coming into their first day. 

And not only do you prepare your new hires, but you also prove that you’re ready to get them started. When they don’t hear from you, it’s likely they’ll have negative opinions of your company’s employee management. 

The most common reason for leaving an employer is poor management. So, be sure to reach out to your new trhires before their start date. You want to instill that confidence in your company’s leadership before your new hires start. 

Employee onboarding new hire welcome email example

🔥 Tip: Kickstart new employee onboarding communication by sending a personalized Loom video. And create an online welcome training to help your new hires understand more about your company, so they know what to expect on day one.

Tech and company swag

When it comes to equipment, the hardware and software your new hires need should be ready to go before they start their employee onboarding process. 

For a typical office job, this might include their computer, any accessories (like a mouse or keyboard), company email, and access to your company tech stack. For new hires coming into the service industry, this might include like their uniform, their training manual, and their POS number.

If needed, send out the hardware for your remote new hires early (at least a week before their start date). Or, if your new hire is planning to come in-house, have their computer and any other hardware waiting for them on day one.

And don’t let the gifts stop there! Company swag is a great way to get your new hires excited about working for your business. If you give them a company shirt or hat, you can ask your new employees to post a selfie wearing your logo when they announce their exciting new job on LinkedIn. All while spreading awareness around your company.  

Job Scorecard

So, when is it too early to set clear expectations? Trick question – the answer is never! Chances are good that you have specific expectations for your new hire’s success. So, eliminate the guesswork for them by documenting these expectations. 

When your new hire can see those expectations in front of them, they will have a clearer picture of what they need to accomplish in their role. And by putting expectations down on paper (or in Trainual), you and your employee are aligned on what success looks like.

One way to set these expectations is to create a job scorecard. These scorecards should outline everything your new hire is responsible for as long as they remain in that role. Including: 

  • Main focuses (the ultimate goals for their role)
  • Key responsibilities (everything they should be doing to reach their focus areas)
  • Quantifiable success metrics (a measurable standard for their employee performance, such as  increasing organic traffic, response time, customer satisfaction)
Employee onboarding job scorecard graphic

Having all your expectations in a scorecard gives your employees goals to strive for and ways to measure their success. And this scorecard helps your employee stay accountable for their work. Not to mention this tool leaves no room for surprises come review time.

🔥 Tip: As your employee develops within your company, their scorecard should be updated with their new focuses, responsibilities, and metrics.

30-60-90

In addition to the long-term expectations, you want your new hire to focus on getting a strong start. So, you can set expectations on what your new hire should be doing in their first 3 months with a 30-60-90 tool. 

Meaning, you want to break down all the actionable items your new hires will tackle in the first 30, 60, and 90 days on the job – all on one page. These goals should range from one-day tasks on the front end to a project that will take a few weeks on the back end. 

These 30-60-90 goals provide directions for your new team members to keep themselves accountable. By providing clear expectations, your new hires should know their focus for their first 3 months at the company – without needing to ask anyone again and again.

Plus, your new hires feel like they are instantly contributing – because they are! Using the 30, 60, and 90-day marks as milestones, they can track how far they have come in learning their new role.

When new hires know they are hitting their goals in their new job, it inspires confidence in their role and the success they are bringing to the company. It’s important to have your new hires be pumped about what they are contributing to the business – they’ll be more dedicated to continue doing good work.

Calendar invites

Let’s be real – the first 2 weeks for your new hire are going to be stacked with events. Meet and greets, benefits enrollment, training, shadowing – you know the drill. 

You want to have all these meetings and training sessions scheduled before your new hire’s first day. That way, you aren’t scrambling to find time for meetings in other employee’s schedules or to find space if you’re holding training sessions in-office.

Figure out exactly what will fit in and when. Coordinate with your current team when they’re available to meet the new employees. And block time on the calendar for each onboarding event (don’t forget to include a clear agenda with the invite). 

Plus, you can even grant your new hires access to their work emails ahead of their first day with their calendar already filled out. That way, they can get a good idea of what they can expect from their first week. 

Training material

Arguably the most important part of onboarding is the actual job training. But shockingly, almost 59% of employees state they’ve never received formal workplace training. 

Those companies are missing out on a big opportunity. According to HR magazine, businesses that invest $1,500 on training per employee can see 24% more profit than companies that invest less.

So, you’ll want to produce a training program that introduces how to do what you do and your company’s culture. The materials should include everything an employee needs to learn their role and all the resources they need to reference. Basically, everything from your company policies to the step-by-step guide of your new hire’s responsibilities. 

Your plan should also accommodate a range of learning styles to get employees fully productive faster. And it should include a good mix of synchronous and asynchronous training.

