What is Employee Onboarding -- And Why do You Need It?


Finding the best candidates for positions in your organization is only part of building an effective team. The process of onboarding new employees can be one of the most critical factors in ensuring recently hired talent will be productive, contented workers. However, in some organizations, onboarding is often confused with orientation. While orientation might be necessary -- paperwork and other routine tasks must be completed -- onboarding is a comprehensive process involving management and other employees that can last up to 12 months.

Goals of an Effective Onboarding Process

Overall, effective onboarding should acclimate the new employee to allow him or her to become a contributing member of the staff in the briefest period possible, while engaging the employee to enhance productivity and improve the opportunity for the company to retain the employee. A better understanding of the concept can perhaps be gained by examining certain key words individually.

  • Acclimate -- Acclimating a new employee is far more than just pointing out the location of the break room or explaining the parking situation. Every workplace has its own personality, and every company has its own goals and philosophies. Newly hired employees need to understand what the company expects from them and the specific role they will play in achieving team or company goals. At the same time, new hires need to be made aware of what they can expect from the company, such as management support, availability of resources or performance reviews.
  • Engage -- A Gallup study showed a correlation between engaged employees and a company's profitability, turnover rate, safety record, absenteeism, product quality and customer ratings. An effective onboarding plan offers an ideal opportunity to boost employee engagement, such as fostering a supportive relationship between a new hire and management, reinforcing the company's commitment to helping employees' professional growth or proving that management recognizes the employee's talent.
  • Retain -- According to an article in 'Inc." about the costs of employee turnover, monetary costs to replace an employee can be as much as 150 percent of the annual salary. Most of these costs are hidden, reflected in lower productivity, reduced morale among remaining employees who are asked to do more and special knowledge or experience that only the departing employee possessed. Quantifiable costs can include fees to recruiters, interviewing costs and the cost to train a new employee.

Tips for Effective Employee Onboarding

Effective employee onboarding requires good prior planning. Ideally, the onboarding plan should be integrated with the recruitment plan. In other words, as soon as the decision is made to hire an employee, the plan to onboard the new hire should at least be outlined although specific details, such as the current employee who will assist with acclimation, may be added later. The following tips can help onboard a new employee successfully.

  • Prepare a comprehensive, written statement of the new hire's responsibilities and objectives. If possible, have this available during the interview process to reduce the potential for misunderstandings.
  • No later than the day before the new employee is to report for work, send an email or memo to all current employees. A new hire can be especially unsettled if, when he or she arrives to start work, no one seems to know who this person is or who to notify.
  • Choose an employee -- ideally a peer of the new hire -- to assist with orientation and acclimation. Pay careful attention to the selection of this employee. Be sure to choose someone who would be a good role model for the new hire and who will have a good attitude about the assignment.
  • Supervisors and managers need to play a significant role in the onboarding process. It is during the early days that the future tone of the relationship can be established. As repeated studies have shown, the leading factor in employee dissatisfaction is a negative relationship with his or her immediate manager. Onboarding is an excellent time to convince new hires that they are respected, valued and appreciated. As the onboarding process continues, managers should offer encouragement, review the employee's progress and provide feedback.
  • If possible, make lunch the first day a group event, with the entire department or office treating the new hire. This is a good way to socialize and allow the new employee to get to know co-workers. Consider asking one or more co-workers to be the new hire's "lunch buddy" for the first week or two to give the new employee a chance to learn the best options for lunch in the area.
  • When new hires arrive for their first day on the job, they have the right to have their work area ready to go. Make sure the phone is working, the computer is functioning and that the area is clean. If the area has been used for staging files bound for the archives or excess office supplies, have them removed.
  • Get feedback from current employees to help create an onboarding plan. Ask them how their first weeks or months could have been improved or what they wish managers had done during that time. Ask them to think of things that they wish they had known during their early days. Their experiences can help ensure that new hires get the information and assistance they truly need, rather than just what a specific manager feels they should want.
  • Be willing to be creative with onboarding. Mohit Garg wrote an interesting article on using gamification during onboarding and the reasons that it works. 

Onboarding is not a one-day, one-week or one-month event. It is an ongoing process that starts with the decision to hire an employee and continues until the new hire is a productive member of the team. Although this might sound like a great deal of effort, the rewards can make it worth every minute invested. 


Originally published in February 2015.



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