Employee onboarding is more than processing paperwork on new hires. Onboarding is the term that encompasses the organizational socialization to help new employees acclimatize to the culture so that their skills and productivity levels are aligned with company goals as quickly as possible.

While that definition may sound more robotic than social, especially since many of the processes are automated these days, it’s the human side that tends to pay off big for employers. Taking into account the emotions and concerns that come with starting a new job and treating new employees with empathy will garner trust with new hires. It lays the groundwork for employees to work with their employers toward mutually beneficial business and career goals.

What Is Employee Onboarding?

Employee onboarding is a set of processes a company uses to add and help employees feel comfortable in their new workplace. The structured and well-documented formal onboarding process includes clear communication with expectations for employees.

Onboarding is more than just the employees’ first day. It’s a process that begins before day one and extends incrementally over several months to a year. For many companies, it spans the length of employment through offboarding.

Typically, the processes can include the following steps:

  • Payroll and tax paperwork
  • Background checks
  • Employee identity badges and passwords
  • Citizenship verification
  • Employee benefits
  • Employee handbooks
  • Legal notifications
  • Job descriptions
  • Work schedules
  • Employee directory
  • Training schedules
  • Parking information
  • Other technology, facility and people orientation activities and information

Formal vs. Informal Onboarding

Formal onboarding means that the onboarding processes are highly structured. It includes specific steps and is usually done with software or an online portal, though it may be done with paper. Informal onboarding is less organized and lacks a step-by-step process with natural progression.

The most successful companies use formal onboarding with welcoming, conversational language. However, the language is also noticeably clear about what is expected and what is to be done. Don’t confuse conversational tone with unclear communication. Human capital management software (HCM) can help standardize and streamline the process. It also makes it easier for new employees to follow along with each step of the onboarding experience and leads seamlessly into further activities, including reviews, retention and promotions.

Key Takeaways

  • Orientation is a part of onboarding; it is not the same as onboarding.
  • Key touchpoints for successful onboarding are compliance, benefits, job performance, productivity and goal assimilation.
  • Human capital management software can help you formalize, automate and measure the success of your onboarding process.

Onboarding Explained

Onboarding is the method of bringing new employees into the workforce and getting them up to speed on the job as quickly and efficiently as possible. It lays the groundwork for a mutually beneficial relationship between you and your employees. It’s more than just filling out the necessary paperwork—although that’s an important part.

The onboarding process typically begins with the pre-hire stage before the new employee’s first day on the job. Start with some of the important forms including tax forms, citizenship status, notices of employment rights, benefit options, reference validations and background checks. Then review information to help prepare the new hire for work with things like parking instructions, dress code, office assignment, technology hardware (laptop, monitor, etc.) and software disbursement, and other orientation information.

With the bulk of the paperwork out of the way, when the first day of work for the new employee rolls around, he or she will be ready to learn more about company culture, goals, job performance and productivity expectations. This part of onboarding may include things like informal introductions to peers and managers and training sessions, as well as finishing up any of the tasks remaining from the pre-hire stage.

After the initial onboarding, consider subsequent monthly follow-ups for at least three months to check in on progress. Find out how they’re doing, if they’re adjusting to the new culture well and how their mentors or sponsors are helping. New questions are likely to arise as time goes on. Think about onboarding as a process, rather than an event. Keep records of common questions or concerns that come up and incorporate those items into regular onboarding processes. And while you may not need to check in as frequently after the employee is acclimated, continue check-ins to answer questions and improve your relationship with employees until they leave the company.

Onboarding vs. Orientation

Orientation is an important part of the onboarding process.


Everything needed to hire new employees and bring them up to speed so they’re productive, engaged and working with clear goals in mind. This begins with paperwork often completed before the first day of work and continues with orientation, trainings and becoming acquainted with colleagues and supervisors. Regular check-ins with the new employee can help them feel valued and provide an opportunity to answer questions and find common areas of concern that might be affecting your company’s culture, goals and bottom line.


This one-time event usually happens on the first day of work or soon after. It’s often in a classroom-like environment and can include presentations and introductions of managers to a group of recent hires from around the company. This is where they’ll learn about your company’s culture, values and some of the broader business goals.

