The Onboarding Process – Steps and Checklist

The Onboarding Process – Steps and Checklist

The importance of the onboarding process cannot be overstated. If you’ve been using an unstructured approach and want to improve it, this post is for you.

Your Employee Onboarding Checklist

Proper onboarding doesn’t happen by accident. Like any HR workflow, you need a list of tasks and a way to make sure everything gets done. Hopefully, when you assign tasks in your structured onboarding process, your team members will take care of them in a timely manner. If that doesn’t happen, add steps for task reminders and make email templates if necessary.

Step 1. Acceptance to the First Day

A digital new hire portal is key for this step. A two-way system allows the manager and HR team to share documents and the new hire can sign and return those that require a signature.

  1. Send welcome email
    • Ask new employee if they have any questions and answer them with a phone call
    • The email can include messages from team members or even a video welcoming the new hire
  2. Share company information
    • Company directory
    • New hire’s email address and login information
    • Instructions and login credentials for company software
    • Notice of upcoming company events
    • Employee handbook
  3. New hire paperwork–specify which documents need to be signed and returned along with the due dates for completion
    • Tax forms
    • WOTC forms
    • ACA forms
    • Benefits enrollment
    • Direct deposit and payroll details
    • Emergency contact information
    • Employee handbook review
    • Policies and procedures
    • Safety instructions
    • Timekeeping instructions
  4. Job training
    • Send email with links to training documents or videos
  5. Share schedule for the first week (or longer)
    • Outline projects and goals for first month (or longer)
  6. Prepare for Day One
    • Assign an onboarding buddy to be a companion and guide during the first week
    • Send email with parking and building access info, reminder of dress code (if applicable), and work schedule
    • Notify all staff of the new employee and the day they will start
    • Assign onboarding tasks to appropriate people and monitor progress with your onboarding checklist
    • Create schedule so each team member can meet with the new hire during the first week
    • Set up workstation–computer, email accounts, workspace, furniture, office supplies
    • Plan get-to-know-you activity with new hire and their team

Step 2. First Day

  1. Hiring manager greets new employee when they arrive and introduces new hire to their team
  2. Office tour–workspace, breakroom, gym (if applicable)
  3. Make photo ID or give employee their access card
  4. The direct manager or onboarding buddy hosts lunch for the new hire and their team
  5. Get-to-know-you activity where the team can learn about the new hire and vice-versa
  6. New hire asks any questions they may have

Step 3. First 1 – 6 Weeks

  1. Direct manager assigns small project to new hire to help build confidence
  2. New hire starts training for their job tasks
  3. Manager does daily check-ins to monitor progress and answer questions
  4. Manager assigns the new hire a mentor
  5. HR checks in with the hiring manager and mentor to discuss new employee’s progress and makes a plan if training needs to be repeated or modified

Step 4. First Six Months

  1. The HR manager checks in with new hire’s manager and mentor to assess progress and needs
  2. Hiring manager meets with new hire at least weekly to discuss projects and answer questions
  3. Training transitions to performance management

Elevate Your Employee Onboarding Process

Exceptional onboarding can be an important competitive advantage and the benefits will compound over time.

Best Practices for Perfecting Your Employee Onboarding Process

Good onboarding tech is invaluable. With onboarding software like ApplicantStack Onboard or WorkforceHub, you can import new hires from your ATS into your HR system so you don’t have to manually enter their data. In ApplicantStack Onboard, you can build onboarding checklists for each job position or work location as needed.

A digital new hire portal (discussed previously) allows you to send paperwork that the new hire can review, e-sign and return. You can also assign tasks to both the new hire and HR team members. Auto-reminders help everyone stay on track. Lastly, onboarding software tracks onboarding KPIs to help you continually monitor and optimize your onboarding processes.

What is Onboarding?

