Onboarding is not a one-day, one-week or even one-month process. Yes, there are tasks that must be completed on or before the hire date. But to fully integrate new employees into the organization with the goal of increasing job satisfaction and retention rates, onboarding needs to include more than filling out paperwork, a quick round of introductions to peers and (maybe) a follow-up survey or visit from HR.

A little creativity will go a long way toward helping your company make a great first impression, and keep standing out as a great place to work.

10 Employee Onboarding Activities & Ideas

There are as many ideas on how to inject fun, warmth and appreciation into onboarding activities as there are organizations, and not all will be a great fit for every company. Here are a few ideas to get you started, with some variations tailored for various work models and company types.

  1. Goal setting: A common reason new hires lose their enthusiasm is a lack of clarity around job goals and expectations. While not as fun as a scavenger hunt, it’s worth setting aside time early on to define what the new hire is expected to contribute to the company, in what timeframe and the criteria for success. This can come from HR, the supervisor or both and be reinforced by your gamification platform.
  2. Gamification: Gamification—that is, using elements of games such as scoring, competitions and redeemable tokens to raise morale and reinforce teamwork—have been popular with forward-looking employers for some time, and it’s gained steam with remote work since these apps are virtual. There are a number of platforms to help employers set up gamification programs. Here are three that work well for onboarding and beyond:

    Battlejungle(opens in new tab) is a cloud-based platform oriented to HR teams looking to reduce employee turnover, create a positive and engaging work environment and boost teamwork. It’s about esprit de corps more than education and is best for companies with existing new-employee training programs.

    Edgagement(opens in new tab) bills itself as “a cloud-based e‑learning platform that sits at the dynamic intersection of gamification, social media and visual communications.” Seeing as training is a major part of onboarding, the app’s learning focus is a good fit for this function and HR teams are able to collect data on engagement.

    QuizGame(opens in new tab) is purpose-built for training newly onboarded employees through games and quizzes and can also be used to brush up existing workers’ skills.

  3. Personalization: Include a “get to know you” survey in your preboarding process where you ask about the new hire’s preferences and impressions—anything from tee-shirt size and dietary restrictions to their preferred mix of in-office/work from home to their impressions of the hiring process and why they chose to accept your offer. This signals interest in the hire as a person.
  4. Swag: Gifts with company logos are always welcome, and hopefully your survey captured preferred sizes.
  5. Welcome gift: However, also consider other thoughtful and useful items that reflect what you’ve learned about the employee’s likes, dislikes and personal goals. A “welcome” sign is great for in-office, while a home worker might receive an ergonomic office setup kit.
  6. Mentoring: Assign more-senior team members to mentor new employees until they can gain their footing. The mentor is responsible for informally answering questions about the job, the company and department processes, as well as making introductions, explaining company Zoom etiquette and inviting the employee to join in on everything from lunch to after-work get togethers.
  7. Buddy system: If you’re bringing in a group of hires at around the same time, the buddy system pairs up new employees so that no one feels like a lonely outsider but rather part of a group on a new adventure. You can make pairings based on factors including geography, role, department or survey results. Set aside plenty of time at orientation and afterwards for buddies to socialize and bond.
  8. Scavenger hunt: Consider a real life or virtual scavenger hunt to reinforce information introduced in onboarding, such as a facility’s layout, a process they need to follow or finding the goals that lead to the next steps in onboarding or some company swag.
  9. Glossary: Provide a glossary checklist or puzzle for the employee to complete as they hear someone on staff use the words. This will help familiarize the new hire with company buzzwords and culture.
  10. Welcome lunch: For onsite employees, set up a welcome lunch and invite peers, management and even a company executive or two where feasible. If the welcome is to be virtual, provide a welcome lunch for the new employee and family by shipping food or providing prepaid credits on a food delivery app so they can choose their preferred meal. Company peers and management can still join by Zoom.

HR and Payroll

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Employee Onboarding Mistakes to Avoid

Dealing with data collection, payroll and tax information, benefit forms, and employee handbooks is a fact of onboarding life. But they’re not the heart of the process.

Common mistakes to avoid include trying to cram in all the new-hire paperwork on the first day, delayed onboarding, failing to address cultural and generational differences, unclear expectations, missing information, no feedback loop and no personal touches so that the process feels impersonal. Most of these are easily avoided—send paperwork in advance so people can read it over, have someone on hand to greet the new hire, make sure all necessary equipment and software is ready on the first day.

Employee Onboarding Template

Download our expanded, customizable onboarding template and modify it to fit your company’s needs.

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Employee Onboarding Checklist

HR should maintain employee onboarding checklists for each phase of the process to ensure no steps are overlooked. Below are some suggested items that will apply to most companies; HR teams, hiring managers and employees who recently went through the onboarding process and have input should review and add elements specific to your circumstances. We also offer an expanded checklist for download, above.

Preboarding checklist:

  • Verify applicant is transitioned to employee status.
  • Complete background checks and related verifications.
  • Gather all related new-hire data, such as legal name, date of birth, Social Security number, tax filing status, tax withholding (W-4), bank info for direct deposit of paychecks, citizenship status, work visas and/or other information as required by law.
  • Provide a timeline or deadlines for all forms and documents you need from the employee prior to or on the first day.
  • Provide employee handbook or related information, such as dress code, so employee will know how to adhere to company policies.
  • Provide employee with a contact person in HR and the name of the direct manager and contact information for both.
  • Present first-day or first-week schedule and provide clear instructions on where to report to work and when.
  • Prep new employee’s workspace and generate work orders to purchase or configure needed equipment so the employee is able to work from Day 1.
  • Make sure all access codes and permissions are in place before employee reports for duty.

First Day Onboarding Checklist:

  • Ensure someone is on hand to welcome new employee.
  • Ensure all new-hire paperwork is received and in good order. Address anything that is missing.
  • Help employee become familiar with the workspace and overall facility.
  • Make introductions to direct supervisor, co-workers and others.
  • Present employee with access information to employee benefits portal and company information.
  • Present employee with passwords and access information for all devices, software and apps, and issue uniforms, identification badges, and codes or keys to access the building or office.
  • Present parking information and parking or other passes as necessary.
  • Present information on pay periods, timesheets, pay dates and any other information relevant to pay.
  • Get employee to sign for any company assets provided for their use and indicate condition of each.
  • Facilitate an initial goal-setting discussion for the role.
  • Supply any training or compliance materials and guidelines on expectations to complete exercises.

First Week Onboarding Checklist:

  • Schedule a meeting to learn how the employee is adapting and resolve any issues.
  • Go over workflows and processes to make sure they understand and are comfortable completing them.
  • Ask if there are any questions or issues with benefits and address those.
  • Introduce the employee in an informal setting, such as lunch to executives, key peers and possibly someone who is willing to mentor them on the job.
  • Ask about personal interests and introduce them to related company activities or groups of employees with similar interests so they have an opportunity to join in.

While onboarding has several requirements, it is important not to make the processes burdensome, boring or confusing. Look at onboarding activities as a way to communicate the corporate culture and values as well as to assimilate the employee and acknowledge their individuality. A little creativity can be fun and incredibly useful for all involved.