Key differences

Some companies think a formal onboarding process negates the need for orientation, especially if much of the onboarding is digital and conducted through an automated portal. However, orientation allows for a more personal approach and helps create a team experience and build relationships.

Orientation vs. Onboarding

Orientation Onboarding
  • One-time event
  • Focuses on company culture, history, leadership and values
  • Big picture content
  • Classroom or group environment with presentations
  • Offers opportunity for new employees to meet colleagues and managers
  • Does not include specific job training, just overall business objectives
  • A sequence of events that starts before the employee’s first day with required tax, citizenship and other forms
  • Not a single event, but a process of job training and helping an employee become accustomed to company culture
  • Training and goals will vary by employee
  • Focuses on role in the department and department goals
  • Preps employees for incremental improvements in job performance and productivity levels

Why Is Onboarding Important?

The briefest explanation of the importance of onboarding is cohesion, completion and competitiveness. You want your employees to work well together and toward common goals. And you need them to work efficiently to keep your business competitive with other peer companies. Onboarding can help establish and clearly communicate goals and provide opportunities for new employees to integrate into their teams.

What Are the Four Phases of Onboarding?

While the onboarding sequence and number of events in the series is entirely at the discretion of the hiring company, there are generally four distinct phases.

  1. Onboarding: This phase lasts for about three months. It begins with paperwork like tax forms and background information, usually done before the first day of work. It continues as the new employees meet their manager and colleagues, receive their employee ID and begin specific training. Orientation usually occurs either on day one or shortly after. This is when the foundation and expectations are laid for the employee.

  2. Initial development: This phase lasts from about three months to two years. The employee is starting to master specific skill sets or job functions. They’re also learning how to navigate internal processes and starting to have an impact on their team.

  3. Ongoing development and retention: The focus in this phase is to help the employee improve skills and realize advancement, and to retain the employee for as long as possible to foster cohesion and consistency and to avoid replacement expenses and productivity drags. The key to this phase is finding mutually beneficial arrangements for you and the employee. For example, new trainings help an employee advance his or her career, and it brings a new skill set to your team.

  4. Separation or offboarding: This is the method of concluding the formal business relationship between employee and employer. Exit interviews help you understand why employees are leaving, and finding causes of attrition can help you address issues to avoid losing valuable employees in the future.

    Exit interviews also offer an opportunity for the separation to be on a high note rather than borne on disgruntlements that may harm the company later. Further, offboarding is the reverse of onboarding as it entails processes to end permissions, shut down passwords, collect company property, end or transfer benefits and otherwise formally and exhaustively cut any ties that remain.

Who Is Responsible for Employee Onboarding?

Thanks to new automated technologies, onboarding can be handled by one person. But the most effective processes involve key stakeholders from around the company. For example, executives may be responsible for introductions to company culture, big picture mission statements and a motivating welcome message.

An assigned sponsor, mentor or manager is responsible for showing the new hire around the workplace and for making introductions, as well as answering any work-related questions the new employee may have. A direct supervisor may be charged with making assignments, teaching processes and goals, introducing new clients and evaluating performance.

Benefits of Employee Onboarding

Measurable benefits from great employee onboarding include higher retention rates; 69% of employees remain with the company at least three years, and 58% will stay longer(opens in new tab). Further, the organization found that companies using a standard onboarding process realized a 50% jump in new hire productivity.

Companies benefit from better compliance with regulations, more consistency in work performance, increased employee experience ratings and a boosted business reputation. They can become even more competitive in the marketplace.

Onboarding Objectives

Some of the common objectives and measurable goals for an improved onboarding process include the following:

  • Reduced attrition rates
  • Increased productivity
  • Improved quality and speed of work
  • Lower hiring and retention costs

Beyond the metrics, you want your new employees to become acclimated and trained as smoothly as possible. This benefits you and the new hire.

Onboarding Tactics

Onboarding tactics aim to add efficiencies to the hiring and onboarding processes, as well as to achieve the goals behind hiring the employee in the first place. To that end, with the aid of HCM software, many HR departments have been organized so that there are fewer people running the office but those who are there are highly adept at developing hiring and retention strategies. The repetitive details that must be meticulously acquired and tracked are often left to automated software.

