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The Ultimate Guide to Modernized Employee Onboarding

June 22, 2022

Our guide to new hire onboarding can boost retention rates through a connected, engaging experience.

Blog Post

Employee retention starts with your onboarding program. In fact, most organizations focus too heavily on process and paperwork and not enough on people. Plus, the employee of today is paying just as much attention to their experience at your organization as you are to their performance.

When your company onboarding process exceeds expectations, your employees will be more engaged, and their performance will show it. And when it comes to employee retention, superior new hire onboarding can create the right circumstances for connection and trust, essential for employee’s wanting to stay for a long time. Use this Employee Onboarding Guide to create a winning onboarding strategy. 

What Is Employee Onboarding?

Employee onboarding starts the employee journey at your organization, and can be a make or break moment in terms of engagement, productivity, and retention. It’s a long-term process that integrates new hires into your organization, the team, and their role. Every onboarding plan comes with defined milestones, but the milestones may differ depending on your organization or industry. While there’s a strong association between onboarding and paperwork, the heart of staff onboarding is setting new hires up for a long, successful tenure at your organization.

Onboarding vs. Orientation

Employee onboarding differs from orientation in terms of the focus and duration. While onboarding new employees is a strategic initiative that takes places over the course of many months, even up to a year, orientation is typically a one-time event that welcomes new employees from all departments and roles to the organization. Orientation may include:

  • An overview of company mission, vision, and values
  • A guided tour of the building(s)
  • Review of company policies and the administrative process
  • Distribution of employee resources such as parking tags, organization-issued electronics, and other role-related equipment

Onboarding programs may include orientation as an initial step, but expand from the day one orientation to role- and department-specific trainings, peer-to-peer mentorship, and established milestones that integrate the employee into the fabric of the organization. Orientation helps employees orient to their new work environment, but onboarding is the backbone of employee engagement.

Why Is Employee Onboarding Important?

A top-notch hiring process can help your organization identify top talent, yet onboarding is the first step for employees to actually become part of your organization and see your culture in action. Employee onboarding is an opportunity for your organization to show new hires how your organization lives its values on a day-to-day basis. The onboarding process shows new hires communication practices, internal process, organization priorities, and what support they can expect during their time at your organization. Ideally, your company onboarding inspires and excites your new hires.

What Happens When Employee Onboarding Falls Short

When your staff onboarding process relies too heavily on outdated process and paperwork-heavy interactions, it can spell disaster for your employee retention and engagement. Employees are at your organization for more than a paycheck; they seek stability, benefits, opportunities to advance, learning and development, and more. The employee of today expects a modern onboarding experience that shows them you’re invested in them.

When onboarding disappoints, it can impact your organization in profound ways. Here’s what the data shows about the consequences of ineffective onboarding:

  • Only 12% of employees say they strongly agree their organization does a great job of onboarding employees.
  • Employees that rate their onboarding experience as positive are 6 times more likely to be extremely satisfied with their workplace—and more likely to stay.
  • First-year employees are more likely to leave jobs than any other tenure duration, and they’re more likely to cite job characteristics—the actual job vs. their understanding of the job—as why they chose to leave.
  • Losing an employee can cost your organization; average employee turnover costs top $15,000 per person.

So what happens when your onboarding procedures fall short? You can lose employees before they have an opportunity to make meaningful contributions to your organization, and your organization can rack up turnover costs. Wouldn’t you rather see your investment in your people payoff instead? 

What Employees Want In An Onboarding Experience

Starting a new position can be a stressful experience for anybody, whether they’re entry level or leadership. New hires want the tools and resources they need to succeed, and communicated in a clear and consistent manner. Expect them to come to their first day on the job with lots of questions, and be ready to provide answers.

Above all, new hires want to know they’re part of the team. Structure your onboarding to facilitate moments of connection. Even stepping out to grab a quick cup of coffee or starting a hangout meeting to talk about everybody’s pets can facilitate connection. Plan regular moments of connection through the onboarding period; if those moments become part of your standard onboarding procedures, they become part of your culture.

