chapter 1

introduction to onboarding

Successful onboarding is a key part of any recruiting and hiring strategy. It’s the next logical step after an employment offer has been extended and accepted. At this point, recruiting efforts make a critical turn inward to prepare new employees for success and create a sense of belonging that promotes engagement and loyalty.

As the first major step in the new employee-employer relationship, it’s important to get things off on the right foot. A carefully designed onboarding process will put your new hire in the best position to excel within your organization — and that can pay dividends down the line. 


ensure that your new hire understands:
  • their role and responsibilities
  • the expectations of their leaders, supervisors and coworkers
  • the company’s workplace culture, values and mission

These objectives may be addressed through an onboarding process that’s well planned and executed, and we’ll walk you through the steps on how to realize that goal here.

chapter 2

defining onboarding

Before you start designing your new onboarding process, it’s important to come to a consensus about what onboarding is and isn’t. This way, you’ll get a better idea of the upcoming project’s scope and what items may or may not fall under its purview. 

The first step to defining onboarding is determining what it isn't. It shouldn't be confused with orientation. Nor should it be confused with first-day training or an employee’s first day on the job. Orientation largely focuses on gathering and supplying information that’s mandatory or routine. Activities like completing job applications and filling out tax forms, while necessary, are generally not what talent experts consider a full onboarding process. The same thinking applies to first-day training and the employee’s first day at work. While all these may be elements of onboarding, they’re only pieces of a larger whole. Onboarding is not a one-day event, but rather a carefully planned engagement delivered over time.


what onboarding is

Informal onboarding refers to the process by which employees learn about their new jobs without an explicit organizational plan. Formal onboarding, on the other hand, refers to a written set of coordinated policies and procedures that assist employees in adjusting to their new jobs in terms of both tasks and socialization.1

Also known as “organizational socialization,” onboarding is the method by which new hires can acquire the knowledge, skills and behaviors to become effective members of the company. It enables new employees to not only embrace and adjust to the performance aspects of their jobs, but to the social workplace dynamics that drive their employers’ culture.2
onboarding is:

the method by which new hires acquire knowledge, skills and behaviors to become productive members of the company.


onboarding is not:

  • orientation or supplying mandatory or routine information
  • first-day training
  • paperwork, like tax forms

Along with formal and informal approaches, onboarding generally falls under different levels of complexity called the four C’s.3



ensuring that new employees understand basic legal and policy-related rules and regulations.



taking the time to make sure employees understand their new jobs and performance expectations.



providing employees a sense of community by educating them about the organization’s values, beliefs, goals, mission and behaviors.


connecting peopleconnection

providing guidance about interpersonal relationships and information networks that can enable career success.

chapter 3

onboarding’s impact
on business

Why is a positive onboarding experience so important? Because it's the first opportunity for the hiring organization to personally deliver on the career promise as communicated in its employer brand during the recruitment phase. From the perspective of the new employee, the onboarding experience directly reflects on the character of their new employer — how dedicated the organization is to their success, and how satisfying a career they are likely to have.

A great onboarding experience does more than just get a new hire up to speed. In fact, a great onboarding experience improves new-hire retention by 82 percent and increases productivity by 70 percent. In other words, not only does a positive onboarding experience mean that new hires will stick around longer, it also means they get more done.

A bad onboarding experience, on the other hand, results in new hires being twice as likely to look for other opportunities.


stand out from the competition


best-in-class companies are 53 percent more likely than others to start the onboarding process before a new hire’s first day.


fifty-eight percent of companies say their onboarding programs are mostly focused on paperwork and processes.


eighty-eight percent of companies admit they don’t onboard well.


effective onboarding fosters employee engagement

These figures point to a need for employers to create stronger bonds between new hires and their organizations. An effective onboarding process can go a long way in transforming new employees into long-term, satisfied and engaged company ambassadors — and we’ll walk you through the process of building your own onboarding program next.

chapter 4

how to build your onboarding program

You know what onboarding is and why it’s important — now it’s time to start outlining what the process will look like for your organization.


When onboarding is conducted properly, it can produce substantial results for the new employee and the hiring organization. Because of the many moving parts, planning and implementing a sound onboarding process should start with consideration of three elements: participants, information and duration.



