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Top 8 Employee Onboarding Best Practices

Creating a healthy employment relationship is kind of like building a healthy romantic one (just bear with me on this analogy for a minute).

Organizations that practice effective employee onboarding understand that the process of integrating a new hire into a company and its culture requires more than just a nice welcome letter, a great first day at work, or a first-week orientation program. Similarly, you’ve probably never entered into, or stayed in, a long-lasting romantic relationship based on just the first date.

Like bringing someone new into your life, when it comes to bringing new employees into your organization, a great first impression doesn’t always lead to a great lasting impression.

According to Sapling HR, a popular HR software (HRIS) platform provider, “The best employee onboarding programs extend throughout the employee’s first 90 days—and may even extend out for a full year—to ensure new hires are fully supported as they ramp to full productivity.

This article focuses on some of the best practices that will help you create your own onboarding program that’s unique to your organization and tailored to the needs of your team members.

Important note: As you’ll see, while the COVID-19 pandemic has changed many hiring and onboarding processes, these best practices will apply regardless of whether you’re starting someone in the office or working remotely from home.

Why Is Employee Onboarding Important?

Research shows that implementing an effective new hire onboarding process (which often includes a structured orientation program) can have a huge positive impact on company success and on long-term employee engagement, retention, and productivity.

Some of the benefits of employee onboarding include:

  1. Maximize retention and loyalty: according to Click Boarding, an employee onboarding software company, 69 percent of employees are more likely to stay with a company for three years if they experienced great onboarding.
  1. Strengthen company culture: an effective onboarding process will help new team members understand the company’s vision, mission, and values, and reinforce the expected behaviours and attitudes that collectively form the company culture. 
  1. Foster belonging and inclusion: 93 percent of respondents to Deloitte’s 2020 Global Human Capital Trends survey indicated that a sense of belonging drives organizational performance. Great onboarding can dramatically reduce anxiety, and increase a new employee’s sense of belonging to their new team.
  1. Maximize productivity: according to research done by Glassdoor, a strong onboarding process can improve productivity by more than 70%, by outlining clear job and organizational expectations; reducing errors; and saving time and frustration.
  1. Minimize business risk: there are employment contracts to sign, payroll forms to complete, and company policies and procedures to review. Most of these things are in place to protect both the business and the employee.
  1. Reduce costs of turnover: according to SHRM’s Human Capital Benchmarking Report, the average cost-per-hire in the United States was $4,129, and on average took 42 days to fill a position. Great onboarding can create long-term employee engagement.
  1. Attract top talent: it’s a small world, and sites like Glassdoor allow employees to share their employment experiences with other potential candidates. Word will spread if you create a great onboarding experience that supports new team members when they join.

What Are Some Key Success Factors For An Effective Employee Onboarding Process?

The best practices outlined in this article will only be successful if you also keep in mind a number of key factors:

  • Have a clear purpose: have a clear vision for why onboarding is important, what experience you want a new hire to have, and even what you would like them to say on social media and public forums like Glassdoor.
  • Minimize surprises: it can be difficult for anyone to walk into an unfamiliar situation and environment. Minimize surprises for the new hire, including everything from letting them know what the dress code is, to what their first day and week of work will look like.
  • Be prepared: your new team member will show up on their first day ready to get started, and you should too. Start by putting a new hire checklist in place. Schedule meetings and training sessions in advance, get their computer equipment and workstation ready and prepare other team members to help. 
  • Exercise patience: your new team member will almost certainly make mistakes, forget parts of their orientation program, and miss a step or two as they get up to speed. “Patience is a virtue”, especially when it comes to onboarding new employees.
  • Set a reasonable pace: no one likes drinking from a firehose, so avoid overwhelming them with too much information, which can lead to more important things being missed or forgotten. Try to remember how long it took for you to learn everything!
  • Provide resources: introduce them to key individuals, and show them where resources like employee handbooks and policy manuals can be found.
  • Build-in flexibility: the COVID-19 pandemic has forced businesses to turn to remote work and other virtual practices. Build flexibility into your remote onboarding processes so that they can be quickly adapted to changing conditions and still feel connected.

8 Best Practices For Effective Employee Onboarding

It can take months to educate a new employee on the knowledge, skills, and behaviours required for them to begin contributing to the organization’s success. 

Because of the long time horizon for onboarding, which can continue through the first year of employment, it’s almost impossible to create a specific onboarding agenda, schedule, or template.

Instead, try following some of these best practices as you create the longer-term goals and metrics that you’ll use to determine whether onboarding is successful.

Best Practice #1: Start onboarding before your new hire’s first day of work

Many organizations will mistakenly wait until the new employee’s first day of work to start orientation and onboarding. In many cases, however, there will be a delay of days, weeks, or even months from receiving a job offer to when your new hire begins their new job.

This delay presents a great opportunity for you to use this time before day one to build excitement, help them feel welcome, and begin the steady stream of information they will need to get up to speed quickly.

Best Practice #2: Create awesome hiring and welcome practices

Creating an awesome hiring experience can create an awesome and long-lasting first impression. That hiring experience, however, consists of many different elements beyond sending your new team members a coffee mug or list of company policies.