Incorporate these new hire must-haves into your process:

  • One-on-one time with managers
  • Detailed plans for duties for the first few weeks
  • Contact information for resources in your organization
  • Outlined performance expectations
  • References for the company mission, vision, values, culture, and policies

Hear even more about what employees want in a modern onboarding experience in our podcast PCTY Talks.  

How Long Does It Take to Onboard a New Employee?

Onboarding best practices require at least 90-days of planned onboarding activities and milestones, capped off with a 90-day review. However, it’s not uncommon for an onboarding plan to span the first year of an employee’s time at an organization. Your program can vary in length depending on your organization’s needs, but keep in mind that it takes time for a new hire to fully integrate into the team—and you should be with them every step of the way.

What Are the Benefits of Employee Onboarding?

When your employee onboarding procedures are buttoned-up, your organization stands to benefit in a number of ways.

  1. Attract top talent: Best-in-class onboarding increases the likelihood current employees will spread the word about your organization.
  2. Engage employees: First weeks transform from administrative headaches to opportunities to participate.
  3. Showcase and build culture: Use onboarding as a stage to share your organization’s culture, and encourage new hires to participate in virtual happy hours, community photo shares, and organization-wide trainings.
  4. Increase productivity: New hires with clarity about their new role and the support to succeed are more likely to contribute their best work.
  5. Improve communication: Onboarding opens lines of communication between new employees and HR, peers, and supervisors.
  6. Retain employees: The data shows employees with a positive onboarding experience are more likely to stay at your organization.

So what does a successful onboarding program look like?

6 Essential Steps for Successful New Employee Onboarding

Onboarding starts as soon as candidates sign the offer letter. Every interaction they have with your organization going forward sets a precedent for their employee experience. The following onboarding process steps are vital to follow for a successful new hire onboarding experience.

1. Preboard Your Employees

Successful onboarding starts in advance of day one. The best way to overcome the dread employees and HR teams experience about onboarding paperwork is to preboard your employees.

Streamline your onboarding process by providing essential paperwork ahead of the start day. Reduce administrative burden by using an online onboarding portal to gather contact information/emergency contacts, tax withholding forms, I-9 verification, handbook acknowledgment, and direct deposit information. That way, paperwork is out of the way to make room for more exciting onboarding moments, like meeting the team.

Pro Tip: Offering a mobile app where employees can access their onboarding materials provides a flexible, modern onboarding experience. When you give employees more autonomy, they’re more likely to engage with your onboarding tools and ultimately, your organization. Plus, you can send personalized notifications to remind them to complete paperwork, which lets them know you’re interested in their progress.  

2. Meet and Greet

Employees need to put names to faces to start collaborating effectively. Depending on the type of organization you work for, your industry, and your work environment, meet and greets can take place in the office or offsite, even remotely.

An HR and onboarding solution that has multimedia capabilities to display team bios, welcome notes from managers, or welcome videos from important organization contacts can set your organization apart. It’s important to get the ball rolling right away, so don’t hesitate to start the meet and greet process right after the offer letter is signed, even if the official start date is a few months away.

Pro Tip: Just as it’s vital for new employees to get to know their teammates, it’s just as important for current staff to get to know them too. Even taking new hires out to lunch on their first day and asking them what makes them tick can go a long way in showing you care.    

3. Schedule and Attend Orientation

Orientation is your time to start getting new hires settled at your organization on day one. Give them a tour of the premises, if applicable, and provide them with any company assets that they need during their time. That includes parking passes, key fobs to access the building, company-issued electronics, and keys to their office. Additionally, spend some time making sure new hires are set up in the online world at your organization, which includes access to intranet, software, social collaboration hubs, HR and payroll platform, and more.

Pro Tip: Set aside time for connection during orientation. When you pass people in the hallway, make introductions. If your onboarding is virtual, make time for non-administrative conversations.