Who is going to be part of the process, and how are you going to prepare them? The onboarding process should involve as many applicable stakeholders as possible — including senior management, immediate supervisors and key coworkers. The strategy is to have important stakeholders and the new employee personally interact in ways that help them understand one another.



What materials will be needed (such as an itinerary, welcome package, company information)? The information provided should clearly inform the new employee about what is expected in terms of job performance, responsibilities and workplace behaviors.



Larger organizations provide onboarding that can last from several months to more than a year. For smaller companies, an onboarding process that lasts a few days to a few weeks is common.


There is no single magic formula for onboarding a new employee. But with proper planning, a good process, like the one we’ll outline next, can decrease ramp-up time while boosting job satisfaction and loyalty.

develop an outline of the onboarding process with as much detail as possible

Plan its primary drivers, including duration, the information that will be covered and all personnel involved. Additionally, outline all materials that will be needed, and plan both routine and nonroutine logistical situations like an office or department tour. This up-front investment pays off in the long run.


involve other employees in planning

Company leaders, colleagues or managers who will be working directly with the new hire may have specific insights for making the onboarding process more targeted and relevant. Meet with the new hire's direct supervisor to learn about the position’s role, goals, projects and duties. Likewise, incorporate feedback from employees about what they would have liked or found helpful when they were being onboarded.


choose someone to own the process

If you’re not implementing the onboarding process yourself, designate a single individual to do so. This employee should be exceptionally knowledgeable about all aspects of the company. Choose an employee who is a proven company “ambassador” with polished communication skills, a positive attitude and a personable approach. Having a single point of contact for all matters of employee onboarding can provide clarity and consistency throughout the process.


communicate to current staff that a new hire will be joining the company

This will help ensure a welcoming atmosphere.


choose a team member who will assist or mentor the new hire

The employee should work in the same or a similar area and be a proactive role model.


contact your new employee before the start date

The new hire has demonstrated a commitment by accepting the employment offer. Return that commitment by communicating with the new employee as soon as possible and as often as needed. If there’s no concrete information to deliver about the upcoming onboarding process, a simple and genuine welcome greeting will do.


don’t neglect the power of re-onboarding after COVID-19

If your team is returning to work after stay-at-home orders due to COVID-19, re-onboarding can welcome them back and re-energize your workforce. SHRM has a brief but thorough guide to re-onboarding you can view here.

chapter 5

implementing your onboarding plan

With your new process in place, and a heap of new hires ready to walk through the door, it’s time to put your plan into action. Follow these steps to get off to a good start. 


prepare a warm, personal welcome

Onboarding provides the opportunity to make a great first impression. The first person the new hire meets should be central to the onboarding process. This may be an experienced HR staff member, the director of HR, the hiring manager or another relevant stakeholder. Never underestimate the value of a warm handshake and an enthusiastic smile.


provide necessary documents and information

There is undoubtedly paperwork and other information that must be completed by the new employee. Having the necessary paperwork — all in one place — adds an orderly tone to this process. Furthermore, providing information about the organization’s values and history can help make the new hire feel connected right from the beginning.

Relevant information may include:


CheckList_Yellowa welcome guide 
CheckList_YellowHR policies or employee handbook 
CheckList_Yellowcompany-wide policies and procedures 
CheckList_Yellowinformation about the organization’s values, mission and culture 
CheckList_Yellowa company directory and a team organizational chart 
CheckList_Yellowtax forms 
CheckList_Yellowa benefits guide 
CheckList_Yellowkey departmental processes 
CheckList_Yellowprojects and work expectations 
CheckList_Yellowa glossary of company terms and acronyms 
CheckList_Yellowa detailed schedule of the first day 


try to limit first-day administrative tasks

While completing necessary forms and information is a key part of the hiring process, most new hires would rather not spend their first day solely engaged in this task. If possible, provide as much information and documentation online before the first day of onboarding. This will leave more time for workplace socialization, skills learning, team bonding and more. If it’s not possible to address administrative tasks in advance, take a few days to complete the process.


establish the lines of communication

Every employee should know whom to talk to, whether regarding a business-related question or otherwise.


set expectations about performance

Managers or direct supervisors should also communicate the cadence for reviewing the employee’s progress so the new hire knows when to expect feedback. This can be especially critical during the first 90 days.