To help your new employee hit the ground running and get them ready not just for their first day in their new job, but for their first month, consider putting a new hire checklist in place that captures some of the following new hire practices:

  • Welcome the new hire with a call and welcome email
  • Send a new hire welcome package
  • Prepare the new hire’s work tools and resources
  • Prepare an orientation program and agenda
  • Provide opportunities to meet and greet colleagues

Tracy McDonald of Thinkificposting on LinkedIn the welcome package she received from them.

Best Practice #3: Involve senior leaders to instill company culture

Onboarding is not just the responsibility of your human resources team. While HR professionals will often be involved in the creation of a new hire onboarding program, it’s the responsibility of the entire organization - team members, managers, and senior leaders - to execute onboarding activities.

Involving a senior leader like a founder, for example, gives that person the opportunity to help new employees understand the company culture, educate them on the company history, and explain company values and expected behaviours.

There are many ways you can involve senior leaders, such as:

  • Deliver a company presentation;
  • Give a tour of the building or facility;
  • Present a specific training topic; and/or
  • Take the new team member out for coffee or lunch.

Best Practice #4: Leverage onboarding software

An effective onboarding process consists of many, many different tasks and activities, from completing new hire paperwork to conducting new hire orientation and training programs.

Many HRIS software providers, like BambooHR, provide automated, integrated onboarding solutions that eliminate the redundancies of data entry, reduce the use of paper-based forms, and streamline the overall process. They also ensure tasks don’t get missed in those important first few days and weeks.

A screenshot showing BambooHR’s software for onboarding process and task tracking.

Best Practice #5: Create a living trust agreement with your employee

A trust agreement forms the foundation for a positive working relationship, whether it's between members of a group, or a manager and their team member(s). It should be created collaboratively, written down, and reviewed, and updated regularly as a living document.

According to Lorie Corcuera, Head of HR at DNEG, “The recruitment and onboarding process are key moments to create belonging. To complement your existing onboarding program, work with your employee to create a trust agreement. Ask the new hire to define and share what they need to feel they belong. Share your response as well. This shows that inclusion and belonging matters to you.”

Screenshot Of Trust Agreement example template
An example trust agreement template shared by Lorie Corcuera of SPARK Creations.

Best Practice #6: Regularly conduct one-on-one meetings

The main purpose of having regular one-on-one (1:1) meetings (also called “check-ins”) with your team members is to foster positive and productive relationships between you (the manager) and the individual members of your team.

It’s important to build these 1:1’s into your new employee’s normal work routine, and make them a habit, as early as possible. As part of their onboarding and orientation program, consider conducting your first 1:1 meeting on their first day of work. This will set the stage for future meetings.

Best Practice #7: Provide opportunities to connect with co-workers

It can be tough to be the new kid on the block. There are many ways you can support your new employee in their efforts to connect with their new teammates and foster their feelings of belonging and inclusion, such as:

  • Schedule short introductory meetings with co-workers.
  • Ask an existing team member to act as a mentor or buddy to your new hire.
  • Host a team lunch or team-building event to create a more relaxed, informal environment for getting to know each other.
  • Share a welcome video with the new hire, before their first day of work, introducing members of their new team.
Graphic Of Rookie Cookies

Writer’s note: At one company I worked for, they had a practice called “Rookie Cookies”. New employees were encouraged to make (or buy) cookies, and people would come by, introduce themselves, grab a cookie, and chat. It was a great (and tasty!) way of meeting new colleagues for the first time!

Best Practice #8: Conduct “offboarding” to understand why people leave

Offboarding consists of a number of activities, many of which focus on understanding the employee experience. This is typically done by gathering feedback through mechanisms like exit interviews and surveys.

One of the goals of an effective onboarding process is to maximize employee retention and loyalty. When an employee does leave it’s critical to understand why, and what could have been improved in the onboarding process to prevent that from happening.

Related Read: 25 Useful Exit Interview Questions + Template

What do you think?

What are some of the best employee onboarding practices you employ in your organization? Why do you think effective onboarding is important, and what impact has onboarding had on your organization and the employee experience? Need help coming up with an onboarding program? Here's our helpful guide on it: How To Write A 30 60 90 Day Plan For Your Org's Onboarding.

Discuss your ideas in the People Managing People community or share your thoughts in the comments below.

You can also subscribe to the People Managing People newsletter to stay up to date with the latest thinking in HR from leadership and management experts from around the world.

Related listen: how to onboard properly in a remote world with Jordan Boogaard.

Join us in a conversation on training and development, employee experience design, data gathering and analysis, and remote working, here!

By Mike Gibbons

Mike has held various senior leadership positions in the technology industry, most recently as the General Manager of FLIR Integrated Imaging Solutions. His responsibilities included coaching and leading a team of over 300 people; managing P&L for a US$100M business; and defining and executing business strategy. Mike is guided by his deeply-held beliefs in connection, curiosity, humour, empathy, and honesty. After much soul-searching he decided to leave the corporate world in 2018. Since then he has invested in and helped several early stage companies mature, grow responsibly, and live true to their values.

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