What is employee onboarding?

Employee onboarding is about integrating the new hire into the workplace and laying the foundation for her to succeed at work. The traditional onboarding lens treats onboarding as a  one time event but to reap the benefits of employee onboarding, it has to be a continued effort which extends to a month or even a year depending on the role of the new hire. 

Ideally, there are four phases of employee onboarding. They are Initial development, Ongoing development, Retention, and Separation. A good onboarding program would start at least 2 weeks prior to the new hire’s joining date. You can enable new hires to fill out their W4s and I9s, sign and submit other important documents even before day one. Meanwhile you can get their laptop and network credentials set up, introduce them to peers or managers over emails, hand out handbooks or copies of important policies and finish all formalities, and save their first day for meaningful interactions.

Employee onboarding vs Employee orientation

Employee Onboarding
Employee Orientation

It’s a series of events that equips an employee and helps them to perform in their job. Orientation is a part of onboarding.

It’s widely accepted as a one-time event during which an employee is welcomed to the company or introduced to the company.

Covers role level specifics - introducing them to team members, getting their network credentials setup, exposing them to processes, etc.

Covers company level specifics- vision, mission, policies, values, leadership, and culture.

Crafting an effective employee onboarding process 

Creating an intact onboarding process involves 5 steps.

Defining goals of the employee onboarding program

Any good process or program starts with a clearly defined objective. Like they say ‘A goal well defined is half achieved’. What are your top objectives for setting up an onboarding program?
Here’s a sample you can edit and adapt:
Goal #1 Make your new employees feel welcome.
Goal #2 Clarify their role, responsibilities and make sure they know what they have signed up for
Goal #3 Orient them to the company's vision and mission
Goal #4 Introduce them to the people they’ll be working with - their team
Goal #5 Equip them with everything they need to start performing on their job.


Laying out an action plan

Once you have the objectives defined, the next step is to create an action plan or in other words a step by step process for how you want to achieve those objectives.
For example, Goal #1 is to make employees feel welcome.
The plan to achieve that goal may include action items like leaving a nameplate on their desk, taking them on an office tour on day 1, getting someone in their team to invite them to lunch, attending to them on time when they arrive, etc.
So, for all the objectives you defined, list down the actions you will perform to achieve them.


Communicating the plan to all concerned people

After you have the action plan, it’s important that you clearly communicate the plan to everyone who will be involved in it. It may be people in your hiring team, your hiring managers, IT team, security team, etc. Communicate it to everyone involved and ensure that they are all on the same page as you.


Executing your employee onboarding plan

The next step is to execute the plan at hand. As you execute the plan lookout for any hiccups or challenges in executing it. You can revise the plan, solving your employee onboarding challenges.


Observing or tracking indicators or metrics to measure the success of the program

Use surveys or indicators to find out how well you have achieved the objectives you set out to achieve. Ask your new hires, hiring team, hiring manager or anyone who was involved about how you can onboard better.

Some common onboarding effectiveness metrics include:

You can track these metrics. Then, just optimize them to drive them in your favour.

Learn more about employee onboarding process here.

Here's a quick employee onboarding checklist  you may need 


Why is employee onboarding important?


Helps make a great first impression

As a company, it’s important for you to make a good first impression with your employees. It’s something they’ll be left with for a very long time. It sets the precedent for everything you are going to say, do or expect.  There are a handful of companies out there that invest in employee onboarding and reap great ROIs like employee experience and magnanimous customer service delivered by their happy employees. One such example is the Zappos onboarding program

First impressions start forming as early as during their screening process or the interview phase with you. It’s built on very simple things such as arriving punctually for interviews, arriving prepared, passing on updates as and when necessary without keeping the candidate in the dark, offering them a break or a snack if they are expected to hang around for longer, etc.


Gives them a pleasant first day

Most first days are about sitting in a conference room and waiting for someone to arrive in the first few hours. Then being led to a team and pointed to a laptop and maybe a few introductions. But with a proper onboarding in place you can give your employees a memorable first day. One that shows their first day in your company is important to you as much as it is to them. Showing them that you prepared to receive them tells them that they are significant and that the organization values the employee’s choice of choosing the organization and their presence.
Be thoughtful. You can show your thoughtfulness in things as small as introductions. Instead of introducing them to their team or peers on day one. Inform the team about them, hand over some interesting facts about the newcomer with which the team can start striking conversations.

It quickly ramps up the employee

New employees take as much as 90 days to settle in and start contributing significantly. This can, however, be reduced if they have an onboarding that equips them with the friendships, processes, and resources that they would require as they settle in.

Introduce them to the people they will be working with. It’s not enough to just walk them across the team and tell people their name and designation. Hear their stories, maybe make them write it down. Tell your stories - the ones from the company, the team, and the individuals. Then tie them together.

Point them to the resources they’ll need - it may be the communication apps you use, team’s to-dos, the knowledge of who to go to for what, etc.
Build a culture where peers volunteer to help newcomers settle in and start belonging. It’s very different when achieved as a team. Onboarding is not an HR or manager-only task. You will notice that when done collectively your new hires settle in faster and start contributing much earlier than they are expected to.