For the new employee, the onboarding process should be easy, pleasant and quick. Try to consider the employee experience at every step. It should be series of short interactions with plenty of opportunities to explore more. For example, your company may wish to provide employees with a digital assistant or an HR representative to advise on best benefits options for that individual, rather than just provide an online list with limited quick comparisons.

HCM software can help with the more monotonous details to keep this process as simple as possible. The overall process should be warm, welcoming and appreciative.

Here are a few specific tactics that can help:

  • Welcome them before day one with a personal card or welcome email
  • Pair them with a mentor right away to answer day-to-day questions, as well as help with professional growth
  • Prepare their workspace beforehand with computers and technology waiting
  • Order some company swag and business cards for them
  • Schedule regular check-ins with their manager

Creating an Onboarding Program

Think of your onboarding program as a template to use for new hires. There may be small adjustments to meet specific needs. But there are a lot of general things that need to be done for all new hires. Start by compiling new hire paperwork, a list of company benefits, job descriptions, first day reporting details, work schedules and other assets you share with most or all new hires. Create an onboarding checklist with all the necessary forms, technology needs and other items like pairing a new hire with a mentor. Here are some items to include in your onboarding program, though it may vary by industry:

  • Welcome email before day one
  • New hire paperwork for taxes, citizenship, etc.
  • Company-specific paperwork such as benefits, non-disclosure, time off policy etc.
  • Set up new hire workspace or explain remote working policies
  • Fill new hire’s technology needs (computers, software, email, etc.)
  • Find a mentor to answer questions and help with long-term growth
  • Share other information such as parking, dress code, ID badges, work schedules, etc.
  • Schedule orientation
  • Schedule job-specific trainings
  • Schedule regular check-ins

Also, consider a few extras to make the new hire feel welcome like having company swag, ordering business cards or ordering breakfast for the team on the first day. Having a list of these optional items in the program makes it easier for time-strapped teams to take an extra step to make new employees feel excited.

How Long Should Employee Onboarding Last?

Traditionally, employee onboarding was what we’d now call new hire orientation. But as hiring and retention costs began rising, onboarding moved from one event to a series to address issues such as attrition, lack of employee engagement and delayed adaption times, which can all impact profits.

This varies by businesses and industry. Some companies elect for the minimum: day one and the 90-day review. However, the most successful onboarding managers understand that talent retention and cutting attrition costs isn’t accomplished in one day and opt for a pre-boarding, day one, three month and offboarding with other periodic check-ins and find ways to integrate onboarding with trainings, mentorship and promotions.

Companies that rank at top of their industries with employee engagement and retention often have expanded yearly reviews intertwined with the onboarding process. They view the onboarding process as an impactful step in overall employee engagement and satisfaction that can impact retention and cut back on hiring costs while boosting productivity.

5 Elements of Onboarding

Onboarding consists of five basic components that relate to five distinct areas that require considerable attention. Tactics and content are then shaped to fully cover employer and employee needs, as well as legal requirements in each of these areas. Consider using a human resource management system (HRMS). The suite of software applications helps you manage all HR-related processes throughout the employee lifecycle. Not only will an HRMS help you efficiently manage your onboarding, it will help you manage your workforce, integrate with payroll, and assist with employee engagement and management.

  1. New hire: The new employees fill out paperwork to formally enter into an employed relationship with the company.
  2. Company intro: Help the new hires understand the big picture. Include things like facts on the business size, financial strength, place in the industry, executive vision, mission statements, company culture and goals.
  3. Policies & procedures: Teach the employees the details of how to accomplish their work. Cover company-wide policies for things like purchasing, HR-related issues and other company specific policies the company or team might have. Help the employee understand the company’s expectations and where to go for questions.
  4. Mentorship: Foster bonding with a co-worker or manager who has the skills to teach the employee, the will to include and promote the new employee and the commitment to see to it that both company and employee benefit from these efforts.
  5. Training: Improve the employee’s understanding of job requirements and then build on those skill sets for additional job duties or promotion.

