How to Build a New Employee Onboarding Process from Scratch

An effective onboarding process can boost retention and productivity. This article details how to create one, recommended steps, potential costs and more.

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An effective onboarding process can boost retention and productivity. But the whole process can seem a bit intimidating at first. In this article, you’ll find details on how to create one, recommended steps, potential costs and more.

Let’s say you’ve worked hard in the recruitment process. You find an excellent candidate for an open position. You extend an offer. They accept and they are hired. Congratulations!

Now what?

Unfortunately, after the employee accepts, many hiring managers and businesses — large and small — drop the ball. It’s easy to get too caught up in the hiring process. When that happens, what comes after (aka “joining the company”) becomes an afterthought.

Maybe you’ve gone so far as to at least create a templated email to welcome new hires. But you’re realizing it’s time to create a more formal, thoughtful onboarding process. It will guide how new employees are introduced to your organization’s culture, values, and resources. 

You’re probably wondering how long the onboarding process should take. That’s a great question. Onboarding isn’t a singular event or a simple review of the employee handbook. That’s more like a new hire orientation. Rather, onboarding spans multiple touch points over the course of weeks or even months. Regardless of the workplace environment, the companies that invest in a framework are better off.

Solid frameworks help with instructing new hires on how to connect with colleagues. They also help new hires find appropriate resources and understand the expectations for their role. Businesses can no longer afford to simply throw an employee into a job and let them “sink or swim.”

The goals of an employee onboarding process

Most HR managers develop goals for their employee onboarding process to help stay on track. These goals vary between businesses and industries. These may include new hire employee engagement, new hire retention, new hire job readiness, new hire time-to-productivity and/or level of productivity, and the ability to compete for and attract critical talent.

Even with these crucial business outcomes tied to onboarding, the statistics tell a different story. Only 12% of employees agree their company does a great job onboarding new hires, according to Gallup. If an employee’s experience is poor, the chances they’ll leave increase. If you’ve ever hired, you know it’s time-consuming and pricey. Anything you can do to optimize the process will save you time, money, and resources in the long run.

How to create an employee onboarding process

Developing an onboarding process flow begins with a commitment to invest in their success even before the new employee’s first day. This will ultimately result in saving time and resources during their first weeks and months.

The goal is to create a welcoming environment. This helps the new hire assimilate with the team and the company culture. It also provides information and survival tools they’ll need on day one and beyond. 

Creating an onboarding process requires human resources personnel, owners and operators, and managers to get on the same page. Think through the steps a new employee will experience at different points in their job. Arrange onboarding to occur in a logical, efficient order with no wasted time or backtracking. 

When an internal candidate moves into a new department or position, they may need a bit of onboarding as well. This is called “cross-boarding.” While it might not be as in-depth (hopefully, they’re already immersed in company culture), a mini process can be essential. Tailoring your onboarding for cross-boarding can help employees who are promoted or transferred to get up to speed faster and be more successful.

Of course, your formal onboarding program needs to adapt based on your company’s and employee’s needs. This may involve products or services, the customers they’ll encounter, the work they’ll be required to do, etc. But there are some common steps to include in an onboarding process. We outline 5 here.

Step 1: The welcome

Before their first day, plan out the optimal environment. Ideally, it should say, “we’re excited to have you with us! We’re ready for you to join the team.”

  • Make intentional first impressions and connections. Ask remote employees and folks in-house to send a “welcome to the team” email or message to introduce themselves and offer help. Encourage those who are in-person to invite the new employee to a team lunch in the break room. It’s all about relationship-building.
  • Set up email and other accounts with generic passwords they can change. Then they’ll be ready to participate. (Remind them to notify IT of the new password, if applicable).
  • Populate contacts list with coworkers, vendors, and clients they may need.
  • Populate calendars with meetings, company events and activities, and other pertinent dates. Don’t forget to include routine things like payday and casual Fridays.
  • Have a workstation ready with all the necessary office supplies. That way, they don’t have to rummage through the supply closet for a pen.
  • Plan lunch with the group on the first day. A best practice is to pay for lunch so they can start connecting with their peers.
  • Got swag? Use it! Set up their work area with company pens, tees, tote bags, cups, or any swag you have. And make sure to mail these to remote employees. A little bit of swag goes a long way to make sure a new employee feels valued.
  • Outsource the onboarding paperwork. Online orientation and onboarding software can get all the new hire paperwork out of the way — an excellent resource for business. HR software can enroll your new hires in minutes. It can take them through their paperwork, tax forms, and benefits selection, all from their mobile device. With the paperwork out of the way, your new employees can focus on learning the ropes. They can start settling in as integral parts of their teams.

Step 2: Cultivating connections

On the employee’s first day, offer a few minutes to put away their things. Let them check out their new work space, then start the tour.

