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Designing an effective employee onboarding process: best practices and tips

The first few days at a new job can be quite intimidating for many employees. Onboarding, the process of acclimating new employees to their new role, is critical to making them feel welcome, understand job expectations, and contribute effectively in the shortest amount of time.

An effective onboarding process not only lowers turnover rates, but also increases overall employee satisfaction and productivity. In this article, we'll provide you with best practices and tips for an effective onboarding process.

The importance of effective onboarding

Before you get into the details of an effective onboarding program, it's important to understand why it's necessary.

Onboarding and employee retention

Employees are more likely to stay with a company if they have a positive onboarding experience. A well-structured onboarding process can increase retention rates by up to 50%.

When new employees join a company, they're usually in a vulnerable position — entering unfamiliar territory and unsure if their decision to join was the right one. The onboarding process can play an important role in alleviating these fears and uncertainties.

During the onboarding process, new employees learn not only about their roles and responsibilities, but also about the company culture, expectations and their team members. A well-structured onboarding process leaves no room for ambiguity or confusion and ensures that new employees feel confident in choosing a company and can perform their tasks effectively.

Several aspects of a positive onboarding experience directly contribute to employee retention:

Relationship building:

Onboarding often involves introductions to team members and supervisors, so relationships are built from the start. These early contacts can provide a sense of belonging and make new employees feel valued and accepted, increasing the likelihood that they'll stay.

Clear expectations:

During onboarding, new employees learn what their duties are, what their responsibilities are, and what is expected of them. Understanding these expectations will help you avoid frustration and confusion that could otherwise lead to turnover.

Company culture and values:

Onboarding is an important time to communicate the company's culture and values. If new employees can identify with these values and the work environment, they're more likely to be satisfied with their jobs and stay.

Training and development:

Onboarding often includes initial training and development plans that show new employees that the company is invested in their growth and success. This commitment can make employees feel valued and increase their loyalty to the company.

Research supports these observations. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), a good onboarding process can increase new employee retention by 82% and productivity by over 70%. Therefore, it's not surprising that a well-structured onboarding process can increase employee retention by up to 50%.

An effective onboarding process sets the stage for a positive work experience. If employees feel valued, understand their role and are satisfied with the work environment, they're more likely to stay with the company for the long term.

Onboarding and productivity

Onboarding increases productivity by helping new employees understand their roles and responsibilities more quickly and effectively.

New hires typically go through a learning phase during which they adapt to a new work environment, understand their tasks, learn about the company's products or services, and become familiar with their team's work processes. During this time, their productivity may be relatively low as they're still trying to navigate the new environment.

This is where a well-planned and comprehensive onboarding process can make a big difference. It accelerates the learning curve and increases productivity in the following ways:

1. Understanding roles and responsibilities

During the onboarding process, new employees are familiarized with their specific roles and responsibilities, key performance indicators (KPIs), and the goals they're expected to achieve. This clarity eliminates any confusion and allows new employees to focus on their tasks and results, which increases productivity.

2. Familiarize yourself with tools and processes

Every company uses certain tools, software and processes. Onboarding includes training on these important resources so new employees can use them proficiently in the shortest amount of time, which increases productivity.

3. Introduction to team dynamics

Every team has its own dynamics, communication style and workflows. The onboarding process helps new employees understand these aspects so they can more easily integrate into the team and collaborate effectively, which increases productivity.

5. Build trust

Onboarding programs typically include mentoring or buddy systems, where an experienced employee guides the new employee. This support system can build the new employee's confidence, making them feel more comfortable in their role and increasing their productivity.

6. Knowledge transfer

Onboarding is an opportunity for a company to share important knowledge about the company culture, products, services and customers. This information can enable new employees to do their jobs more effectively and make better, more informed decisions, which increases productivity.

It's important to note that while onboarding can lead to immediate productivity gains, the true value lies in the long-term benefits. When employees feel well-equipped and empowered from the start, they're more productive, engaged and committed in the long run.

Research by the Boston Consulting Group has found that companies with productivity-enhancing onboarding programs can increase their revenue growth and profit margins by up to 2.5 times. So onboarding plays a critical role in ensuring that newly hired employees contribute effectively to the company's success as quickly as possible.