arrange workplace resources

A checklist of elements to address may include:


CheckList_Yellowproviding tools or equipment that will be used on the job, including software 
CheckList_Yellowsetting up email accounts and communication portals 
CheckList_Yellowcompany-wide policies and procedures 
CheckList_Yellowsupplying reading materials or anything that can help bring the new hire up to speed with current company projects 


Include phone numbers for internal resources like the help desk, IT or HR, so the new hire feels empowered to try to fix any issues immediately.


make the process relevant to the position

While a good portion of onboarding is dedicated to educating the new employee about company-wide operations, culture, goals and mission, time should also be devoted to job-specific learning. These elements may include:


CheckList_Yellowa tour of the relevant department  
CheckList_Yellowmeetings with immediate supervisors  
CheckList_Yellowa detailed description of job responsibilities and duties 
CheckList_Yellowinformation about departmental processes and objectives 


introduce the new hire to a mentor or peer guide

This can assist the new employee with skills learning and building a company social network — which are both key to accomplishing better productivity and loyalty. Shadowing someone else in the role, or an employee with similar responsibilities, can be a great way to quickly learn best practices. Additionally, arranging an activity or lunch with a group of coworkers can be a great way for a new hire to socialize and begin to build a professional network within the organization.


prepare the new hire’s workspace

Have all necessary materials, supplies, equipment and furniture in place to create a welcoming environment. Request access to tools or software that may be used.


request feedback on current processes

Include everyone involved in the onboarding process: the new hire, immediate managers and supervisors, HR staff, senior leadership and coworkers. The collected information can be an invaluable source of actionable data for improving future onboarding efforts.


Careful execution of employee onboarding also involves regular monitoring. Depending on the duration of the process, plan to check in consistently with the new employee and with managers. These check-ins can take the form of a simple phone call or email at the end of each day, or they can be planned meetings that are part of the onboarding schedule.

chapter 6

conclusion and onboarding outline

If you made it this far, and followed all the steps outlined in this guide, then you should be well on your way to improving the onboarding experience for your new employees. 


Smart onboarding helps businesses move forward and fosters deep personal connections in the workplace. It strengthens an organization’s focus on continuously developing its talent, which is something that prospective and current employees value — and expect — from their employers. 


If you have questions along the way as you go about revamping your onboarding program, or you just want to make sure you’re incorporating all of the best practices discussed in this guide, consult the onboarding outline below for a quick recap of the essentials.


onboarding outline


CheckList_Yellowdevelop an outline 
CheckList_Yellowinvolve other company personnel  
CheckList_Yellowmake contact prior to the new hire's start date  
CheckList_Yellowschedule lunch or an activity outside of work 
CheckList_Yellowchoose someone to own the process  
CheckList_Yellowcommunicate to staff that a new hire will be joining the company  
CheckList_Yellowchoose a staff member to mentor the new employee  



CheckList_Yellowprepare a warm, personal welcome
CheckList_Yelloworganize documents and information  
CheckList_Yellowset expectations about performance
CheckList_Yellowprepare the workspace, and provide necessary software, tools and access
CheckList_Yellowmake the process relevant to the position  
CheckList_Yellowintroduce the new hire to a mentor or peer guide





1. J. Zahrly and H. Tosi, “The differential effect of organizational induction process on early work role adjustment,” Journal of Organizational Behavior 10 (1989): 59–74. M.R. Louis, “Surprise and sense making: What newcomers experience in entering unfamiliar organizational settings,” Administrative Science Quarterly 25 (1980): 226–251. M.R. Louis, B.Z. Posner, and G.N. Powell, “The availability and helpfulness of socialization practices,” Personnel Psychology 36 (1983): 857–866.


2. For reviews, see T.N. Bauer and B. Erdogan (in press). T.N. Bauer, E.W. Morrison, and R.R. Callister, APA Press, 1998. A.M. Saks and B.E. Ashforth, “Organizational socialization: Making sense of past and present as a prologue for the future,” Journal of Vocational Behavior 51 (1997): 234–279. A.M. Saks, K.L. Uggerslev, and N.E. Fassina, “Socialization tactics and newcomer adjustment: A meta-analytic review and test of a model,” Journal of Vocational Behavior 70 (2007): 413–446.


3. Copyright 2010, Talya N. Bauer.

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