What is Employee Onboarding?

Employee onboarding is the transitional phase in an employee journey between accepting a job offer and becoming a fully-ramped team member.

Most companies onboard new team members, but many onboarding programs skew more administrative than strategic. They 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 team member up for success. In fact, only 29% of new hires feel fully prepared and supported to excel in their role after their onboarding experience. This can negatively impact productivity, engagement, and retention.

On the other hand, 70% of employees who had exceptional onboarding experiences say they have "the best possible job." They’re also 2.6 times more likely to be extremely satisfied with their workplace and more likely to stay. 

Great employee onboarding has many worthwhile benefits to your organization—but only when done right.

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, “New employee onboarding is the process of integrating a new employee with a company and its culture, as well as getting a new hire the tools and information needed to become a productive member of the team.”

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.”

In many organizations, however, the employee 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 and stay longer.

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 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 your new team member 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?

A new hire’s average productivity rate reaches 25 percent in their first month, 50 percent in their second month, and 75 percent in their third month. It may take a full year for a new team member to reach their peak performance potential, so the best employee onboarding programs extend out a minimum of 90 days.

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 (start date and time, how to get into the building or log on remotely, 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

Onboarding remote workers usually requires a slightly different workflow, which should be thoroughly considered and documented. For example, you may need to ship equipment rather than setting up a desk at your office. Planning for these differences can help you create a more positive, consistent employee experience for everyone.

First day

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

  • Later start time and in-person or virtual coffee/tea with the hiring manager
  • Team introductions (it can be helpful to share an org chart so new team members can keep track of how everyone is connected)
  • 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 your new team member may need some additional help

First 90 days

Strong employee onboarding programs extend out at least 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 on employee onboarding

A structured, strategic employee onboarding program requires more effort than a strictly administrative onboarding process, but the return on investment is clear. When done right, employee onboarding 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 team members with the foundation they need to succeed in their new roles.

Want to learn more? Download our free eBook, the Ultimate Guide to Employee Onboarding


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What is Employee Onboarding?