The 5 Phases of Employee Onboarding, Complete with Examples

Successful employee onboarding is critical, and proper planning for these 5 phases of onboarding can determine the employee’s experience and desire to stay.

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Employers, HR teams, and hiring managers everywhere share the challenges of finding the right new hires for open roles. After attracting, engaging, interviewing, and negotiating with job candidates, it’s essential to have the “next steps” thoughtfully planned. We’re referring to the onboarding process.

If new hires don’t feel valued, they’re likely to leave. The Work Institute’s 2020 Retention Report found that in 2019 nearly 38% of new hires left their positions within year 1. Two-thirds of them did so in the first 6 months.

A plan for welcoming and training new employees, and helping them acclimate to their roles and company culture, is vital to their success.

A popular plan for bringing new recruits into the company is through a phased onboarding process. Here we’ll touch on why successful onboarding is critical and dive into the 5 phases of onboarding.

Why the employee onboarding process is critical

An onboarding program offers employers and new employees significant benefits. It helps the new hire properly train for their role, so they can handle their new job responsibilities. It also helps them immerse themselves in the corporate culture faster. For employers, an effective onboarding process increases new hire retention and builds a more productive employee.

The 5 phases of employee onboarding (with examples)

There are 5 distinct phases of employee onboarding programs. Each is uniquely important to the process as a whole, and each hinges on the success of the other. Depending upon the company and the position, onboarding can take from a few weeks to several months.

1. Pre-onboarding phase

Some people subscribe to the methodology that involves only 4 phases of onboarding. That approach leaves out what we (and many) consider the first phase, which is pre-onboarding. While the subsequent 4 phases begin with the new hire’s first day on the job, pre-onboarding happens before that.

Examples of pre-onboarding activities may include a big welcome, introductions to key team members, and completing required onboarding documents. This phase gets the initial ice-breaking moments out of the way and helps ease first-day jitters. It also sets the tone for a welcoming and inclusive training experience.

2. New employee orientation phase

The orientation phase starts on the new employee’s first day.

In this phase, the new hire starts broadly learning about the company. They get familiar with the policies, mission, and company culture.

Examples of what may happen during the orientation phase are hearing about safety regulations and the company’s yearly objectives. The new hire may also receive their onboarding learning materials during this phase.

Many companies assign an onboarding buddy, who is a tenured employee. The buddy establishes rapport with the new hire, helps them navigate the workplace, and introduces them to key team members. The buddy system minimizes the chances of the new employee feeling isolated.

3. Team-focused training phase

This phase narrows the new employee from a broad company view to their team and job duties. They’ll learn the “meat” of their role training during this targeted training period.

Examples of the team-focused training phase include training on the tools required for the new job, communicating with team members, and starting to understand job expectations. This time is crucial, as the employee begins to enjoy being part of a unit and developing team spirit.

4. Settling into the role: Growth and performance phase

At this point, the new hire is firmly in their seat but still learning. It’s the transition period from “trainee” to “employee.” Employers lay out clear expectations and can anticipate the new employee’s ability to understand and complete their job responsibilities. Even so, they may still have questions and need assistance with fine details and procedures at times.

5. Ongoing development phase

The final phase of a structured onboarding program is ongoing employee development. Employees should be able to meet the goals set for them, feel like they’re part of the company culture, and understand what’s expected. Elements of this phase may include one-on-one check-ins with HR about performance and progress, as well as regular feedback. The employer may set up self-paced learning and other opportunities for the employee to continue expanding their professional development.

Understanding how the onboarding phases work together to create a cohesive orientation, training, and ongoing development strategy for new employees is fundamental to their success. Properly planned onboarding helps new hires establish relationships, understand expectations, and get involved with the company culture more quickly. These elements build a better employee experience and a more engaged, motivated team member.

For guidance developing your own employee onboarding program, download our free, complete guide on employee onboarding. For ongoing tips, tools, and other resources for HR and business management, visit Workest by Zenefits daily.

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