Onboarding is the process of assimilating the new hire into your organization. It includes transactional operations and person-to-person engagement. When building onboarding process steps, include the following:

  • Paperwork – gather tax forms, contact details, direct deposit, benefits, eligibility online, certifications and licensing such as CDL
  • Planning – organized and deliberate with frequent check-ins
  • Introductions – connect new hire with team and broader workforce
  • Questions – make it easy to ask questions via virtual channels
  • Shadowing –video conferencing or other means for live but not necessarily in-person on-the-job training
  • Team building – offer formal and in-formal ways to build rapport and common cause
  • Office equipment and software – procure and set up equipment
  • Meeting participation – setup Slack, Teams, calendars, video conferencing, etc.
  • Face-to-face: meet regularly but not necessarily in person

Why Onboarding Can Make or Break Your Company

Why is it essential to get the handoff from hire to employee onboarding right? The quality of onboarding influences everything that comes next!

If your hiring process was effective, your new hire starts with high expectations. They are eager to dive in. Effective onboarding meets the expectations of an employee who had a great recruiting process. It continues to shape the employee experience.

Best practices for onboarding include creating a process that:

  1. Is structured
  2. Is personal and tailored to the new employee
  3. Establishes loyalty
  4. Helps the new hire be successful
  5. Improves collective team morale

Unstructured employee onboarding can dampen employee engagement quickly. A too-short onboarding process can leave the new hire unprepared to perform their job.

The purpose of onboarding should be setting new hires up for success and decreasing the time it takes for them to become comfortable in their new roles. This only works if onboarding processes are designed strategically with the end goal in mind. But onboarding has become even more challenging with the rise of remote and hybrid work. Sinazo Sibisi, Gys Kappers, “Onboarding Canb Make or Break a New Hire’s Experience,” Harvard Business Review, April 5, 2022

What is Poor Onboarding?

There is an epidemic of poor onboarding in companies of all shapes and sizes. Read through these and see if they sound familiar.

  • The new hire enters an atmosphere of confusion or apathy
  • No one takes ownership of the onboarding process
  • The onboarding processes are impersonal
  • HR bombards the new employee with paperwork
  • The manager doesn’t communicate expectations
  • The new hire doesn’t receive enough training

When a new employee experiences haphazard onboarding, they start questioning their decision to take the job. In addition, they may wonder if they have a future at your company. Unfortunately, this belief can be impossible to change.

U.S. Employers Don’t Take Onboarding Seriously

The Aberdeen Group (a market research firm) reports sobering statistics about the state of onboarding:

  • 31% of new employees have quit a job after less than 6 months
  • 53% of employees said they could do their job better with improved training
  • Only 32% of employers have a formal onboarding program
  • 56% of self-labeled ‘disengaged’ employees said they got poor training or no training at all
  • 17.5% of new employees said they didn’t understand what was expected of them until they had worked 90 days or more

There are plenty of factors prevent a good onboarding process. The abrupt shift to remote working at the beginning of the pandemic required a virtual onboarding process for remote employees. Few HR teams and small business owners were equipped to onboard virtually.

In addition, HR teams had loads of new demands which taxed their time and energy. Furthermore, some companies downsized their HR teams during the financial downturn.

However, there was a lack of good onboarding even before the pandemic. In 2019, Gallup reported that only 12% of employees strongly agreed that their employer does a great job of onboarding. In the Gallup study, they identified five common onboarding problems:

  1. No one takes ownership of the process
  2. Onboarding is too short
  3. Onboarding doesn’t reflect the company culture
  4. New hires don’t see a future at the organization
  5. The onboarding process is unremarkable

Now that we’ve discussed the epidemic of poor onboarding, let’s turn our attention to best practices for creating an exceptional onboarding experience.

The Onboarding Process Steps

The onboarding process (whether remote onboarding or in-person) doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It should be the continuation of an exceptional hiring process. Therefore, as soon as the new employee accepts the offer of employment, it’s important to begin the onboarding workflow immediately. There is generally a 2-3 week window from offer acceptance to first day. This interim period is a golden opportunity to reinforce the new hire’s decision and maintain engagement.


Check out our How to Hire Employees series:

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