7 Steps in the Onboarding Process

While each company decides how long the onboarding process will take, the steps contained therein remain largely the same.

  1. Pre-boarding: Complete these steps before the employees’ first day. Talk to them about the role, pay and benefits. Cover items like where to park, dress code or guidelines. Fill out payroll and tax paperwork and complete background checks and credit checks. Finally, get the employees’ workstations ready.
  2. First day: Introduce the new hires to coworkers and managers. Share aspects of the company culture and make sure they have all the training materials, passwords, hardware and software necessary. Get them an employee ID. Finally, begin explaining work expectations and job duties.
  3. First week: Follow-up to see if the employees have any questions and to assess how well they are adjusting and fitting in. Evaluate mentors and review the events so far in the employee experience. Reiterate your support and introduce the employees to others in the company and invite to social events when applicable. If your company conducts orientation, have the new hire attend.
  4. First month: Follow-up to see if the employee is comfortable and adjusting well. Review expectations until the 90-day review meeting and what to expect in that meeting. Introduce options for personal growth, additional social interaction opportunities and promotion steps the employee might want to pursue.
  5. Third month: Find out if the job is a good fit for the employee and ask for feedback on the company in general. Conduct a 90-day performance review and make suggestions for improvement. Talk about career and personal goals.
  6. Periodic sessions: Foster and develop a relationship with the employees. These can be in addition to, or a part of, annual performance reviews.
  7. Offboarding: This is the conclusion of the business relationship. You want a pleasant experience to help sustain reputation and identify possible areas of improvement. Often outgoing employees are more candid and can alert you to internal issues. It’s also the reverse process of the initial onboarding as the company collects its belongings from the now former employee and disables all permissions, passwords and benefits.

7 Key Employee Onboarding Best Practices

Two of the primary concerns with onboarding are employee experience and employer needs. In the first instance, you are focusing on keeping the employee engaged and motivated and feeling a sense of pride in belonging. In the second instance, you are focusing on compliance, cost reductions, increased productivity and decreased lags in employee acclimation to the job.

  1. Review key touchpoints for prospects and new employees. Make sure websites, job descriptions, greetings and interactions, recruitment portals, benefit portals and other key touchpoints are clear and easy to access. HCM software can help with this.
  2. Review onboarding processes. Does it match the culture and identity of your business? Try to tell the company story and make a positive and lasting impression on the new employees.
  3. Use a checklist or a checklist template. You’re less likely to forget something important and onboarding can be more easily standardized with checklists.
  4. Get legal to review your onboarding processes. Make sure everything is covered on that front, but shoo the lawyers away from writing legalese into the employee experience. Use plain and clear language instead.
  5. Break the onboarding experience into small sessions. This ensures employees will remember more of what you shared and that no one becomes exhausted or overwhelmed from the deluge of information.
  6. Remember, onboarding is more than just paperwork. It’s about connecting people and helping new employees learn what’s expected of them, how they can navigate policies and procedures, how to access training and even how to progress professionally.
  7. Periodic follow-ups should motivate, inspire and engage. Constructive criticism can be a part of the process but should not overshadow the support offered to new employees.

Measuring and Analyzing Onboarding Effectiveness

Effective onboarding can save you time and money. Human capital management software can make it especially effective, automating key components of the onboarding process and replacing salaries with a software solution that can scale with your business. As you implement new hiring procedures, start tracking a few key performance indicators (KPIs) and find ways to improve each.

Employee engagement

Are your new employees satisfied with the new position? How do they feel about pay, benefits, workplace expectations and how their current conditions compare to their ideal conditions? Find common concerns and address them. For example, if employees aren’t satisfied because they believe their salaries are too low but there’s no budget for raises, consider adjusting other items you can affect. For example, could you offer a bonus structure if teams meet specific revenue goals? Or perhaps there are other areas like benefits you can adjust that help compensate. Create and deploy surveys on a regular basis and set goals to improve employee engagement.


Track voluntary and involuntary turnover. Drill down into the data. Are there managers who have higher turnover than others? If so, try working with managers who are performing better and have them help those who are struggling. Clear job expectations, mentorship and feeling engaged are all key elements of employee retention, and they all get started with onboarding.

