Onboarding is a process that integrates new employees into a new role in an organization, and it can include sorting out paperwork, meeting colleagues and managers, and getting familiar with work processes, the company mission and values, and getting to grips with what the new role will entail.
Onboarding is sometimes used interchangeably with orientation, but it is a much more in-depth process that when done correctly will ensure excellent staff retention and make new hires ready to work at full capacity much quicker.
A good onboarding process lays the foundation for long-term success and ongoing happiness in employees, and this is the best way for a new hire to get used to the company culture, and understand what is expected of them.
The onboarding process can include:
Job offer and salary negotiation
New hire paperwork, including benefits and contact details.
Training - policy and job.
Tours of the facility and an introduction to executives and the team
With effective onboarding, a new employee will be introduced to everything that they need to know about their role, their team, and the wider business - and make them feel comfortable in their new surroundings. Most HR professionals suggest that the onboarding process should last at least 90 days.
The onboarding process
A well-structured onboarding process can be thought of as starting as soon as the candidate applies. The recruitment process should include pre-employment aptitude, soft skills and job knowledge tests that demonstrate the suitability of the applicant.
Once a job offer has been accepted, a process that is referred to as preboarding can begin - which should ensure that when the employee starts on their very first day, they are ready to get started.
In the preboarding part of the process, sharing documents that need to be filled in and signed should be sent to the new employee, like a contract and any other new starter paperwork. Some businesses use this as an opportunity to send some sort of care package or welcome kit, including things like branded mugs or uniforms, or perhaps some nice coffee, cake, or cookies.
In the background, all the basics for the new starter should be put into place, such as access cards to get into the building, and login details for the computers and networks.
All this put into place before the first day means that when the new employee gets to the office, they immediately feel like part of the workplace community and that everything is ready for them.
Paperwork: what needs to be completed?
In the first week, paperwork is likely to dominate proceedings in the onboarding process - there will be a lot of details to nail down.
If most of this can be taken care of before the new employee starts, then it will save time as the onboarding team just has to make sure that it has all been filled out correctly and answer any questions.
Some of the paperwork that might have to be completed includes:
Contact information for the employee files
Benefits portal sign up
Orientation: introducing the new hire to the company
Being “the new kid” is tough, even in a workplace environment, and a well-considered onboarding program will bear that in mind for the new employee.
While it is important that they get to meet their team - and spend quality time with them - they also need to be introduced to everyone they meet in the corridors and especially the management and executive suite.
The new employee also needs to feel comfortable in their surroundings - which means knowing where the toilets and the kitchen are, where they need to park their cars, and any other spaces that might be important.
Orientation shouldn't be a quick action; it should be an ongoing process that recognizes a new starter couldn't possibly remember everyone’s names all at once.
Training: getting them up to speed
For an employer, one of the most important outcomes from the onboarding process is to get the new starter productive as soon as possible, and this comes from robust and thoughtful training programs.
New starters need to be aware of policies like Health and Safety, as well as understanding the procedures for things like calling in sick or requesting vacation days. As part of the onboarding process, policy and procedure training should take place alongside necessary job training, so the new employee is learning as much about the wider business as they are about the role they have taken on.
All training should have a long-term approach, be recorded as part of their employee development, and have some clear goals that come from the learning that can be taken forward.
Onboarding tools and resources
Many HR systems have some form of onboarding tools integration, as do some Applicant Tracking Software (ATS). However, there are some specific tools and resources that you might find useful when creating an onboarding process.
Checklists: a checklist, especially an interactive one, makes it easy to apply the onboarding process to each new starter in a straightforward and logical way. Checklists help make the process structured, and ensure that every new employee gets the same level of attention when they need it most, so they stay happy.
Specialized tools: some HR departments might prefer to use a specialized onboarding tool that is built for their needs; these often have bespoke processes and events, and automate much of what needs to happen to take the decision making out of the hands of the HR or onboarding team.
Integrated tools: good HRIS and ATS systems have integrated tools in place specific for onboarding, and these can be very useful when it comes to structuring something to suit a particular role.
Chatbots and automation: used mostly in recruitment and preboarding, a chatbot presents a personalized experience where a new hire can ask questions and find out more information before they get started.
The benefits of onboarding
If new employees feel comfortable and valued straight away, they are more likely to “buy in” to the company culture and become part of the workplace community. Happy staff means that not only will the business be a happier place to work, but the employees are likely to share that they love their workplace, which is excellent for positive PR.
Creating an environment that is supportive and welcoming is also great for attracting new talent; if the current employees are all singing the praises of the business, the brightest and best are more likely to consider applying.
Starting the employment journey with an excellent, well-considered onboarding process means greater communication, a better ongoing relationship at every level of the business, and staff that are truly invested and don't want to leave.
For the business
A well-integrated employee is happy, and a happy employee is more productive.
One of the key metrics that should be used to measure the success of a recruitment campaign and onboarding is how quickly a new starter becomes productive. Effective onboarding gives the new staff member the training and support that they need to hit the ground running and the confidence to get stuck in, reducing the time to productivity.
Interestingly enough, with onboarding in place, staff retention is much improved - which means less money spent in the recruitment process and better all-around performance, too.
The challenges of onboarding
If you do not have an effective onboarding process already in place, getting one set up can be costly in terms of both time spent and finances.
This can feel like a barrier, especially if the HR team does not have any experience in putting the process together.
In a drive to make sure that all new starters have the same access to information, some onboarding processes could be considered inefficient.
There needs to be allowances made for cultural differences, for new employees from different backgrounds, and for those who have already been in a similar role, for example - and this can be a difficult balance to find.
For some, the onboarding process feels too long, and this can seem to be an inefficient use of time.
How to make onboarding successful
For onboarding to be successful, HR and recruitment teams need to understand how beneficial it can be - even if it seems a bit over the top to start off with.
One of the most important things to think about is the structure and preparation - remembering that everything should start with a well-considered recruitment plan. Even the most laid-back and informal businesses should be following a defined plan for onboarding to make sure that nothing is missed out.
Don’t underestimate the importance of preboarding, too. Most of the legwork for the new starter should be completed before their first day, so that as soon as they walk in they could effectively get started - they can access the building, they can log on to all the computer systems, and they have a dedicated workspace or office already set up.
Getting the paperwork in front of them early is also useful because they can be filling this in ready to hand to HR or payroll, and sending details about important things like whether the staff canteen takes cards and what the dress code is will really make a difference.
Take the process slowly, and allow time for the new hire to take in all the information that you are sharing with them. Making it too much too soon will be overwhelming, but with the right level of introductions and plenty of support along the way, the new employee will soon be able to get stuck in with their new team.
Onboarding is not a one-size-fits-all process, and HR teams need to be constantly monitoring and measuring the effectiveness of what they are doing - using things like employee surveys, getting feedback from team members, and looking at figures for things like retention rates.
If it isn't working, then don't be afraid to change it until you find the sweet spot - where a new employee is fully integrated into their role as quickly and happily as possible.