Employee onboarding

17 minute read

The 5 Step Employee Onboarding Process That Will Wow Your New Hires

Kat Boogaard

Kat Boogaard

Meet Sara. She was just hired to join a growing company, and she’s been eagerly awaiting her first day on the job.

Finally, that day is here. When she arrives at the office, she discovers that she needs to call the HR manager from outside, since she wasn’t given any way to gain access to the building herself. She’s shown to her desk, where the IT department is only getting started on setting up her phone and computer and has completely taken over her desk.

She somehow finds her way to the break room to grab a morning cup of coffee, where nobody even says a word to her. Not exactly the friendly welcome she was expecting.

She doesn’t want to waste any more time, so with her arms full, she heads back to her point of contact in the HR department to see if there’s anything she can get started on. She’s handed a towering stack of benefit enrollment paperwork and company policy manuals. She gets a seat in a vacant conference room to fill those out until her own desk is available.

employee-onboarding-processBy the time that’s all wrapped up, it’s nearly the end of the day. She stops back at her desk to finally drop off the stuff she brought with her, and then leaves the office to head home.

Now ask yourself this: How is Sara feeling about her brand new job? Do you think she’s filled with excitement at the thought of returning the next day?

Uhh...probably not. That’s because the employer invested practically zero energy into her experience. As a result, Sara assumes this job really isn’t what she was promised in the interview, and ends up jumping ship just a few months later.

It’s scary stuff, right? Here’s the good news: You can combat this level of dissatisfaction and turnover by pulling together a solid employee onboarding process.

What is an employee onboarding process?

The term itself is exactly what it sounds like: it’s a series of steps you (as the employer) will follow to inform a new employee of your company policies and norms and help them acclimate to your culture and their new role. Essentially, it’s the process you use to get them up to speed.

Note that the word “process” is an important one here. You shouldn’t be flying by the seat of your pants every time a new employee joins your team.

Instead, you’ll have much more success if you have an established framework and a prescribed set of steps you follow in order to get new team members rolling. That will ensure you don’t miss anything important, while also helping you repeat success time and time again.

Climb onboard: Why your employee onboarding process matters

If you think those first few days on the job are inconsequential (hey, everybody knows they’re a barrage of paperwork, right?), think again. Onboarding is a surprisingly delicate time, particularly when it comes to keeping your top talent around.

In fact, research shows that up to 20% of employee turnover actually happens within the first 45 days on the job. And, here’s what’s even scarier: Companies lose almost 25% of all of their new hires within one year. Yikes!

But, on the flipside of that coin a study by Click Boarding shows that

69% of employees say they’re more likely to stay with a company for three years if they experienced a great onboarding process early on

So a solid employee onboarding process is a no-brainer, right? Yet, it’s an area where a surprising amount of employers fail. Research from Gallup found that only 12% of employees strongly agreed that their employers had a solid onboarding process in place for new hires.


5 steps to build a killer employee onboarding process

You don’t want to be part of that statistic—you’d rather be one of the rare companies who’s knocking employee onboarding out of the park.

But how do you make that happen? A lot of that can vary based on the size of your company and what type of process (if any) you already have in place, but here are a few steps you can follow to get your own employee onboarding process up and running.

Bonus: Check out this article on how to use just in time (JIT) training to effectively train your team

1. Identify your key onboarding players

Ready to start pulling out paperwork and mapping out a rough schedule? Not so fast. The best place to start is by figuring out everybody who needs to be involved in the onboarding of a new employee.

Yes, HR plays a major role here—but they shouldn’t be handling all of the onboarding responsibilities. Remember that this isn’t just your chance to get an employee up to speed, but also to let them get to know the people they’ll be working with regularly.

That means there will be a lot of different key players involved in welcoming a new employee to the team. This could include (but certainly isn’t limited to):

  • HR department
  • Manager
  • Direct reports (if applicable)
  • Close colleagues and team members
  • Cross-functional team members
  • Assigned mentor or buddy (more on this later)

Figuring out who’s involved is an important first step, as it will be helpful information as you move forward with mapping out the onboarding flow and assigning responsibilities.

2. Evaluate what is and isn’t working with your current process

You probably already have some sort of onboarding process in place. Maybe it’s so haphazard that you wouldn’t even go so far as to call it a “process.” However, it’s still important that you evaluate anything you already up and running to figure out what’s working—and what needs improvement.

