Many companies drastically underestimate the importance of employee onboarding when they have a new hire and it shows. The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) has shown that turnover during the first 18 months on a job can be as high as 50%, yet 69% of employees are more likely to stay with a company for 3 years if their onboarding experience is positive.
Employers are realizing that the onboarding process is critical to improving employee retention, not to mention helping get new hires up to speed more quickly. When undertaken thoughtfully, onboarding can help new employees feel more valued, better understand their role, and increase their productivity and performance, resulting in increased engagement and higher morale. Whether conducted in person or remotely—as is often the case these days—the need for an effective employee onboarding process remains the same.
What is employee onboarding?
Put simply, onboarding is the process of integrating new employees into a company. It begins as soon as a job offer is accepted and typically lasts through the first year of employment—if not longer. While many companies use the terms “orientation” and “onboarding” interchangeably, it’s important to understand the distinction. Orientation is usually a one-day event that kicks off the onboarding process. But onboarding proper continues for months or even years. In fact, it’s considered best practice to begin the onboarding process before day one, to allow new hires to get acquainted with the company and its culture before getting to work.
And while onboarding can seem arduous enough as it is, many employers agree that remote onboarding is even more complex. In Workable’s New World of Work survey, remote onboarding and training were cited by 37.4% of respondents as a leading challenge when hiring during the pandemic. Luckily, there are more tips for remote onboarders surfacing every day. In a nutshell, prepping in advance, sticking to a schedule, and being highly organized are all super helpful ways to engage new hires meaningfully, even from afar.
Onboarding is typically led by the employer and/or a member of the HR staff, but it’s also common to assign your new hire a peer mentor from among the more experienced and accomplished members of staff. PurelyHR’s Staff module includes an onboarding feature that is designed to help keep track of who’s contributing what to the onboarding of a new hire. Use it to easily delegate onboarding tasks to staff, supervisors, and anyone else as needed—without any crossed wires.
How to onboard an employee
There are numerous tasks associated with a comprehensive onboarding process. Although these will vary depending on the nature of your business (and whether the work will be completed in person or remotely) it helps to break them down using a rough timeline:
New hires form their first impression of your company during the hiring process, so it helps to put thought into your welcoming efforts. From the quality of the job description, to transparency about your hiring process, to interviews that are engaging and responsive—this stuff matters. When offering a job, do it via phone rather than email, as it’s less impersonal, and shows you’re excited to work with your new hire. Salary negotiations can get awkward or tense so keep it lighthearted and stay open-minded—this is how foundations of mutual respect are built.
Once the job’s been accepted, set a start date (ideally one that respects your new employee’s need to tie up loose ends). Schedule intro meetings with key colleagues and one-on-one management meetings for your new hire’s first few weeks so they can get a better overview of their new team, their role, and job expectations. It’s also helpful to plan an HR onboarding meeting for their first day to clarify any pressing questions.
You might also use the days (or weeks) before your new employee begins to prep all necessary paperwork for them to sign. This might include an employment agreement, a non-disclosure agreement, an employee handbook, IRS forms, and a direct deposit form—to name a few. This is also a great time to get your new employee’s computer and workspace ready, set up their online accounts and office phone number, order business cards, and if needed, arrange for parking access. Schedule any relevant trainings required for the job, and plan your new hire’s first assignment. To bring it all together, send your new hire a welcome email telling them what to expect, and be sure to ask if they have any questions.
First day on the job
If you’ve done a substantial job at pre-boarding, day one should go pretty smoothly. Let the welcoming begin, and give your new hire a detailed office tour or orientation (whether in-person or virtual) and outline their schedule for their first few days, including any first day meetings you’ve planned. At the same time, try not to bombard them on day one: be sure to leave time for them to set up any new equipment, set new passwords, explore new accounts, and digest new information.
First week on the job
In order to give your new employee a more complete understanding of your business as a whole, schedule introductory meetings with all departments rather than just those the employee will work with directly. Clearly outline any key projects they’ll be working on and start them off by assigning meaningful tasks that will engage them. When they’ve completed a task, be sure to provide quick feedback so as to establish clear expectations—as well as a healthy rapport. It always helps to set clear goals and performance objectives for your new employee’s first 3, 6, and 12-month milestones. Check in with them regularly and be available to respond to questions.
First few months
As time goes on, continue to have regular one-on-one meetings and check-ins to address any questions or concerns your new hire may have. Go one further and ask for feedback on the onboarding process so you can improve it in the future for other new hires!
Why is it so important to have a good employee onboarding process in place?
Still not convinced? Consider the following reasons a top notch onboarding process is key:
1. Better retention
Fun fact: the organizational costs of employee turnover are estimated to range between 100% and 300% of a replaced employee’s salary. And this goes beyond the cost of paid ads or hired recruiters. When an employee quits, other employees must compensate by filling in the gaps. This can be a drain on time, energy, and resources.
When an employee quits—especially early on—it most often has to do with problems dealing with their boss. But regularly scheduled onboarding meetings with their managers serve to build rapport, provide opportunities to offer feedback, and keep management accountable.
3. Improved compliance
Onboarding is step one in enforcing proper workplace compliance. The compliance training a new hire receives sets expectations for what type of conduct is required, as well as how to interact positively with the team and with customers—among many other facets of workplace best practices.
4. Priority communication
Think of onboarding as your big chance to clarify expectations, address uncertainty, and answer questions before they develop into a drain on productivity—or even a safety hazard. Onboarding provides an opportunity to set the right tone early on, so your employees have access to everything they need to do their jobs well, and work relationships start off on the right foot.
5. Enhanced company culture
By way of onboarding, your business can directly communicate its mission and values, noteworthy rituals or routines, as well as any defining characteristics that set it apart—all while addressing an ultra-receptive, uninitiated audience. This is also a great way to demonstrate to new hires the ways they might interact with and influence company culture.
6. Positive work relationships
Effective employee onboarding harnesses the power of meaningful human connection among employers, managers, and employees new and old. It can be an invaluable way of passing along institutional knowledge and history, and planting the seeds for future company leaders. This is also an effective way of motivating employees to shoot for new roles within the business, rather than looking elsewhere.
7. That competitive edge
Fewer job vacancies often amount to higher productivity rates. When employees aren’t trying to fulfill multiple roles simultaneously (or start all over again helping to onboard a new hire), they can better focus on their work. Employees who aren’t privy to endless distractions are happier and more productive, which, in turn, improves would-be employees’ impression of your business and what it’s like to work there.
Bottom line: A quality onboarding process benefits new hires, old hires, and employers alike. Take a thoughtful, comprehensive approach, and chances are you won’t be forced to needlessly retrace your steps. Smoother operations all around.