5 Employee Onboarding Tips & Tricks

Employee onboarding is more than processing paperwork, though that is part of it. Here are a few tips and tricks to help you find the right tone while keeping the details all business.

  1. Keep a warm tone throughout the process. Stilted language and commands like, “Do this then do that” put distance in the relationship. Keep the tone welcoming and conversational but state the facts without commands or apologies.
  2. Use tact to address problem areas. If the credit report or the background checks come back with some negative items, don’t immediately assume the worst. There may be identity theft, identity confusion or other mistakes. Instead, talk with the new employee about the issues. Reacting without first having a conversation can tarnish your company’s reputation.
  3. Send reminders and spell out deadlines for documents and benefit selections. Quite often misunderstandings develop over the simplest of details. Make sure deadlines for paperwork and decisions are clearly stated. Send reminders when needed.
  4. Always tell employees what to expect. When in doubt, err on the side of explaining too much. For example, if you ask a new employee to meet for lunch, explain who will be there, what types of discussions might happen and even some of the smaller details like where to park and how others might be dressed.
  5. Don’t assume anything. Consider everything you might assume the new employee already knows and add explanations. Think about when you might need to customize the onboarding process. For example, if English is the second language for a new hire. Or if the new employee uses a wheelchair. Customizing the experience when appropriate can improve interpersonal communication and make the experience more positive for all involved.

Better Employee Onboarding With HCM

Taking the guesswork out of onboarding and adding structure with checklists and formalized processes with make it more efficient and improve the experience for the new employee. Human capital management software is the most effective way of doing that. It helps create those checklists for onboarding and offboarding and is a centralized solution to manage and maintain global employee records. Additionally, HCM software helps you track metrics and your HR team can monitor hiring and turnover trends and manage the entire employee lifecycle from a single, personalized dashboard.

And HCM software is much more than just a tool for onboarding. Employees can see time-off balances, benefits, compensation, find other employees and update their profile without needing assistance from HR staff. Managers can use self-service capabilities to accomplish common HR tasks such approval of time off requests, initiating a salary change, promotion or transfer and review compensation history. And executives will have access to important data that can help answer financial questions like if a downturn in revenue is related to vacant sales positions or why a certain location is experiencing higher than average turnover causing lower, localized customer satisfaction.

Employee onboarding is no longer a nicety or a mundane HR duty. In today’s world it rests in the center of any company’s most expensive cost: payroll and talent retention. Treat it as a strategic advantage and execute it with care. To do anything less is to incur sustained cost increases, lowered company reputation, dismissed ability to innovate and reduced attractiveness to top talent.

HCM software solutions can automate processes help create useful and customizable checklists and even drill into the metrics so you can monitor things like turnover trends. It helps employees with a smoother transition to working as all the necessary resources are in one place. They can access benefits, compensation and even things like time-off requests all from one powerful tool. With cloud-based HCM, you can also integrate with other applications to manage payroll and other HR-related tasks. HCM software lets you take a holistic approach to the onboarding and employee retention by helping you stay up to date on leading practices, measure KPIs and an agile approach to product adoption.

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Onboarding FAQs

What are the benefits of having an onboarding checklist?

Standardizing the onboarding process is more efficient and fewer things are forgotten or overlooked. An onboarding checklist can save your company time and money.

What makes a good onboarding experience?

Keep it as simple and efficient as possible. Eliminate as much repetitive data entry as possible. Communicate clearly for things like where to go, what to wear, where to park, etc. A checklist with a logical progression can help make the process more positive. And don’t forget the personal touch. Customize onboarding experiences when appropriate. And make interactions as positive and pleasant as possible.

How does orientation differ from onboarding?

Orientation is a one-time event in a classroom experience that occurs on or near the first day and is one part of the onboarding process.

How long should onboarding take?

This varies. But it usually includes a pre-board process, day one activities and a 90-day check in. Some companies extend the process and include periodic mentor changes, skill assessments, yearly reviews and offboarding.

What is an onboarding checklist?

The onboarding checklist of all the items and activities an employer needs to complete with an employee to maximize employee experience and company productivity and profitability.