You can do this by speaking with your existing employees, including:

  • New hires who recently went through onboarding
  • Managers and team members who are frequently involved in onboarding
  • HR team members who handle onboarding tasks

Whether you want to send out a formal survey or just collect feedback through informal conversations is totally up to you. Your goal is to ask questions that give you insight into what needs to change with your current onboarding process.

Potential questions to ask include:

  • What took you by surprise during your first week with our company?
  • What’s one thing we could’ve done differently to improve your first week with us?
  • Were there any major questions you still had after going through onboarding?
  • What’s one thing about our current onboarding process that you think is working really well?
  • What was the biggest challenge or frustration you frequently face during the onboarding process?
  • If you had to describe our current onboarding process in one word, what word would you use?

Some of this might not be so easy to hear (constructive criticism rarely is!). But, since your goal is improving your process, it’s important to shine a light on what’s broken.


3. Figure out your core pieces

Putting together an employee onboarding process can feel a lot like assembling a puzzle. In order to do so, you should lay out all of the different pieces so you can categorize them and start to get a better idea of how they fit together.

This can feel overwhelming, but it doesn’t need to be. Grab a sheet of paper and a pen, and just start writing out a jumbled list of everything that needs to happen when an employee starts with you.

That could include everything from setting up their desk and giving a tour of the office to completing all of their paperwork and having a one-on-one meeting with their new manager. Write down all of these tasks, both big and small.

You end up with a giant mess of to-dos, right? But have no fear—your goal right now is to just get all of the core elements out of your brain and down on paper. We’ll make more sense of them in the next step.

4. Piece together a general structure

It’s time to start whipping all of these random steps and pieces into a process—meaning a step-by-step structure that you can follow.

Where do you even start? First, look for any tasks that can be handled before an employee even enters your office. There might not be a lot to be done beforehand, but even getting the tech setup handled or the paperwork laid out before their first day will lead to a far more streamlined experience for the employee.

Next, look for tasks that can happen simultaneously. Perhaps the employee will start the day by filling out paperwork, but then the HR department can work on processing that while the employee gets a tour or has a conversation with their manager. Or, maybe you can combine the department overview with the team-wide lunch. Highlight any tasks that can happen concurrently.

After that? Well, it’s up to you to start piecing things together in a way that makes sense. Rest assured that nothing is set in stone. You can always map out a general flow and change it a little later if you find out it isn’t quite as streamlined as you anticipated.

Once you have at least a rough order established, jot it down into some sort of checklist format so that everybody involved in the process can ensure that all of the tasks are being taken care of.

5. Get everybody on the same page

You’ve mapped out your rough onboarding structure. Boom—the job is done. But...uhh...how are people supposed to know to follow it?

You can’t just send a new onboarding process out into the world and expect people will magically abide by it. It might sound a little meta, but you might need to onboard your current employees on the ins and outs of your new onboarding process. Whew!

For those who are frequently involved in onboarding, create a simple training to loop them in on what’s new, how the process will work moving forward, and where they can find the information and resources they need.

Want to make this even easier? Put together a simple online course that walks the relevant people through your new process. That way, they can get the details of your onboarding process from the comfort of their own desk—without needing to block out a meeting on their calendar.

GoSkills makes it easy to create custom courses all about your new onboarding process. You can even link out to your own company resources, making it easy to get your new employees on the same page, much faster.

Pitfalls: 5 common employee onboarding mistakes to avoid

Getting your onboarding flow mapped out is a huge accomplishment—congratulations!

But that doesn’t mean you’re destined for greatness as far as onboarding is concerned. There are a few common pitfalls that you should be aware of, so that you can sidestep around them and take your onboarding process up another level.


1. Forgetting about first impressions

Do you know what your employee’s first day shouldn’t resemble? A trip to the DMV or some other dreadful governmental office. Sign this. Go to this person. Wait here.

Sure, this employee has interacted with your organization before—but their first day on the job is really their first impression of what it’s going to be like to work with you. You want it to be a good one.

Find some ways to offer a warm welcome the second they set foot in your office. Have balloons, some sweet treats, or some company swag (or all of the above!) waiting on their desk. Have your team members sing a corny welcome song. Ask their preferred coffee order ahead of their first day, and then have the team waiting there with that beverage for some morning coffee chat.