Helps them make new friends (directly impacting retention)

What attractive compensations and benefits can’t achieve, social circles can. Good friendships make employees think twice before leaving. 

Matching your new hires with a peer in a buddy program can help them have someone to introduce people to them and vice versa. Create opportunities for them to interact with each other beyond the work set up. Maybe make it a thing in the team for everyone to take the new employee out for a coffee or break within the first three months. Introduce them to people with the same interests as them. Introduce them to any clubs functioning in your company - books, movies, etc. After all, an employee spends a huge chunk of their awake hours with the people at work and it wouldn't hurt to be friends with them.  


Establishes the values and culture of the organization


Your formal onboarding process plays an important role in sustaining the values and the culture of your organization as you grow. You may have already discussed or checked for culture-fit in your interviews with the candidate but the first few days are when you can in action and word establish what you stand for. 

Introduce them to the values you uphold, give them short movies or stories on how people achieve it in their everyday roles. Otherwise, it would just be in handbooks and on the walls.


Clarifies their role

A lot of a screening process and an interview only look for what the candidate is capable of. It’s only when they get on the job, they get a real sense of what they ought to do on the job. 

You can start by repeating or clarifying what their day-to-day work life will involve - their role, responsibilities, significance in the bigger picture and more. You can have the manager talk to them, and also someone in a similar designation or role, so they can get some first-hand stories and people's experiences.

Helps engage them

Your employees bring their best to work only when they are really engaged or in other words involved. Onboarding gives you an opportunity to engage them in the processes, engage them with their teammates or peers, and invites them to partake in the vision and mission of the organization.


Encourages open communication and feedback

Onboarding encourages your new hires to connect, communicate and speak up from their very early days. It helps them overcome fears of being wrong or being judged.


Best Employee Onboarding Practices that every HR should Follow

1. Begin Onboarding before day one

Effective Onboarding practice for today’s workforce is to begin the onboarding process as soon as the candidate accepts your offer. There are a number of steps you can follow to get started with your employee onboarding and get done before your new hire comes into office. This includes document collection and verification, sending out blogs and documents to help them understand the culture and practices of the company, helping them come up with an interesting introduction about themselves to share with your employees and much more.
If you can get done with the forms and formalities, you can save their first for something more lively and meaningful.

2. Don’t stop with day one 


The onboarding process does not end with a few onboarding sessions of showcasing company culture, values, practices and then pointing them to their desk. That would just be bombarding them with information. Like we discussed above, keep at it until you have achieved and measured the objectives of your onboarding.
A good practice would be to keep checking up on your new hire for at least a month. Talk to them every now and then. Ask your new hires what they feel and want from their new team and role, and try to help them out until they have completely settled in. This will also directly impact the employees' time to productivity. Have one-on-one conversations once a month for at least six months or a year, anchor the relationship between your new hire and the company. 


3. Invest in some cool swag 


Get a box of some nicely branded company swags which are appealing and welcoming. Owning things that register your brand is something a new hire will flaunt and consider as a connection. All things with your company name and logo will make the employee connect with the company better. Going back home, they would feel most welcomed and part of the company before starting work. Plus, it never hurt anyone to flaunt free office goodies, right?


4. Get the leadership team involved


Arrange onboarding sessions with your leadership team. Have your leaders share their passion, vision and mission with the new people. In other words, get them to share why they do what they do and how they do it. If you can’t do it each time you onboard new hires, at least do it in batches, maybe once in two months or three months but make sure that your all your new employees have interacted with the leaders within their first three months.

a) This builds the conviction they need to carry out their job with all their heart and mind.

b) It helps them quickly align with company’s purpose of existence.

c)Makes employees feel truly welcome.

d)It inspires them to make a difference on their company-given roles.

e) Also creates a sense of belonging very quickly.  


5. Have a detailed employee onboarding template

Show them what they’ll be doing on their first day, first week and maybe even the first 60 days. But before that, make sure you have a template for their onboarding. You could be doing this with an employee onboarding excel templates that are easily available on the internet. However, it is always safe and wise to use employee onboarding software. This will add cadence to everything from employee onboarding training to best employee experiences. You can even consider having a detailed plan set up on a Trello board. Again, this will directly impact time to productivity, positively. Your new hires will feel informed and ready to take on what’s coming. The practice also ensures that they have a lot of clarity on what they’ll be doing and makes them feel significant in their new team. 


6. Be available or have someone available for them always

Onboarding means a new person inside an old environment. Your new hires are getting inside a place where people already know each other and would probably feel alien and reserved to ask, say or do anything. Make sure your new hire does not feel this way. And the best and easy way to achieve it is by being available for your new hire, anytime they need. Clarify all their doubts, their possible doubts, doubts they never knew they had and also be available for them for anything. This is one of the most effective ways to build a strong connection with your employee and also incorporate the employee-friendly culture. 


7. Talk to them

The final and most important onboarding practice is to have regular check-ins with your new hires and understand their experiences in the company or the team and if anything more has to be done. This will also send a clear message that the organization cares about their experience and opinions. These conversations will make way for you to continually improve your onboarding process and working environment itself.