4. Set Performance Goals

One of the most important parts of onboarding is planning a roadmap for new employees to follow as they settle in to their role. Solicit their feedback at regular intervals during the onboarding process and provide space for them to share what their goals and aspirations are at your organization.

Being able to work with you to establish time-bound onboarding goals communicates your organization’s investment in them wasn’t just a one-time thing. Plus, if they have something to work towards, it can increase their motivation, and in turn, performance. Document and track performance metrics as they establish themselves at your organization.

Pro Tip: Sharing kudos is a tangible way to reflect your culture, especially if appreciation is an essential part of your organization. When new hires achieve their goals, make sure you call out their progress. When it’s easy to celebrate accomplishments through peer recognition via your HR portal, your team will be more likely to share the love. 

5. Provide Training and Education 

Younger employees especially want to work for organizations that support their learning and development. As such, onboarding is the ideal time to start off on the right foot and show employees you see them. When employees are able to learn and grow in their roles and at your organization, they’re more likely to view you in a favorable light. Make sure you provide employees with both organization-wide training as well as role-specific training. And when they complete their training, assess what they’ve learned with quizzes or surveys. 

Pro Tip: A flexible Learning Management System (LMS) can give you the ability to customize the delivery method of your new employee’s learning experience. Adapt your learning methodology for the audience and offer webinars, on-demand, interactive courses, and video modules to increase employees’ knowledge and skills.

6. Schedule Regular Check-Ins

Throughout your onboarding program, it’s vital to have established touchpoints for employees to reflect on their progress and keep you in the loop about what they might need still to be successful at your organization. Generally speaking, it’s best practices to check in at regular intervals, such as 30, 60, and 90 days as well as six months and one year into their tenure. Solicit feedback using survey tools during these check ins and look at how the feedback changes between time periods to help identify gaps in your process.

In addition to gathering critical feedback, re-communicate important benefits and information at these touchpoints. The first few weeks of an employee’s tenure are information overload, and they’re generally focused on setting up equipment, meeting their manager, and signing up for health insurance. They might forget about other benefits, like Employee Resource Groups or mental health services - so be sure to take the time to remind your new hires after their first few months so they can take advantage of all your organization has to offer.

Pro Tip: Once you receive feedback from new hires, make sure you take meaningful steps to make adjustments. One of the best ways to build trust with new employees is to show you’re truly listening.

Onboarding Remote Employees

Onboarding remote employees comes with unique challenges. Fortunately, a technology-forward onboarding experience is a great way to engage employees. However, with remote employees, you need to be more intentional about connection and engagement. There two approaches to keep in mind when considering how to onboard an employee virtually:  

  1. Priority one is creating the digital infrastructure to give your employees a sense of belonging. Set up any technology ahead of their start date, including granting access to collaboration software, social collaboration tools, and mobile apps for employee self service. If you’re onboarding an employee in a different time zone, be sure to schedule meetings at a time that’s central to all parties.
  2. Additionally, be proactive about communication. All of the moments that help build rapport in an office setting—chatting while making a cup of coffee, running into a manager in the hallway, or walking out to your car with a coworker—look different in a virtual setting. Set aside designated times for collaboration and connection so new hires can start to feel comfortable with the team.

How to Evaluate and Improve Your Onboarding Process

Throughout the onboarding process, it’s important to track HR metrics to evaluate the efficacy of your organization’s strategy. Utilizing a combination of qualitative and quantitative data can give you the biggest bang for your buck. Start with the following metrics to give you insights about your onboarding success.

Retention Rates

Pull data surrounding retention rates. If your HR and payroll software has the ability to do so, track these rates with different cohorts i.e. employees who start around the same time. You’ll inevitably make changes to your onboarding procedures over time, so it helps to understand what worked and when.

Retention Threshold

Examine the average length of time an employee stays at your organization before leaving for other opportunities. If you can find a trend in the data of employees leaving your organization after six months, you can look deeper into the reasons behind the turnover. Perhaps onboarding support drops off after six months and extending your onboarding period through the first year can increase retention.