The options are limitless. The point is to think of a way that you can make their very first interaction memorable (and a little less dull than a trip to the DMV!).

2. Neglecting actual job responsibilities

There’s a lot you need to cover during employee onboarding. They need to know your company’s dress code or how they go about requesting vacation days. They need to pick a health insurance plan and enroll in your retirement savings option.

That’s all important. But do you know what often gets skipped in onboarding? The actual on-the-job training.

What do they need to know to do their jobs successfully? What should their typical day look like? How do they go about handling those responsibilities?

Make sure that you’re dedicating a large chunk of your onboarding process to setting them up for success in their actual role. That’s equally important, especially when you consider that one survey found that 76% of employees rated on-the-job training as the most important thing to cover during their first week—even ahead of company policies and equipment setup.


3. Giving new employees only a few formal points of contact

Remember Sara—the new employee we introduced at the very start of this guide? Imagine that she’s into her first week on the job, and she has a super simple question: Where can she find more coffee filters?

She doesn’t want to bother the person at the next desk over since they have their headphones on and are deep into their work. Who else can she approach to get an answer? Her manager? Her HR contact? To her, that seems like overkill for a super quick and inconsequential question about coffee filters. But, she’s still too intimidated to walk up to somebody she doesn’t know.

That’s why it’s important that new employees have a variety of people in your organization that they can approach for advice and guidance. A buddy system (where new hires are matched up with a more experienced employee) not only sets up a low-pressure relationship where employees can ask questions (without feeling embarrassed or like a pest), but it also creates a more friendly and inviting atmosphere.

That can make all the difference, particularly when 17% of survey respondents who left a job shortly after their first day said something as simple as a friendly smile or helpful co-worker would’ve gone a long way in inspiring them to stick around.

4. Using an outdated and antiquated approach

If your employee onboarding process involves handing new hires stacks of paperwork and printed manuals, it’s time to enter this millennium.

Today, a lot of the learning that has to happen during employee onboarding can actually be done online.

This streamlines the process, while also giving new hires some flexibility to cover those nuts and bolts elements when it works best with their busy schedule during their first week. Not only does efficient onboarding software simplify the process, but it also helps them retain crucial information.

The even better news? That information is more likely to stick with them. E-learning has been said to increase retention rates by anywhere from 25 to 60%. Plus, it takes less time. Learning through e-learning takes 40-60% less employee time than learning in a traditional classroom setting.

Consider bringing some of your onboarding elements online by creating online courses to cover various policies, procedures, and best practices.

GoSkills makes it easy to offer onboarding courses for your employees, to create the best possible experience for every new employee that comes on board.

5. Assuming onboarding only lasts a week or two

Here’s a pop quiz: How long is an employee considered “new”? For one day? A week? A month?

Unfortunately, way too many companies end the onboarding process far too early. Employees still feel uncertain and vulnerable, yet are thrown to the wolves and considered “experienced” in their positions.

For best results, your onboarding process should extend for at least the first 90 days of employment. It probably won’t continue to be as comprehensive as it was during that employee’s first week, but you should still be regularly checking in and feeding them important information that they might not have needed immediately.

That will help employees consistently feel engaged and supported as they continue to master their positions—and hopefully keep them around for the long haul.

Ace your employee onboarding process (because it really matters)

Imagine how different things would’ve turned out for our hypothetical employee, Sara, if her first day had involved a warm welcome and fun team traditions.

Maybe she wouldn’t have hit the road just a few short months later, and instead would’ve stuck with her company—and continued to advance, grow, and make an increasingly positive impact within the organization.

Of course, there are never any guarantees. But, having a rock solid employee onboarding process in place goes a long way in making the right impression, supporting your new employees, and transforming them into productive, stellar team members in record time.

Use this as your guide, and you’re well on your way to a process that swoons your new hires—rather than scares them.

Ready to take your employee onboarding process up another level? GoSkills can help you simplify your onboarding process with custom onboarding courses and essential skills training for your employees. Check out the Goskills LMS today.

A better way to train

It's easier than ever to create, track, and manage team training with the GoSkills LMS.

Start for free
Kat Boogaard

Kat Boogaard

Kat is a writer specializing in career, self-development, and productivity topics. When she escapes her computer, she enjoys reading, hiking, golfing, and dishing out tips for prospective freelancers on her website.