Employee onboarding is the transitional phase between an interviewing job candidate becoming a fully-ramped employee. Everyone onboards new employees, but many onboarding programs skew more administrative than strategic. You have each new hire fill out paperwork, get them set up with an email address, access to software, and office equipment, and introduce them to key team members.

The problem is, this does very little to set your new hire up for success—or retention. Employees who have a negative onboarding experience are twice as likely to begin looking for new opportunities within the year. The talent market is tight, and your talent acquisition team is working hard to attract, assess, and close top talent for your organization. Candidate experience is a big part of that. When talent acquisition passes the baton, onboarding extends the candidate experience into the employee experience. This handoff is critical to engaging and retaining talent.

Definitions: What is Employee Onboarding?

Employee onboarding is the key transitional period of acclimating a new hire to the organization's values, culture, systems, and processes.

According to SHRM, “onboarding is the process of helping new hires adjust to social and performance aspects of their new jobs quickly and smoothly.” Wikipedia says, “Onboarding, also known as organizational socialization, refers to the mechanism through which new employees acquire the necessary knowledge, skills, and behaviors in order to become effective organizational members and insiders. It is the process of integrating a new employee into the organization and its culture.”

In many organizations, however, the onboarding process doesn’t help new hires acclimate or integrate into the organization or their roles within it—and employees are left to figure that out on their own. Some eventually will, but others will feel that they made a mistake by joining your team and will seek employment elsewhere.

A more structured, strategic employee onboarding process will not only help you retain the talent you’ve worked so hard to recruit, but it will also help employees reach full productivity faster.

[Learn more about building a strong employee onboarding process in our eBook: Strategies for the Future of Employee Engagement]

What is strategic employee onboarding?

Strategic employee onboarding goes beyond paperwork and administration to help new hires acclimate to their new role at your organization. Partner with your leadership team, hiring managers, payroll, and IT to set goals for new hires, and build a predictable and repeatable process over each new hire’s first 90 days. Gather feedback from existing employees and each new hire to continually improve your process.

We’ve found that the average structured onboarding program has 54 activities per new hire, with the complexity of onboarding programs increasing as organizations grow. That breaks down to:

  • 3 documents signed, uploaded, or acknowledged by new hires
  • 41 tasks and administrative items completed, such as desk set up, hardware, and calendars
  • 10 outcomes, including achieved learning goals around company culture, market knowledge, and role alignment

This requires some more effort, but it’s well worth it. Using employee onboarding software to automate many administrative tasks, and to keep workflows moving, can help. For instance, software that allows you to create an email address with a single click, and sends notices and reminders to the hiring manager to add the new hire to department-specific software. This frees up your time to provide the new hire with a warm welcome, put together a company swag bag, and gather feedback to continue to improve your process

What might a good employee onboarding program look like?

While each organization’s onboarding process will vary, here’s a sample program to help you get started.

Before the first day:

Employee preboarding should include a welcome email to your new hire, sharing your excitement to have them on the team, and providing some details around next steps. This may include:

  • First-day details (what time to arrive, how to get into the building, what is on the itinerary)
  • An invitation to complete new hire paperwork
  • A buddy introduction
  • An introduction to the team
  • A request for equipment preferences (i.e. Mac vs. PC, left-handed mouse, or a standing desk)
  • Information about the organization’s history, team, and culture

First day:

With a strong preboarding experience, your new hire’s first day can be filled with meaningful introductions, early learning, and celebration:

  • Later arrival and coffee/tea with the hiring manager
  • Office tour and team introductions (it can be helpful to include an org chart)
  • Team lunch
  • Training on tools and systems critical to the role (i.e. those they will be using right away)
  • First day hiring manager check-in to review role responsibilities and goals

First week:

Rather than overloading your new hires with information on their first day, spread things out over a week or so.

  • Insights into the company culture
  • Information about company history
  • Product training
  • Request for initial onboarding feedback (and use it to improve your program)
  • Buddy check-in
  • Additional training on tools and systems relevant to the role
  • Day 7 check-in to recognize successes and identify areas where the new hire may need some additional help

First 90 days:

Strong employee onboarding programs extend out 90 days to help new hires fully ramp.

  • Day 30, 60, and 90 check-ins to recognize successes and identify areas where the new hire may need some additional help
  • Ongoing training and development
  • Request for additional onboarding feedback (and use it to improve your program)
  • Buddy check-ins (once per week for the first month, once or twice per month thereafter)

Final thoughts

A structured, strategic employee onboarding program requires more effort than a strictly administrative onboarding process, but the return on investment is there. When done right, it can accelerate time to productivity, increase engagement, and improve retention. Each organization’s program may vary to cater to its unique needs, but the goal remains the same: provide new hires with the foundation they need to succeed in their new roles.


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