Onboarding and employee engagement

An effective onboarding program helps new employees feel valued, which increases their engagement and retention.

Engagement refers to an employee's emotional commitment and attachment to their job. Engaged employees are motivated, take responsibility for their work and are committed to their company's goals. They're also more likely to stay with their employer longer. A structured and thoughtful onboarding program can foster this engagement from the start. Here's how:

1. Foster a sense of belonging

During the onboarding process, new employees are introduced to their team, the company's values and the work culture. This introduction helps them understand where they belong and how their role contributes to the company's goals. Feeling part of a bigger picture fosters a sense of belonging and engagement.

2. Give them the right tools and knowledge

An effective onboarding program equips new employees with the tools, skills and knowledge they need to succeed in their role. When employees feel they're well equipped for their roles, they're more likely to be engaged and motivated.

3. Create trust and transparency

Onboarding is a great opportunity for companies to show their commitment to openness and honesty. By setting clear expectations and being open about the company's vision and challenges, they can build trust - an important factor in employee engagement.

4. Show you're invested in employee development

Onboarding programs often include a roadmap for the training and development opportunities available to employees. This roadmap shows that the company is investing in employee professional development, which can significantly increase engagement.

5. Make connections

During the onboarding program, new employees are often assigned a mentor or buddy. These relationships help new employees feel more connected and supported, which increases engagement.

6. Recognition and feedback

Regular feedback and recognition in the early stages of employment can help employees feel valued, which further increases engagement.

According to a Gallup study, only about 12% of employees think their company does a good job of onboarding new employees. However, companies that use the onboarding process to increase engagement have lower turnover rates and higher customer satisfaction. Therefore, investing in an effective onboarding process that promotes employee engagement can yield significant benefits for any company.

Onboarding and corporate culture

Onboarding is an opportunity to introduce and embed the company's values and culture into new employees from the very beginning.

Corporate culture, often defined by the company's mission, values, ethics, expectations and goals, has a major impact on employee behavior, attitudes and job satisfaction. An effective onboarding process can help instill this culture in new employees from the start and help them integrate and adapt to the company. Here's how:

1. Communicate the company's values and mission

The onboarding process provides a platform to introduce new employees to the company's mission and core values. This introduction helps them understand what the company stands for and how their role contributes to the larger mission, which fosters a sense of purpose and belonging.

2. Point out behavioral norms and expectations

Every company has certain behavioral norms and expectations that make up its culture. During onboarding, new employees learn about these norms, such as communication styles, decision-making processes, and ethical standards, and are better able to adapt to their new work environment.

3. Encourage pride in the company

The onboarding process often includes a company's history, accomplishments and vision for the future. This information can give new employees a sense of pride and motivate them to contribute to the company's success.

4. Set the tone for open communication

A company's culture is greatly influenced by how communication is handled. An open, two-way communication culture can be fostered from the start by encouraging new employees to ask questions, share ideas and provide feedback during the onboarding process.

5. Align personal and organizational goals

During the onboarding process, there is an opportunity to discuss new employees' career goals and determine how they align with organizational goals. This alignment can foster commitment and a sense of shared purpose.

6. Strengthen culture through mentors and leaders

Assigning mentors or involving leaders in the onboarding process can further strengthen the company culture. These individuals can embody the company's values and model the culture in practice.

Onboarding is an important phase for new employees to become familiar with the company culture. This process can have a major impact on how new employees perceive the company and their role within it, which in turn can affect their job satisfaction, productivity and retention. By using the onboarding process to introduce and embed the company's values and culture, companies can lay a strong foundation for a successful and productive working relationship.

Key elements of an effective onboarding process

Designing an effective onboarding process involves several key elements. Here are some best practices:

Pre-on-boarding activities

The onboarding process doesn't begin on an employee's first day of work, but the moment they accept their job offer. This phase, known as pre-onboarding, can have a significant impact on the new employee's impression of the company and their initial job satisfaction. Learn more about activities you can do during this time below:

1. Send a welcome message

A personal, warm greeting from the hiring manager or team leader can help the new employee feel valued and excited about their new role. The message can include congratulations, express how excited the team is about the new employee's arrival, and emphasize what value he or she brings to the company.

