Employee Onboarding: All You Need To Know

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Employee Onboarding: All You Need To Know

The employee onboarding process is key to laying the foundation of the employee-employer relationship. A well-designed onboarding program positively impacts performance, job satisfaction, and employee retention. In this article, we’ll explore employee onboarding in-depth, which will help you create a tailored onboarding process to build a positive, lasting relationship with your new hires.

What is employee onboarding?
The importance of employee onboarding
5 stages of employee onboarding
The first day
The first week
The first 90 days
At the end of the first year
7 employee onboarding best practices
Employee onboarding software

What is employee onboarding?

Employee onboarding is the process in which new hires get familiar with the organization, the people, and the culture of the company they’ve just joined. It’s a key stage of the employee life cycle.

New hires are introduced to an organization and integrated into their new role and responsibilities. They are shown their workspace, given the equipment and resources they need, meet colleagues and managers, get to know work processes, and familiarize themselves with the company’s mission and values. By the end of the onboarding process, they’re able to do their job independently and effectively.

The purpose of an onboarding period is two-fold. On the one hand, the traditional goal of employee onboarding is to get new hires operational as quickly as possible. On the other hand, the more recent role of onboarding has been to shape the critical first impressions new employees have of the company.

After a successful onboarding, the employee:

  • Is excited about their role and the company
  • Has met their colleagues
  • Has a relationship with their direct manager
  • Has access to all the resources to do their work well
  • Has received the necessary training
  • Will understand their role and work and feel equipped to succeed
  • Will feel at home in the organization
  • Has made a couple of meaningful connections
  • Has clear goals to work toward and has achieved these goals
  • Clearly understands their appraisal criteria

In 89% of organizations, employee onboarding is short, lasting less than 3 months. However, truly effective onboarding is a continuous process that can take up to a year until an employee reaches their full performance potential.

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The simplest way to check if an employee is onboarded well is to check in regularly and ask if they understand their role and what success looks like, have the tools and knowledge to perform, and feel welcome in the organization and engaged at work. If this is not the case, the onboarding process has probably failed.

The importance of employee onboarding

According to research by Brandon Hall Group, great employee onboarding can improve retention by 82%. According to findings from BambooHR, employees with a positive onboarding experience are 18x more committed to their employer.

Onboarding also accelerates time to productivity, which refers to the time until a new employee starts fully contributing to the organization. The average time to productivity is 28 weeks.

In other words, committed and productive employees enable organizations to grow their revenue and increase employee satisfaction.

New hires are keen to impress, perform, and settle into their new organization. However, a poor onboarding experience (or lack of one altogether) can lead to employees not understanding how to succeed and feeling unhappy at work.

In this case, they are likely to exit the organization early and contribute to new hire turnover, which is damaging to an organization in many ways. High turnover rates lead to increased staff costs, disruption, and low team morale. In fact, large organizations lose as many as 16% of new hires in the first six months.

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For companies trying to recruit (and retain) top talent, a great onboarding process is a must-have, not a nice-to-have.

5 stages of employee onboarding

The onboarding period starts as soon as a candidate signs their offer letter and ends when the employee can autonomously do the job you hired them to do.

The period between signing the offer letter and the first day in the office is known as the pre-boarding period. While pre-boarding is sometimes considered a separate process, we’ll look at it as a part of the wider employee onboarding in this article.

There are multiple opinions as to what the stages of employee onboarding are. We have determined five key stages:

  1. Before the first day (pre-boarding)
  2. The first day (orientation)
  3. The first week
  4. The first 90 days
  5. The end of the first year
Employee Onboarding: The Stages

Let’s explore each stage in more detail.

1. Before the first day – Pre-boarding

Once your candidate signs their job offer letter, the pre-boarding stage begins. Here are the key preparations that you must complete before their first day. 

Send a practical info email & welcome video

In this email, brief the new team members on their first day and answer questions like:

  • What time should I start?
  • Where do I need to go?/Where do I log in?
  • Should I bring lunch to work?
  • Who do I contact if I have questions? 

If you’re onboarding your employees on-site, forward the information about how to sign in to the company’s network. This removes the need for new hires to visit IT on their first day to get their account activated.

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It’s also a good idea to embed a video of the company founders or the candidate’s manager or team welcoming them to the company. This makes the employee experience a lot more personal.

Vodafone has created its Digital Onboarding Platform, which new hires get access to as soon as they sign their acceptance letter. This guides them through the onboarding process, enables them to learn crucial information about the company, and helps Vodafone further facilitate their onboarding process. 

Invite to social events

Forward an invitation to the first social event with the team to help them connect with colleagues.

Draft a 30-60-90-day plan

The 30-60-90-day plan is a document containing the employee’s responsibilities and the organization’s expectations in terms of performance. This includes ongoing duties that are part of their role and new projects they will lead themselves. SMART goals will be set for 30 days, 60 days, and 90 days after the employee’s first day, together with clear metrics of success. 

This plan not only gives clarity to the new employee about what’s expected of them but also forces the direct manager to clearly specify their expectations.

