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Your step-by-step guide to world-class employee onboarding

11 min read
Onboarding is a crucial factor in keeping your latest recruits happy and motivated as they start the begin to navigate their new role. Here’s your guide to every stage of the onboarding process with tips, a checklist, and advice on how to make it the best possible experience for everyone.


Poor onboarding is one possible reason why 28% of people leave their new jobs within 90 days of starting. It’s a disappointing end considering the time, resources, and money you would have invested in sourcing, interviewing, and training new recruits.

Optimising your onboarding experience brings many benefits to the business. And they extend far beyond the important factor of employee retention.

Onboarding new employees is a make or break opportunity for organisations

Liz Pavese-Kaplan Ph.D., Principal Consultant of Employee Experience for Qualtrics

Better onboarding helps new employees adjust to their jobs – by establishing better relationships to increase satisfaction, clarifying expectations and objectives to improve performance.

According to Liz Pavese-Kaplan Ph.D., Principal Consultant of Employee Experience at Qualtrics, “These early experiences are highly influential to new hires’ overall perceptions of the company and impacts future engagement, motivation, and even intentions to stay.

“It’s a time to ensure you meet the expectations set during hiring, to reaffirm their choice to join, and maximise their ability to connect and contribute in the way they anticipate.”

Want to learn more? Take a look at employee onboarding surveys:

what to ask and why

All of these factors contribute to a happier workforce, which reduces attrition and boosts the bottom line.

Plus, onboarding is the perfect opportunity to show new people how great working for your organisation is and how great your people are.

What onboarding isn’t…

Onboarding is sometimes confused with orientation. Of course, orientation can be an important part of overall onboarding, but remember it is only a tiny part of the picture.

What onboarding is…

Onboarding is a comprehensive process that can last up to 12 months and involves not only HR and People teams, but management and colleagues too.

Step 1: Before you begin

Before you implement your best-in-class onboarding program, you need to pin down what onboarding means for your organisation.

  • What’s the number 1 impression you want your new hires to come away with after their first day? Their first week? Their first month?
  • When will onboarding start?
  • When will it finish?
  • How often would you like to check in with your new employees?
  • What do new employees need to know about the culture and work environment?
  • What would your ideal process look like? What role would management play? What about co-workers and team members?
  • What kind of goals do you want to set for new employees?
  • How will you gather feedback on the program and measure its success?
  • Do you have the right onboarding software to help you manage the process?

The final two points are crucial. Onboarding will be an ongoing process that will change with your organisation. For it to be effective you will benefit by ensuring it can easily evolve to meet your employee needs. Gathering feedback on what is – and isn’t – working is a huge part of this process.

Find out how we can help improve your employees' onboarding experience

Start here

The 4 Cs

SHRM advises there 4 distinct levels to successful onboarding – the 4 Cs:

  1. Compliance is the lowest level and includes teaching employees basic legal and policy-related rules and regulations.
  2. Clarification refers to ensuring that employees understand their new jobs and all related expectations.
  3. Culture is a broad category that includes providing employees with a sense of organisational norms – both formal and informal.
  4. Connection refers to the vital interpersonal relationships and information networks that new employees must establish.

Keep the 4 Cs front of mind to help your program stay on course.

Step 2: Before they start

Congratulations! The candidate you’ve been courting for weeks (and possibly months) has accepted your offer.

Because you’ve already established what kind of experience and impression you’d like your new hires to have, you can start crafting their experience before they start. Part of that is how you communicate before they’ve walked through the office door.

If you want to give the impression your organisation is friendly, organised and sociable, it’s important that this comes across even before their first day on the job.

Are you sending them a welcome pack? Or an email with information on what to bring, a map of where to go (and maybe an invite to a team lunch)?

Or is it a cold-hard contract and miserable employee handbook with strict instructions on the dress code topped off with formal instructions to not be late on their first day?

Or somewhere in between?

Does your organisation offer perks and socials? Now’s the time to highlight this. Even if it was mentioned in the interview process, it’s still good to reaffirm it now. Give them all the information you think will make them feel excited and energised. You want to make new joiners feel like they can’t wait to get stuck in.

