Building an Employee Onboarding Program

An effective employee onboarding program welcomes and engages new hires while equipping them to perform with confidence and competence over time. Here’s how.

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Employee Onboarding - New Desk

When you bring a new hire into the company, you want them to be able to start work right away. But to do that, they typically undergo some sort of onboarding program. For many companies, that amounts to a pile of paperwork. In fact, 58% of organizations¹ say that their employee onboarding focuses on paperwork and operations.

As businesses forge into the future, more human resources professionals are shifting the spotlight from processes and paperwork to people. When it comes to employee onboarding, companies are wise to invest in comprehensive and immersive experiences during those first few months. This process looks different for each person, but there are some larger trends that shed light on the future of HR as a whole.

A look back at traditional onboarding processes

Gone are the days when the employee onboarding process meant a pile of HR paperwork, a quick office tour, and voila, they’re onboard. Now, new team members want to get to know their coworkers and begin to deeply understand the company’s products and purpose. Realistically, successful onboarding can take up to 12 months.

Part of the reasoning behind this shift is the development and widespread implementation of software tools and technological advancements. HR processes like onboarding, payroll, and benefits selection have become much easier through automation. Therefore, the role of the HR professional is greatly different from what it was just a few years ago.

Employers are also increasingly aware of how the employee experience influences productivity and the bottom line. That’s why businesses must put employees first, starting with an effective onboarding program.

Building an effective employee onboarding program

The best employee onboarding programs engage new hires while addressing acclimation, education, and goal setting. To encourage employee engagement within the first few weeks, use your onboarding program to show new hires how hitting their goals moves the needle for the entire company. Be sure to:

  • Effectively articulate the company’s mission so everyone is on the same page.
  • Communicate objectives to clarify those goals across the organization.
  • Work with new hires to formulate reasonable goals, then track new hire progress.

When working closely with a new employee, hiring managers can build toward the 4 pillars of employee engagement. Those are: connection, commitment, contribution, and progress. Using technology to streamline administrative tasks lets human resources and management teams focus on helping new employees make key connections within the company. These early relationships go a long way toward helping them adjust and better understand company culture and operations.

Here are important individual components to integrate when building a comprehensive employee onboarding program.

Company culture

Demonstrate your corporate culture to your new employee. The following steps taken by HR or others responsible for hiring can show them what you’re all about.

Write accurate and comprehensive job descriptions

Detailing exactly what an employee is responsible for will help to clarify expectations and performance goals. Typically, employers should provide a more detailed description than what was originally included in the job posting. In time, this will help ensure they’re a good, confident fit for the organization.

Send a welcome kit

To impress new team members, send them a welcome kit before their first day. Some consider this part of pre-onboarding. Include a welcome letter, company swag, and personalized business cards. Add anything else that will provide a warm, official introduction to your organization.

Make employees feel welcome and supported

Starting a new job can be difficult for a number of reasons. Meeting new people shouldn’t be one of them. Your company’s culture should include involving other employees in onboarding programs. The following ideas can go a long way toward successful onboarding.

  • Set up training with employees from other departments.
  • Forward a digital employee handbook.
  • Plan for team lunches.
  • Schedule one-on-one time with executives.
  • Offer icebreaker sessions.

While your company’s approach to onboarding should be customized, these easy steps will show new employees that you care about their success. You can create a positive onboarding experience while simultaneously helping a new employee get a sense of belonging, making them feel like a team member from day 1.

HR necessities

HR professionals require a lot of tedious work from new employees. But try to remember that a company is much more than new hire paperwork. New hires need to feel welcome and understand their work in relation to their department in the company. By putting a priority on giving them a positive onboarding experience, HR leaders can provide a better new hire experience.

Do early preparation for the employee’s first day

Don’t wait until the last moment to start your formal onboarding program. Finish paperwork early, get the rest of the team excited, and prep any necessary tools before the actual start date. What you do now prepares your new hire for a successful first day and ongoing success in the critical first months.

Essentially, your employees’ onboarding experience should be comprehensive and not overwhelming during their first week. With early prep, company leaders can create a seamless entry into the office environment.

Use technology to streamline new hire paperwork

Failing to create a positive experience can have serious consequences. In fact, a poor onboarding experience can double the chances of your employee leaving. But offering effective onboarding programs significantly improves the odds of employee retention.

Using technology tools to streamline administrative processes makes it easier for everyone. Today’s software empowers hiring managers and HR professionals to allow technology to do the heavy, often tedious, lifting. This frees time and energy for all involved to devote to other equally important onboarding tasks in the new hire experience.

Skills and training

Plan individual orientation sessions with each new employee for a deeper dive into the specifics of their job. The individual attention can help them better hone their skills and learn the duties they’ll be performing. Ways to approach this include:

  • Host onboarding seminars.
  • Use training videos (especially good for new remote employees).
  • Offer interactive courses.
  • Teach 1 task at a time.
  • Start with easy tasks and progressively build on them.
  • Assign a new hire buddy.

Focusing on information that directly pertains to an individual job helps keep employees engaged for more effective onboarding. This can also start them thinking about future possibilities and career growth.

Revisit onboarding processes

Reevaluate your onboarding program on a routine basis to ensure it’s working to help shape your desired results and organizational environment. Following the initial hiring process, continue to assess onboarding metrics and key performance indicators. Insights about what’s working, what’s not, and why can dictate what changes or improvements you make where.

Solicit feedback

At the end of the onboarding process, ask employees for feedback. Consider following up again within a 3-month timeline. Upon reflection, your new employees may have suggestions for improving your onboarding program for the next generation.

Remember to reach out to your managers for their input about the process and how well your new hires perform after being onboarded.

Use key metrics

Finally, review your actual retention rates to assess your efforts toward successful onboarding. Did optimizing your onboarding process improve retention? Keep in mind that employee retention is a long-term metric. You may not know how effective your new program is for 6 to 12 months. But there are other key metrics to consider, including:

  • Revenue-per-employee ratio.
  • Employee satisfaction.
  • Onboarding returns on investment.
  • Engagement or productivity level.
  • Absenteeism rates.

Creating an effective onboarding process is important, yet organizations often neglect to clearly define the end of onboarding. So while these metrics matter, it’s equally important to carve your program in such a way that your new hires feel their accomplishments and experience a rite of passage to becoming full-fledged members of your team.

A little planning goes a long way when developing successful onboarding programs

Ideally, you want your new team members to feel welcome, supported, and capable. This means getting existing employees involved in your employee onboarding program in addition to soliciting management support and participation.

The best strategic onboarding process is comprehensive but not overwhelming. It requires thoughtfulness and purpose in imparting company policies, goals, expectations, and methodology. With that, you can develop an onboarding experience that makes new employees feel welcome and prepared to hit the ground running.

For help developing or revising your company’s own onboarding program, read our free guide to employee onboarding today.

For ongoing tips, tools, and other resources for business management and HR professionals, visit Workest by Zenefits daily.


  1. 33 Startling Employee Onboarding Statistics, Techjury
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