5 Best Practices for Employee Onboarding


Very few modern employees spend their entire life with one company. Younger workers, especially, hop jobs at a higher rate: 35 percent of 18-34-year-olds plan to change jobs in 2017, according to a CareerBuilder survey.

Whether this is a product of age/experience or poor employee engagement tactics, employers need to make sure new hires feel comfortable as quickly as possible. The onboarding process paves the way for long term employee growth and retention.

recent study by TechnologyAdvice found that 42 percent of employees have searched for or considered other jobs in the past 60 days, which means if something comes along that looks better than what you provide, your employees may walk away. Turnover can be incredibly expensive, especially for middle management and executive positions. A Center for American Progress study shows that the price of replacing employees can range from eight percent of annual salary for mid-range incomes ($30-50,000/yr) to 213 percent of annual salary for highly trained and educated executives.

Many companies find that a greater investment in HR technology and education results in better onboarding processes, which in turn yield higher retention rates. A 2007 Wynhurst Group study suggested that a structured onboarding program increased the likelihood of employee retention by 69 percent.

But retention isn’t the only factor at stake here. Employees need support through the onboarding process to learn new technology and skills and become productive additions to staff. A separate study at Texas Instruments showed that employees who engaged in structured onboarding were productive two months faster than their non-onboarded counterparts.

Given these statistics, why would you not implement a structured employee onboarding program? Maybe you’re struggling to keep your head above water, and you hope employees will jump in on their own. While some employees may take initiative, others who are just as talented and capable will require a little more direction.

There’s also the issue of implementing HR software to gather and track the onboarding process. This takes time, money, staff, and resources, which can be a barrier to entry for some. The tips in this article will help your team create an onboarding strategy that doesn’t drain resources and pays dividends for the company as a whole.

1. Start Early

Your work begins before a new employee enters the office. Take the time after the offer and before the first day to set up technology, email, schedules, and meet with stakeholders, managers, and teammates. Send as much paperwork as possible to the employee to fill out electronically before that first day.

Employee Onboarding in Zenefits

An example of a digital onboarding process, via Zenefits.

Getting the paperwork and onboarding process started before the first daysends the signal to the employee that you’re serious about filling the position, that you haven’t forgotten about them, and that the company is preparing for their arrival. Set and use your HR software’s onboarding schedule feature for at least the first two weeks, and make sure managers and the new employee understand the direction and scope of their first two weeks.

2. Plan for Culture Shock

Each company has its own traditions, norms, and values, and new employees often encounter a bit of culture shock when they arrive.

Give employees a place to express questions and frustrations; this helps you understand their position better and smooth any friction during those first critical weeks.

Another option is to assign a mentor to the new employee. This person should have knowledge of the issues the employee may see during their day to day. Not everyone is cut out to take on a mentorship position, so make these actions voluntary.

It’s also important to make the new employee feel like part of the team. Make sure they meet all of their direct teammates and ancillary employees they’ll work with. Consider some bonding activities during the first several weeks, like a team lunch (you pay) or local event. These activities may feel a little forced in the beginning, but they can go a long way toward building rapport between co-workers and managers.

3. Brace for Long Term Support

The best way to build long-term employees is to plan for the employee to be around for a long time. An extended onboarding and employee engagement program requires forethought and planning. What programs do you have in place to take employee temperature after the first 2 weeks? Pulse surveys? 1:1 meetings? Can employees discuss issues that arise in these surveys with their managers?

You can use a solution like 15Five to conduct regular employee pulse surveys or collect qualitative feedback.

Some experts suggest continuing onboarding support for up to two years of employment. An ongoing process provides managers, employees, and HR staff with consistent contact and can help reduce attrition through mis- or under-communicating. You’ll also learn a lot about what worked in the initial onboarding and where your teams can pick up the slack for future employees.

4. Plan to Train

Companies that require knowledge of specific technologies (“Must have 2-5 years experience in Excel and Lotus Notes”) often look for the wrong skills in an employee. Rather than requiring that new employees have experience building spreadsheets or driving a forklift (skills that can be taught easily with a few training sessions), look instead for employees with a willingness and proven capacity to think critically and learn on the job.

Every company uses their tools and technology a different way, so you’ll still have to train employees, regardless of what their resume says. Even the most skilled and self-motivated worker will have questions, so build in training time to address those issues. Make sure documentation exists so employees can find their own answers, but designate a trainer to help with questions.

5. Write It All Down

Speaking of documentation, give employees a full list of their job responsibilities from the very beginning so they can schedule their day/week. You don’t want to come back later and have that “Well, no one told me I was supposed to do it” conversation. Documenting the employee’s assigned responsibilities and giving stakeholders a schedule of the events of those first few weeks will save a lot of confusion the long run. Employees will feel more comfortable knowing their next responsibility, and trainers or managers can refer to the documentation to stay on track.

Documentation also gives everyone some recourse, should the employee or trainer not meet expectations. Employees can point out where their training was inadequate, if that’s the case, and managers can identify opportunities for improvement.

* * *

Employee onboarding takes a lot of time and effort, but it doesn’t have to be a chore. When everyone understands their responsibilities, the process will run smoothly. It also helps to follow up with new hires at regular intervals and take their feedback seriously. Remember, your goal isn’t just to hire; it’s to make new employees feel valued and equip them to succeed.

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