What is Onboarding?

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The concept of onboarding is one used in the context of business and human resources. What does onboarding mean? It refers to the process of orienting new employees in a manner that aids in overall retention. It goes beyond what we’ve come to know as new employee orientation. This process focuses on helping employees become acclimated to their new workplace in a timely fashion. Onboarding helps bring them on board with regard to:

  • company culture
  • understanding of job function
  • overall comfort level

Read on to learn more about how companies are making new hire training and orientation processes more comprehensive. We also explore the best practices are being implemented across industries.

Overview and Purpose

Employers and recruiters realize that a quick introduction to a new company is not an effective way to achieve employee competence and satisfaction. Companies understand the need to invest in an onboarding program that helps new employees:

  • understand every aspect of their positions

  • perform their jobs well

  • feel valued among their co-workers

  • feel adequate job satisfaction

A good human resources onboarding program, by most standards, helps new employees to feel welcome on the job. It minimizes the time it takes for recent hires to become productive in their positions. The ultimate goal of such comprehensive development activities is to achieve improved retention rates. This limits the cost and hassle of high turnover.Related Resource: What is Workforce Diversity?

Onboarding and Orientation 

Businesses understand that acclimating to company expectations and culture can be an individual process, especially with the challenges of learning a new job. However, that does not preclude them from holding an orientation meeting with several new hires at once. Orientation meetings provide a way to give several people an overview of the:

  • company
  • benefits
  • strategic goals

This process is cost and labor efficient. These meetings are typically held in the first days or weeks of an employee’s hire. They include new employees from all levels of the organization.

These orientation meetings are a small part of the overall onboarding process. Onboarding is more than a day or a few weeks in length. Sometimes the onboarding human resources process can stretch over the course of a new hire’s first year with the company. Onboarding is tailored to the needs of an individual and the role. It goes beyond HR and includes:

  • training
  • mentoring
  • employee engagement

Companies have found that going beyond the initial orientation meetings and investing the time in onboarding individual employees pays dividends that are seen for years. 

So, although many employers use the terms “orientation” and “onboarding” interchangeably, they are not the same thing. Orientation happens during the first days and weeks of a job; onboarding is a process that begins weeks before that first day and ends months, or even a year, after the hire. That continuum of welcoming, empowering, and valuing new employees leads to the kind of job satisfaction that results in long-term employees.

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Onboarding Objectives

One of the major objectives of onboarding is to immerse new hires into the company culture. Of course, the hiring process should identify candidates that already have many of the core values of the company. Bringing new employees up-to-speed with regard to company culture is vital. That is because a company’s culture reflects what the company stands for.

Great company culture consists of things like having:

  • a respectful workplace where people care about one another
  • an inclusive environment where people of multicultural and multigenerational groups feel welcome
  • a policy of paying-it-forward that may or may not include voluntarism

The company culture can also be negative. Employees in the cited survey who expressed dissatisfaction felt that their companies lacked this culture. The employees either didn’t agree with the values represented, or they didn’t recognize them.

Ensuring new employees feel valued and accepted is another goal of onboarding. When employees feel a sense of belonging when they:

  • share the same values
  • understand the vision
  • speak the same language as all levels of leadership

Another objective of onboarding is to empower new hires by giving them a platform to express their thoughts concerning their roles in the company. Communication is an important aspect of onboarding. Employees who felt their concerns were heard have consistently expressed more job satisfaction. Related Resource: 20 Companies with the Best Benefits

Components of Successful Onboarding Programs

In order to build a successful new hire program, there are certain components that should be included. Business News Daily stresses that onboarding should include a mix of training and social activities.

New Hire Welcome

The process of onboarding must begin before the employee’s first day of work. Ideally, it should begin as soon as they are hired. Successful programs recognize the value in reaching out with a phone call or an email from:

  • a manager
  • the HR department
  • a co-worker

Giving a new hire access to the company website employee page can help him or her gain insight. This insight enables him or her to arrive at work with a fundamental understanding of many aspects of his or her job. 

Company Introduction

A thorough introduction to the company and the specific department comes next. This step provides an overview of the:

  • company mission
  • values of the department
  • presentation of key players
  • employee’s role in the big picture of things

That first day is important to how the employee sees himself in the company. Managers should make it as personal as possible.

Policies and Procedures

Part of the onboarding checklist should include sharing policies and procedures. These should apply to the company at large and to the employee specifically. It is important to share important points such as:

  • compensation plans
  • affirmative action
  • hostile work environment and complaint resolution processes

Sharing these policies and procedures is a good start toward ensuring hires are aware and that they feel their rights are valued. These things can be accomplished through orientation or by providing an employee handbook to new hires weeks before they begin.

Finally, don’t neglect to include the administrative items that can sometimes become pesky afterthoughts. Examples include such details as:

  • communication processes for handling things like inclement weather
  • overtime pay structure
  • important contact numbers

It is also important to obtain critical information from the employee like emergency contacts.

Cultural Immersion

Making new personnel feel welcome in the workplace accomplishes a few things. It can help new hires:

  • achieve an understanding of the ways in which things are done there
  • develop an understanding of the values and characteristics that are important to the corporate culture

New employees are better able to assimilate with their colleagues and feel a part of the team more quickly. The transition is smoother and also leads to the employee feeling a sense of purpose and belonging. An emphasis on expectations is provided during onboarding, as well as thorough job training. This combination gives new staff members a sense of competency and confidence. It lessens misunderstandings that can lead to frustration and resentment. These are issues that frequently cause new employees to resign early on.