Employee Satisfaction Surveys

Often systemic issues in organizations start or are reflected in the onboarding process. Periodic employee satisfaction surveys can reveal critical information about the health of your employee experience. Ask new employees questions like:

  • Do you feel valued for your contributions?
  • Do you feel connected to your coworkers?
  • What types of learning and development resources and support resonate the most with you?
  • Do you feel like your job role and responsibilities are clearly defined?
  • Do you have the resources you need to complete your duties?

If you want to go deeper with your inquiries, you can sit down with individual employees for a state of the union meeting and ask them open-ended questions to better understand their perspectives.

New-Hire Surveys

If you want to know what new employees think of your onboarding process, just ask them! At regular intervals—30, 60, 90 days and onward—have them complete a survey that asks them to grade you on the onboarding process. Ask them what’s going well, what’s missing, and their perception of whether you’ve set them up to succeed at your organization.

Employee Engagement

Especially if your organization leverages digital resources to enhance your employee experience, it’s a snap to measure employee engagement. If you utilize an employee experience platform, you can pull analytics data to see what types of functionality employees engage with most. You can look at what they comment on, share, and like.

Performance Measures

Establish performance goals with each new hire so that you can track progress as they integrate into your organization. Assess whether they achieve those onboarding milestones on the anticipated timeline or if they need more time to orient to their role. With this information in hand, you can pinpoint gaps in your training procedures and make adjustments accordingly.

Improving Your Onboarding Program When You Have Limited Resources

Building a first-class onboarding plan takes time, resources, and planning. If you’re just creating your first program, or your current program needs an overhaul, you might be intimidated by everything that goes into creating an onboarding experience that delights and retains employees. If you have limited bandwidth, consider these tips to help you get started:

  • Start small. Building out your onboarding procedures is a marathon, not a sprint, and something that you’ll strive to continually improve. Start by identifying three milestones that matter for your new hires and build processes around those moments. You can then continue to fine tune and build on your onboarding plan as you collect feedback.
  • Focus on Culture and Community. In general, instilling a sense of belonging and recognition are most impactful for new hires. Today’s employees want more than a paycheck; they also want to be connected to their organization. Focusing on company culture as a part of your initial onboarding efforts can go a long way in improving retention for new hires.
  • Invest in an HR suite with automated onboarding. Paperwork and logistics are an unavoidable component of any onboarding process, and often the cause of stress and headaches for HR professionals and employees. Consider investing in a modern HR platform with onboarding capabilities that can automate these necessities, freeing up your time for the more strategic elements of onboarding.

Benefits of Using an HR Suite With Onboarding Capabilities

Onboarding is a crucial moment in the employee journey, and one of the smartest ways to ensure it goes smoothly is to utilize an HR suite with onboarding capabilities. With technology on your side, onboarding can be simpler, easier, and more exciting for everybody involved. Some of the key benefits of onboarding within an HR suite are:

  • Time saved with automation. No more dealing with piles of paperwork, or printing and scanning forms for your employees to fill. The process is digitized, and your new hires can enter necessary information right into the platform. That’s administrative time saved for you, and an easier and faster start for your new employees.
  • Actionable data insights and feedback. All onboarding activities are captured right in the platform, powering real-time data dashboards and reports with insights right at your fingertips. Most HR suites also have the ability to send out surveys at regular intervals during the onboarding period, so you can collect qualitative data as well.
  • Easier learning and development. Leverage an integrated LMS to easily assign and track necessary onboarding training. Training can be personalized and automated by role, so new hires automatically have access to the right courses when they need them.

How to Level Up Your Onboarding Process Today

When onboarding needs work, your HR team carries an unnecessary burden and your new hires struggle to get acclimated to your organization. Fortunately, if you follow this guide, your onboarding can improve substantially and with it your employee engagement, retention rates, and productivity. Those marks get even better with an HR suite with onboarding capabilities. Request a demo to learn more about upgrading your HR and payroll solution.

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