Here’s what a sample 30-60-90 day plan could look like:

30-60-90 Day Plan for New Hires
Download the free 30-60-90 day plan template!

Inform the team about the new hire

At least a day before the new colleague’s start date, brief the team on the new hire, their role, and responsibilities. This creates role clarity and explains what projects the new colleague will be involved in. It also makes the new hire feel welcomed on their first day. 

Buffer has been a completely remote company since it was founded. Before new hires start work, they receive five emails that help share and collect the required information to ensure a smooth transition. 

The emails are as follows:

  • Welcome email
  • Collecting basic information
  • Introducing them to managers and peers
  • Presenting tools that new hires will use
  • Setting expectations for day one

Draft onboarding agenda for the first day & first week

An employee’s first day at a new organization is always hectic. The employee meets the team, receives a company presentation from the management team, gets a tour of the whole workplace, and sits down with their direct manager. 

This requires the active participation of multiple people in the company, so planning this is key to creating a smooth first day. It also forms a clear agenda for the new employee.

Set up email address & network access

The process for this differs per organization. If there is an independent IT department, this may be a separate workflow. However, it is critical to have this arranged and tested for issues before the employee starts work. That way, they don’t immediately get stuck and avoid wasted time and friction speaking with IT. 

Keep in touch

Sometimes, the period between a new hire signing their contract and beginning work can be long. It’s important to keep new hires excited during this window. HR or managers should check in with the new hires regularly, encourage them to ask and answer these questions.

Work environment and equipment

  • Assign (and clean) the desk area – Even if your organization works on a hot-desk basis, giving new hires a fixed spot for the first few days or weeks is beneficial. Having a dedicated place close to their team and manager is key in involving them from day one and making them feel welcome. Ensure their workstation is empty and cleaned – this is a simple way to create a solid first impression. For remote workers, send an instruction kit or video explaining how to set up their desks or equipment at home. 
  • Hardware – Have hardware ready before the new hire joins, e.g., a laptop, mouse, keyboard, and mobile phone. Set up the laptop and install any system updates the day before the new candidate joins. Then they don’t have to wait a few hours for the installation process to complete itself. 
  • User agreement for equipment – Have the laptop ready with the user agreement. This is a required legal document, so it is essential to get it signed on day one before any work begins. 
  • Workplace access card – With this card, the employee can enter the workplace on their own the next day.
  • Business travel card – In some countries, including the Netherlands, it’s common for employers to provide public transport cards for their workers. If the employee is traveling by car, make sure they can access the office parking on their first day and know the availability of the car parks. 
  • Welcome kit – This will differ per company. Some typical welcome gifts include a branded notebook, pen, water bottle, tote bag, and anything else you’d like to gift your new hires. 

2. The first day – Orientation

The first day, or the job orientation, is more about the experience than about the information. You will give the candidate a lot of information on the first day. However, they won’t be able to remember and process all of it. What they will remember for the rest of their career is the feeling of that first day, so the goal of the first day should be to create a memorable, positive experience.


  • Be ready to let the candidate in

The candidate will not yet have a workplace access card. Make sure they know where to go and that someone is expecting them at the reception, will let them in, and will greet them with a warm welcome. 

  • Discuss the agenda for the day

Give the new hire a clear agenda for their first day. It’s a good idea to create and type this up ahead of the day and email it out, so they know what to expect. The new hire and their manager can then briefly sit down and go through it, so there is structure to the day.

  • Workplace tour

If the new hire is coming on-site, give them a workplace tour, so they know where everything is. This includes the toilets, the communal kitchen, how the tea and coffee machines work, where the printers are and how to use them, and where different departments sit.

  • Introduce to colleagues & team

A significant part of new employee orientation is introducing new hires to their colleagues. It won’t be possible to introduce the new employee to everyone in large organizations but do make sure they meet everyone on their team.

  • Set new hire up with an onboarding buddy

Setting new hires up with an onboarding buddy offers them a support system and helps familiarize them with the workplace, processes, culture, benefits, and more. Netflix ensures all new hires have an onboarding buddy and receive an email from their buddy on their first day to act as a peer mentor.

  • 30-60-90-day plan

Later in the day, introduce the new hire to their 90-day plan. They receive it and get an extensive explanation of all the different elements from their manager so that they know what’s expected of them, as well as what they can expect.

  • Welcome snacks & drinks

Why save snacks, sweet treats, and drinks for employees’ birthdays? Offer something memorable to new hires on their first day to make it special, and let everyone in the office join in the festivity. If you’re doing a remote welcome, remind everyone to come prepared with a snack or drink so they can enjoy it together on a group call as a team.

  • Company presentation

In larger organizations, new hires will typically sit down to watch a presentation from the company’s core founders or senior leaders that focuses on its goals, mission, and values and breaks down how the organization works in terms of teams, roles, and culture. 