Finally, you’ll want to have all your training materials in one place. Switching between paper manuals, Google Docs, and learning management systems can make your training resources difficult to find. 

👉 If you’re not sure what program would work best – try Trainual for free.

Onboarding cohort

When your business is scaling, you’re typically looking to add talent to multiple departments. And that means hiring multiple people! 

But instead of onboarding your new folks one at a time, we can’t stress how important it is to start your new hires in a cohort. Namely, because it will save your company time and money. 

If employee onboarding plans can last up to 2 years, you want to save as much time as possible. Plus, when it can cost an average of $3,000 to onboard someone new, you’ll want to save money where you can. Meaning, when you onboard several people simultaneously, you save time and money back. 

On an inclusivity level, cohorts also provide an immediate sense of belonging. Your new hires foster friendships with team members who are just as nervous as they are. These friendships create cross-functional partnerships that last as long as these team members are with your company. 

Cohort onboarding is a tactic that has worked for several companies, Airbnb included. Onboarding their employees in groups has helped their new hires develop a sense of belonging from day one.

Plus, it drastically reduces the administrative burden that comes with planning and running an employee onboarding. We’re talking about everything that comes with hiring new people, from navigating schedules to planning onboarding training to coordinating resources. 

There’s a lot of events that go into a great onboarding experience. So, rather than running the same onboarding process separately for each individual hire, you can do it once! 

The onboarding process

Now that you have a cohort of new hires and a first day scheduled, the actual onboarding process can begin. A great onboarding experience will determine how prepared your new hires will be for a successful career with your company.

If the average successful onboarding process takes 3 months and we assume it takes the entire time, then here’s a list of everything you need to accomplish in that time – starting from day one.

Orientation (day one)

Your new hires’ first official day will be jam-packed – the day when they’re meeting their new coworkers for the first time and getting formally introduced to the company. And if they’re coming into the office, it’ll be the day when they receive all their company hardware and swag as well. 

But it’s also a great day to set the tone for the onboarding process. You’ll want to find the best balance of being educational and fun that works for your team.

This is the time you can spend getting to know each other. And giving your new hires a hint at what working for the company will really be like.

So, let’s talk about day one orientation. But wait. We were just talking about onboarding, and now we’re talking about orientation. Is there a difference? 

We know – it can be confusing and easy to use “orientation” and “onboarding” interchangeably. But they are not the same thing.

When you hire someone new, orientation is the one-time step in welcoming them to your company. Meanwhile, onboarding is the process of getting your new hire up to speed and fully productive in their role (part of which includes orientation).

We like to think of this as employee onboarding’s very own Ketchup-Condiment Debate. Meaning, while every ketchup is a condiment, not every condiment is ketchup. Similarly, orientation is part of the onboarding process, but it is not the whole onboarding process.

Orientation is when you officially welcome your new hires to your company and share how excited they are for them to finally start. You can think of this as the first day of class when the teacher goes over the syllabus. And on syllabus day, you don’t just jump straight into the work.

This day is when you share your company’s how-tos and need-to-knows – from your company’s mission to office policies for anyone working in-person. Topics like role-specific training and work benefits can wait until after orientation is over.When you get your new hires fully up to speed they can contribute to the company.

Connect with the manager (day one)

During orientation, your new hire should get a good idea of what success at the company looks like. So, that first day should include a meeting with their direct manager. 

That moment is the perfect time for a brief overview of your new hire’s job scorecard and 30-60-90. This puts the expectations around the new hire’s role in plain view, so everyone’s aligned. 

But the first glimpse of a three-month plan can be daunting, especially in a new role. So, as a manager, make sure you leave the door open for any questions that come up. Because your new hires will surely have some as they start to get into the swing of things.

And most importantly, you want your new hire to be comfortable in your working relationship. They should feel free to come to you with any of their concerns about their role or their place in the business. 

Meaning, you should be building a foundation of trust and mutual respect. When you meet with your new hire, check in on how their first day is going. Be friendly and try building a rapport from day one. Fingers crossed, you’ll be working with your new employee for a long time to come. So, starting your relationship off on a high note will only do you both good.

Meet the team (week one)

New hires should spend some quality time with the people they’ll work closely with. Even for roles where your employees will work independently, teamwork is crucial. For 75% of employees, collaboration is an important factor in company success.

You can truly integrate new team members with a meet and greet! Your new hire will better understand what everyone does and how everyone contributes to the company. 

For one, team intros build rapport and camaraderie. But they also help new hires understand that everyone contributes to the company’s overall success (including them). 

Starting that communication early is crucial to building alignment within a team. And it’s important to your company output as well – 97% of employees believe that lack of alignment can impact the outcome of a project.