Successful managers assign mentors to new employees. Using the concept of social-versus-business interaction, the mentor might take the new employee out for coffee or drop by his desk daily to check in on him. Mentoring is an effective and proven method of acclimating new hires to company culture and expectations.

Onboarding mentor

A mentor is the most memorable early impression people have of a new job. The mentor can give the new hire realistic expectations of the job responsibilities. Mentors can explain the company policies that are in the handbook or on the video. They also help the new employee learn the unwritten rules and expectations of a job. These are things like traditions and employee humor. They can also help their peers know where to find resources in the form of learning materials or even other employees when they need help. 

Mentors should be assigned to new employees on the first day of the job. Companies with good mentoring programs have mentor pools that are diverse according to:

  • job responsibilities
  • age
  • ethnicity

This diverse pool of mentors makes it easy to find a good match. In a recent study, Microsoft’s mentoring program boosted the productivity of new employees by up to ninety-seven percent.

Onboarding Best Practices

Employees should not be expected to assimilate all the information at once. Here are some best practices to help managers and team members provide the best experience for a new hire.

  • It is a good idea to break up the first couple of days in segments of thirty, sixty, or even ninety minutes. Then give your new hire and the mentor “break time” that allows the new hire time to assimilate the information they have been given and to know what questions to ask. 
  • Don’t make onboarding a procedure between the employee and the mentor alone. Involve the team of people he will work with. Develop some traditions such as giving the new employee a small gift or his own imprinted coffee mug to hang in the break room. Involve and immerse the new employee in the company “society” as soon as possible. 
  • New employees should also not be expected to immediately take on a full workload. They can become overwhelmed with the amount of information and paperwork they are expected to process in addition to the requirements of their jobs. Still, there should be some significant tasks they can be assigned to complete that is of actual value to the company. This will help them feel that they are contributing to the team. 
  • Mentors and managers should be intentional in explaining the company’s jargon. All companies have their own languages consisting of acronyms and buzzwords. These take time to learn. Managers onboarding a new hire should not assume they understand everything and are ready to hit the ground running.
  • Managers should not wait until the new hire’s first day to set up their email accounts and get his desk ready. They should also have cleared out any unnecessary files from a predecessor.
  • New employees should not be isolated. It is important to help them see how their job fits into the big picture. Additionally, supervisors should be on hand the first day of work. 
  • After the initial phases of onboarding, don’t forget about the new employee. Periodic emails to check in on them, cards, or even phone calls are important to maintain the close bonds established during the onboarding process. Also, after the employee has assimilated into the company, be certain to get their feedback on the orientation and onboarding process. 

Why it Matters

According to data obtained from a survey of companies with successful employee onboarding programs, 69 percent of employees who were onboarded effectively were still at a company three years after hire. Organizations with strong onboarding programs said they experienced new employee productivity that was 54 percent higher than before the implementation of the programs. They retained 50 percent more of their new employees. In contrast, 25 percent of companies without good onboarding procedures (or any training procedures at all) lost 60 percent of their workforce. Companies without identified goals and milestones for new employees found it took a full year for new employees to realize their potential.

Some statistics surrounding employee onboarding from Typelane.com give a good argument for implementing an effective onboarding procedure. Some of these statistics center on the negative results of not having an onboarding process. Eighty-eight percent of employees polled said their employers did not give them a productive onboarding experience. Sixty percent of employers don’t use onboarding techniques to set goals for new employees. An alarming one-third of all employee attrition occurs in the first ninety days of employment. Without that direction and purpose, new hires can flounder. 

Not all the statistics are negative, though. According to the same source, seventy-five percent of employee turnover is preventable, and that is a bit like having an attrition vaccine. Companies that use a “pre-boarding” process (beginning the onboarding in the weeks before an employee starts work) are fifty-three percent more likely to have engaged employees. 

Onboarding Assistance

Employee onboarding is such an important component of hiring that an entire industry has evolved. These companies produce onboarding how-to videos and software and/or provide consultants to companies that are setting up onboarding practices. Many times, the investment in these tools and services is far less than the repeated investment in hiring employees. That is because it can cost $4,000 or more to replace an employee once the cost of recruitment, incentives, and training is calculated.

Once companies have the tools and processes in place, they can run their employee onboarding programs. In large organizations, an observant HR department will be able to assess the needs of each hire and evaluate how well the process eased them into their positions. Even small businesses can engage in onboarding in HR, and it may be even more important for them than for large corporations. With smaller operating budgets and fewer employees, they cannot afford to lose good workers. The employee onboarding HR process for a new employee might look different for a small business, but the basic tenets still apply. 

While companies can hire onboarding experts or invest in software devoted to the process, the idea of onboarding is based on common sense approaches to hiring. It is something that a company can implement with a minimum investment of money and a maximum investment of forethought. These guidelines are a start for creating your own workplace development process, as it should be tailored to the needs of your organization. The employee onboarding process has proven to be an effective means of improving employee satisfaction and retention. Employees acclimated to a company in this way will be able to accomplish the same goal in successive hires. 

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