The tone of voice in communication has a huge impact on how welcome an employee will feel. And no one wants to go somewhere they don’t feel welcome (especially if it’s 5 days a week).

Once the new joiner is onboard, ask them for anonymous feedback on your approach. Were there any misunderstandings? Things that could have gone better?

Step 3: Day 1

Hooray! Your new team members is through the door. Now is the time for proper first impressions. Will they be met at reception with a smile and their security pass ready and waiting for them? Or will they find no one knows who they are and the office is in disarray? First impressions count.

Following this checklist can help make your new joiner’s first day at work a great employee experience:

Pre-employment onboarding checklist

Assign them a buddy – Someone who can show them where the toilets are, and who’ll be on hand if they have any questions. You can do this just for the week, or it could be an ongoing relationship
Desk set up – Not having a dedicated workspace – or one that’s covered in someone else’s junk – can make a new hire feel unwelcome, like an afterthought. Set up their space with all the supplies and equipment they need to get started. Ideally with some branded swag so they instantly feel part of the team
Know how to pronounce their name – Or would they prefer a nickname? Double check the pronunciation and spelling. It can be awkward for a new hire to have to correct you on their first day
Email ready and waiting – Make sure to send them a welcome email! And make sure that everyone is CC’d. Ask them to swing by their desk and say hello
Organise some introductory meetings – Ideally with the people they’ll be working with regularly. It’ll give them a chance to ask questions. Plus it means they’ll have a better idea who to reach out to day-to-day
Provide an org chart – And an employee directory too. Bonus points if there are photos. After all, it’s almost impossible to remember everyone’s names when you’re first introduced to lots of people all at once
The best food and drink – Have a list of coffee shops, cafes, and restaurant recommendations good to go
Organise a team lunch – Their first day is an ideal time to organise this – it’s an ideal ‘welcome to the team’ experience

Step 4: 1 month

Now’s the time where the initial excitement of starting a new job may have worn off and the real work has thoroughly kicked in. Your latest recruit should have got to grips with most of your processes and ways of working. But there may still be things they’re struggling with. That’s why it’s the perfect opportunity to check in with them and make sure everything is going well.

It’s also a good opportunity to give them gentle feedback.

According to BambooHR, 75% of new hires said training during the first week on the job is most important to them. However, it’s a tricky balance between giving them all the training, resources and information they may need, while at the same time not overwhelming them.

A mentor program may be an excellent way to help balance out the need to learn alongside the stress of having lots to absorb. This should be someone senior to the person their mentoring, but not necessarily in the same role.

Mentors can help give new hires the guidance and support that may not always be appropriate from their manager. Especially if they’re struggling and would rather not talk to their boss about their issues.

The Aberdeen Group report found that high-performing organisations are almost 2.5 times more likely than lower-performing employers to assign a mentor or coach during the onboarding process.

How can we tell if we’re getting it right?

Ask! Monitor feedback at every stage of the process to make sure what you’re doing is making a difference. Make sure your employee feedback software allows you to monitor the impact of your improvements so you can continually adapt and improve.

Step 5: The first year

Unfortunately, very few companies continue with onboarding up to and beyond the 6-month mark. But a whopping 86% of employees decide whether to stay or go within that first 6 months. Finding out why could help prevent this.

Listening – and listening regularly – has a big impact on engagement and therefore retention too.

We surveyed 13,551 employees for our 2020 global employee experience trends report and found that regular listening has a huge impact on employee engagement and employee retention.

For example, engagement rises to 61% for those whose company has a feedback program, compared to 45% for those without.

Plus, frequency of listening makes a big difference too. Even if you’ve got an engagement program, asking people for their responses once a week (or even more) can boost your engagement score by as much as 10%.

Step 6: Keep listening and acting

Overall, onboarding should be a process that your organisation takes as seriously as interviewing. And one of the biggest contributors to world-class onboarding is world-class listening and action.

Want to find out how to run an onboarding survey and what questions to ask? Read our guide on how to run a new hire onboarding survey

Make sure you create a program that works for your organisation and people, but don’t stop there. Continually listen, learn, and act. Your new hires will thank you for it – and so will the c-suite once they see the ROI.

Download the Essential Guide to Employee Experience Surveys