So, don’t be afraid to help get that line of communication going. We love doing ice-breaker questions for intros to keep it fun and informal! Make sure there is a moderator to keep the conversation flowing. It’s also helpful to put the ice-breaker questions in the calendar invitation so that people can prepare! You can ask about their first job, favorite lunch option, or perhaps their wildest day at work. 

🔥 Tip: Don’t be afraid to get crazy with your ice-breaker questions! Ask which celebrity they’d love to narrate their workday or a fictional career they’d most want to try. It encourages everyone to really let their hair down.

Engagement activities (week one)

Employee onboarding can be a lot! It can also feel disconnected if your new hires are working remotely or if they’ll be working independently. 

Lighten the mood! It’s best to break up the process with a few fun activities each day. Try to incorporate these fun game ideas, great for both in-office and WFH:

  • Jeopardy! If you onboard in cohorts of more than one new employee, round them up at the end of the first week to test what they’ve learned! The Jeopardy categories can include company goals, team-member roles, company mission/vision/values, benefits, and anything else!
  • Leader scavenger hunt! It’s important that everyone feels comfortable talking to each other. Have each of your leaders give a fun fact about themselves. Then, have your new hires reach out to the leaders to find which clue belongs to them!
  • Ties that bind! You want to help foster connections amongst your newest team members. Ask each new hire to find another new employee with a shared interest – anything from favorite sports teams to books to foods works.

Whatever activities you choose, make sure it is fun and genuine to your company culture. You’ll want to choose the activities that feel the most authentic to your company values. 

At the end of the day, your goal is to provide a chance for your employees to recharge as they go through onboarding. Stepping away from your desk as a team doesn’t hurt, either – it will only help build personal connections amongst your new hires.

Stakeholder 1:1s (weeks one and two)

Your new hires will also need to meet with their stakeholders outside of meeting your team members for the first time. AKA anyone in the company who is interested or connected to your new hire’s role, even if these employees don’t work with your new hires all the time.

For example, let’s say you’ve recently hired a copywriter for your team. They will be reporting directly to the content manager. But occasionally, your new hire will be expected to collaborate with the brand designer and the video content creator. 

The designer and video content creator can be treated as stakeholders for your newest copywriter. And their collaborations will produce great marketing content for your business. So, establishing strong working relationships early will only help in the production process. 

And, even though your new hire won’t be working directly underneath leaders in other departments or your CEO, those introductions are also valuable. Your new employees should recognize the people leading the charge for the company’s success!

Ultimately, you want your new hire to feel comfortable going to anyone they might need in their first couple of weeks and beyond. The more people in the company they’re comfortable with, the more at ease they’ll feel as a whole.

Onboarding training (first 3 months)

Onboarding training is where you take your new hires through your employee training and get them up to speed. And while employee onboarding should be fun for your new team members, the goal of it all is to get them ready for their new roles. And this means a lot of learning!

Whether your new hires are WFH or in-office, your training should lay out everything they need to know about the company, their department, and their role specifically.

But you don’t want to overwhelm them with an information overload.

This is the moment to pull out the training materials you prepared. With your training program in hand, your new hires have all the resources they need to become fully prepared to tackle whatever their roles can throw at them. 

This training is the longest part of the onboarding process, but it is also the most important. Your new hire won’t contribute to the team without knowledge of what that looks like and how to do it. Research shows that spending more quality time on the training portion of your onboarding process will help new hires retain knowledge longer

So, for your new hires to be successful in their role at the company, you need to spend the time getting them up to speed.

Post-onboarding

Onboarding is over when your employee has had enough time to complete all job-related training. They will also have settled into the company culture and decided that the role and the company are a good fit. Those are some loaded boxes to check, but on average, the process can be completed in 3 months.

That fits pretty perfectly with the last benchmark of your new hire’s 30-60-90 goals. They’ll have the time to learn about the company and really dig into their responsibilities in the job.

Once everyone is onboarded and officially in their roles, are we all done? Nope! The power is in the follow-up. Your company and future onboarding cohorts must get feedback on how the process was great and where it can be improved. 

We recommend getting feedback after your new hires’ first week while it’s fresh. And then again after their first month, so they’ve had time to reflect. This also helps you maintain the relationship with them, which should always be the #1 priority. 

You can gather engagement insights with survey tools like Culture Amp. Ask questions such as what your new hires enjoyed about the onboarding process or anything they’d like to see changed.

Another idea to wrap up your onboarding is to request reviews for the interview process through job search sites like Glassdoor. These reviews will give you valuable feedback on your hiring process and provide a great resource to any prospective job candidates looking into your company.

At the end of the day, you want to see your employees grow with the company. You want to hire the right people, and more importantly, keep them for as long as you can. So the best move you can make is to put your best foot forward from the very start. And a focused employee onboarding is the best way to do that.

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