  • Make sure they can navigate to find restrooms, lunch rooms, break rooms, and supplies. It may sound trivial, but being comfortable in your surroundings is important.
  • Don’t stop at places; introduce people. Ask staff members to stop what they’re doing to say hi and welcome to the team. A fun practice can be to have everyone they’ve met send silly messages. This can help the new hire connect the name with the face:  “I’m Lucy – you caught me eating a donut when you stopped by!”
  • Don’t limit the welcomes. New hires may get to know their immediate peers right away, but a quick intro to others they might not see regularly provides a sense of the larger team.

Step 3: Plan meaningful meetings

You’ve already planned a first-day lunch, but don’t stop there. Schedule meetings throughout the first weeks and months with others who have a stake in the new hire’s success. And that’s everyone, right?

Onboarding should be an ongoing process. Yes they’ll likely be working with a trainer to get them up to speed. But getting them involved with the culture is as important. Who to meet with and how often? Again it depends on the learning curve and the size of the company. Here are some general guidelines.

  • Meet frequently. Team members and direct managers should meet at least once a week during the first few months. If the team meets routinely, you’re ahead of the game. If the new hire works more independently, plan on a half-hour meeting. These are helpful during the first weeks to keep them in the loop and aware of team processes.
  • Extend the connection network. Other team members who aren’t part of the immediate group (marketing that supports design, IT, etc.) should also be on the schedule for regular meetings — possibly once in the first week and then periodically over the next few months. The broader the connections a new hire makes, the more likely they are to feel like part of the larger team.
  • Have manager check-ins. Managers who aren’t directly involved in training should meet with the new hire at least once a week for the first several weeks. Spend 15 minutes on a “how’s it going” session. This helps to see that the new team member is getting the resources and help they need during the onboarding experience. You can also uncover whether the new hire’s expectations for the job, the company or the team are being met. If they are, terrific! If not, now is the time to make adjustments.
  • Have HR Check-ins. HR should check in during the first week and month at least. Is everything going according to plan? Are there any questions about benefits, company policies, or paperwork? Access to a learning module system (LMS) and other training and development options can be a generic topic early in the conversations. They’ll become more targeted as the new hire settles in. It’s never too early to start talking about growth. Ultimately, it’s the backbone of job satisfaction.

Step 4: Use the buddy system

It worked in preschool and it works in business. Having someone to provide training is important. Having a buddy you can ask silly questions without wondering if it makes you sound silly is critical. Appointing an associate to take the new hire under their wing helps emphasize how valuable they are. A buddy can bring the newest member of the team into the fold faster and more effectively than most other parts of the new hire onboarding process.

Assign someone who represents the company well, is enthusiastic, and has the time and patience to devote to new employee onboarding. You may need to ask others in the group to help with the buddy’s workload. They’re stakeholders, too.

A new hire that lasts on the job benefits the entire group. Everyone has a vested interest in making sure they’re welcomed, learn quickly, and become productive. Some companies even offer “buddy bonuses” to entice team members to become a part of the recruiting process. 

Step 5: Measure the impact with follow-up

A good employee onboarding process can take weeks or months. It all depends on the size of the company, the complexity of the work involved, and the distribution of teams. However you measure the results, they should align with your organization’s expectations.

The key is not to rush it. Employers who stop onboarding too soon leave new hires discouraged, confused, and short on resources. Some employees are quicker to build relationships and get up to speed on the work than others. The length of the process has to be fluid to accommodate all new hires and their needs.

Be sure to monitor their progress over a span of time. A good rule of thumb is to check in after their first week, month, and 6 months. Carve out a time to meet and discuss. Share what they’re doing well, what needs work, and what they can do to improve. Don’t be afraid to ask the new hire’s opinion. What do they like or dislike? How could the entire process be improved?

Tweak your onboarding as necessary — if you think of steps you want to add (or eliminate), do so! With a little bit of practice, you’ll create a perfect employee onboarding process for you and for your business.

Creating an employee onboarding checklist and template

Starting an onboarding process from scratch is daunting. Onboarding checklists can be invaluable. They can help with planning and seeing that items have been accomplished. They can also provide a conversation starter for some meetings. Did this step in the process work well for you? How could we improve that one? Was that a bit of a time waster?

The checklist can become a template for what worked.  It can also help determine what needs revisions to work better and what didn’t work at all.

Each organization should customize the template to their needs. This onboarding kit contains templates and checklists, and can be customized based on your overall industry.

For more tips about onboarding, check out some of Zenefits’ other valuable resources. Whether it’s best practices, how to navigate onboarding remotely, or where to find programs, you’ll find exactly what you need.

This article is intended only for informational purposes. It is not a substitute for legal consultation. While we attempt to keep the information covered timely and accurate, laws and regulations are subject to change.

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