2. Distribute the necessary documents

At this stage, you can hand out the necessary documents to the newcomers, such as the employee handbook, company policies, benefits and compensation information, and any forms they need to fill out. If you provide these documents early, new employees can go through them at their own pace, ask questions and arrive on their first day with a clear understanding of company policies and procedures.

3. Get an overview of the first day/week

A clear timeline for the first day or week can help alleviate new employee anxiety. This outline can include details about the orientation program, training, team introductions, and important meetings they should be aware of.

4. Set up technical resources

Depending on the role and company, it may be useful to set up the new employee's email account, give them access to the necessary software and platforms, and communicate IT policies. This step ensures the new employee is ready to hit the ground running on their first day.

5. Assign a buddy or mentor

Assigning a buddy or mentor to the new employee before their first day on the job gives them a direct point of contact and helps make the transition smoother. The buddy can answer questions, provide insight into the company culture and be a friendly face on the first day.

6. Send a Welcome Packet

Depending on the company's resources, it can be a nice gesture to send a welcome packet. This package can include items with the company logo, equipment needed for work (if you're working from home), and a letter from the manager or team.

Onboarding is an opportunity to warmly welcome new employees, provide them with the resources they need, and set the tone for their employment. These steps can go a long way toward making new employees feel comfortable, well prepared, and excited about their new role, which fosters a positive attitude that can carry over to onboarding and beyond.

Greeting on the first day

The first day sets the tone for a new employee's entire experience at your company:

1. The Welcome Packet

A welcome packet for new employees can make a big difference in their first impression of your company. This package could include branded items like t-shirts or coffee mugs that convey a sense of pride and belonging. In addition to promotional gifts, the welcome package should include important tools and resources needed for the job, such as access cards, stationery, a laptop or specialized software. A personal touch, such as a handwritten note from the team or manager, can make the new employee feel special and appreciated.

2. Tour the workplace

The new environment can be overwhelming for a new employee. A comprehensive tour of the workplace is important to make them feel comfortable in their surroundings. This tour should include important areas such as the personal work area, restrooms, kitchen or dining area, emergency exits, and common meeting rooms. In a remote environment, a virtual tour of the digital workspace with an overview of the key digital tools and platforms they'll be using can serve a similar purpose.

3. Team introductions

Introducing new employees to their immediate team members, supervisors, and key employees from other departments can help them socialize and not feel like outsiders. These introductions can also shed light on who does what in the company and improve understanding of team structure and work processes. In a virtual environment, this could be done via a video conference where each team member can share something about their role and a personal fun fact to create a friendly atmosphere.

4. First Day Orientation

First day orientation is an important part of the onboarding process. It typically includes an introduction to the company's history, mission, vision and culture, and also covers important policies and procedures. Onboarding can take the form of presentations, videos, interactive sessions, or a combination of both, and should also give new employees the opportunity to ask questions and clarify any ambiguities.

5. Lunch with the team

Whether in person or virtually, a lunch together is a great way to build team cohesion. It provides an informal setting where new employees can get to know their colleagues on a personal level and better integrate into the team.

6. Follow-up meeting

At the end of the first day, a follow-up meeting with the HR manager or HR can provide an opportunity to discuss the new employee's first impressions, answer questions, and clarify what to expect in the days ahead. This meeting underscores that the company values their feedback and is committed to a smooth transition.

A well-planned first day can create a positive atmosphere and pave the way for a successful onboarding process. New employees feel welcome and comfortable and look forward to their continued journey with the company, which has a long-term impact on their job satisfaction and employee retention.

Structured training program

A structured training program is important to ensure that a new employee's transition into their role is seamless and productive. A well-designed program not only teaches important job-related skills, but also familiarizes the employee with company culture and norms. Below, we review the various components of a training program:

1. Job-related training

This is arguably the most important part of the training program, designed to ensure that new employees fully understand their roles and responsibilities. This training should provide detailed insight into job requirements, key tasks, performance metrics, and how the role fits into the overall organizational structure. The training format can vary from role plays and workshops to e-learning modules, depending on the nature of the role and the organization's resources. Remember, the goal is to enable new employees to perform their roles effectively and contribute to the company's success.

2. Soft Skills Training

Every company has its own culture and way of doing things. Therefore, soft skills training is just as important as job-specific training. This can include understanding company culture, team dynamics, communication norms, and other 'unwritten rules" Soft skills training can also include modules on leadership, time management, conflict resolution, or other skills the company deems important. This is to ensure that new employees feel comfortable in the workplace and can work well with others.

3. Mentoring programs

Providing a new employee with a buddy or mentor can be very helpful. A mentor provides one-on-one support and helps the new employee assimilate into the company culture more quickly, answer questions and navigate difficult situations. This type of support can go a long way toward ensuring that a new employee isn't overwhelmed and develops into a full member of the team more quickly.

4. Product or service training

If the company offers certain products or services, it's important that all employees, regardless of their role, fully understand these offerings. This knowledge helps employees see the big picture and understand how their work contributes to the company's overall goals.

5. Ongoing training and development

Remember that training shouldn't be a one-time event. An effective training program is ongoing and adapts to the changing needs of the workforce and the business. Regular training sessions, workshops and seminars not only keep employees up to date on industry trends and changes in the company, but also show them that the company values their development.

In summary, a well-structured training program is a cornerstone of an effective onboarding process. It equips new employees with the tools they need to be successful in their role, fosters a better understanding of the company culture, and sets the stage for continuous learning and development. When companies invest in a robust training program, they can increase engagement, productivity and retention.

Ongoing controls and feedback

Onboarding isn't just a one-week event. It's a process that should take place over several months:

1. Regular checks:

Onboarding is a process that isn't limited to the first week or month of employment. Regular check-ins are an important part of this process to ensure that new hires are settling in well, understanding their roles, and feeling comfortable with their teams. Managers should schedule these conversations at regular intervals - weekly, bi-weekly or monthly, depending on the company culture and the nature of the job.

These check-ins serve as a platform for open communication where new employees can talk about their experiences and successes, express concerns or ask questions. Supervisors can also use these opportunities to guide new employees, reinforce the company's values, and help them through challenges.

2. Feedback:

Regular, constructive feedback is equally important. New employees want to learn and improve, and timely feedback helps them understand what they're doing well and where they can improve. It's important that feedback is balanced - recognition and praise for good performance can boost morale and motivation, while constructive criticism, given sensitively, can help the new employee improve and grow.

Feedback should be specific, actionable and timely. Rather than waiting for a formal performance review, give your feedback immediately after observing the behavior. This immediacy will help the new employee make a connection between his/her behavior and your feedback, allowing for faster improvement.

3. 360-degree feedback:

Encourage new employees to give their feedback as well. They bring new perspectives and can provide valuable insight into their role, team or company. Ask them about their onboarding experience - what was good for them and what could be improved. This openness not only helps the company improve its onboarding process, but also makes new hires feel like their opinions matter.

4. Long-term feedback:

Even if the intensity of the onboarding process wanes after the first few months, it's important to continue checking in and providing feedback on a regular basis. This can be done at shorter intervals, such as quarterly or semi-annually, and can be combined with formal performance reviews. Long-term conversations ensure that employees continue to feel supported and engaged, and they also provide an opportunity to discuss professional development and future goals.

In summary, ongoing conversations and feedback are important to reinforce what is learned, address issues in a timely manner, and make new employees feel supported and valued. These elements help transform the onboarding process from a short-term, isolated event into a comprehensive, engaging journey that ultimately leads to higher job satisfaction, performance and employee retention.


An effective onboarding process is more than just a way to introduce new employees to their roles and responsibilities; it's a comprehensive and ongoing approach to integrating them into the company culture, fostering their engagement, increasing their productivity, and ultimately improving their retention.

The onboarding process should start early, be personalized, involve the team, provide the necessary tools and resources, set clear expectations, incorporate regular reviews and offer constructive feedback.

With a targeted and well-structured onboarding process, companies can set new employees up for success, increase their performance and satisfaction, and contribute to a robust and harmonious company culture. Remember that your employees are your most valuable asset. A successful onboarding process is a critical step in realizing their potential and guiding them to contribute effectively to your organization's goals.

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