Google is well-known for its strong and unique values, including its “Don’t Be Evil” motto, which reminds employees to always act with integrity and respect. New hires are educated on these core aspects of the company from day one and encouraged to deepen their learning throughout their time there. 

Alternatively, this presentation could be in a video format. Grubhub has a short two-minute video that is presented to potential applicants and new hires during the onboarding process. This gives them all the information they need to transform their new job into a rewarding experience. 

  • Weekly & monthly structure

The manager introduces the candidate to the weekly and monthly structure they can expect in their new role. This might include daily or weekly team meetings, a monthly business update, and a monthly team lunch.

  • Invite to team calendar events & holiday calendar

Ensure that the new hire is added to the calendar for these activities, gets access to the holiday calendar, and understands how to use it. 

  • Provide access to the employee resources folder

This includes a copy of the general employee handbook and company policies, the health and safety manual, how to use the expense system, access to the company network, and important contact points. 


  • Legalities – These include wage tax deduction forms, a scan of the new hire’s passport or ID, and a work permit. These activities will differ based on your local regulations but are important to take care of as soon as possible.
  • Submit info for payroll – This can be done online at most large organizations these days, although you may need to fill out a form in some cases. Usually, if a form is required, it should be sent to new hires before their first day so they can be set up on the payroll system in advance. 
  • Take a profile picture – You can do this at the workplace or ask the new hires to send a headshot ahead of their first day. This photo will typically be printed onto their access card and used on the work communication apps like Slack or Microsoft Teams.


  • Communication and collaboration software – Train new hires on the software they will use in their daily work, whether it’s Zoom, Slack, Asana, Trello, MS Teams, Google Docs, or Basecamp.
  • Email – Offer basic email training, including how to set your professional signature and out-of-office reply policies.
  • Any other software – Go through any other software key to the new hire’s role. 

That wraps up the first day. These activities take 4-6 hours. If there’s any time left over, the employee can get familiar with the systems, shadow a colleague, or start work on their first project. 

Hermina Khara, SVP, People & Talent at Alida explains that their company has a dedicated onboarding portal, as well as a buddy program to provide a memorable onboarding experience to the new hires. This starts with the first day.

“Our amazing HR generalists do a really great job of conducting HR orientations on the first day. The IT team also does an orientation so that people know how to use their equipment, making sure that they have the right signatures, and so on. When all that comes together, it’s a truly great experience for our employees,” Khara notes.

3. The first week

In the first week, the employee continues to get familiar with the team, the company, and their role.


  • Individual sit-downs with direct colleagues – While the new hire has most likely met their colleagues, they also have individual meetings with them to learn more about what they do and how they will collaborate.
  • One-on-one with the hiring manager – During the first week, the hiring manager should meet with the new hire daily. However, this meeting is to recap the first week, evaluate what went well and what could have been better, and see what’s next.
  • Deeper learning of tools and systems – Depending on the nature and complexity of the tools and systems the new hire will need to use, it may take longer than a day to get familiar with them. At Zapier, employees spend the whole first week learning the tools and systems needed to succeed. They don’t get started on tasks until week two, giving them the space and freedom to fully settle into their role. 

To do’s

  • Plan 30-60-90-day plan check-in meetings – Schedule one-to-one monthly meetings in the calendar to evaluate the new hire’s progress on the 30-60-90-day plan. These meetings are planned in the first week to create structure and a clear plan for the next three months. 
  • Add profile to the company page – If you have an “About us” page on the company website, you may add the new hire’s profile photo along with their name, role, and a short bio to offer more information on the company’s employees and team structure. Make sure that you have consent from the new hire to share this information before posting it publicly. 
  • Introduce the new hire on LinkedIn – Consider sharing the news of your newest colleagues on your company’s LinkedIn page. This helps new teammates feel welcomed and builds a closer connection with customers and clients. 

4. The first 90 days

The first 90 days for any new hire will set a key foundation for the rest of their time at the organization. 

When people join your company, they might be world-class experts but are new in your context. This means they need guidance on how their behaviors can best contribute to the organizational strategy and which behaviors are the most urgent and likely to make the biggest impact. Below is the situational leadership model developed by Hersey and Blanchard. This model shows the desired supportive and directive behavior, depending on the development of the individual.

Situational Leadership Model

The 30-60-90-day plan is crucial to guide employees in their behaviors. A good overview of one’s responsibilities at work is also important, and a highly structured 30-60-90 day onboarding plan delivers this.

Although aimed at leadership roles, Michael Watkins’ book The First 90 Days offers strategies for succeeding in a new role, no matter what stage someone is at in their career. The company Miro also recognizes the importance of this three-month window and created their 30-60-90 day plan for new hires based on this book. Managers are there to guide new hires and set expectations at the start, but employees are encouraged to be proactive and work independently on tasks where appropriate to empower their learning and success and promote autonomy.

The new hire’s manager and an HR professional should support employees by helping them set SMART 30, 60, and 90-day goals that align with the organization’s long-term goals as well as the employee’s professional development goals. For example, a digital marketer’s SMART goal could be to increase traffic by 2% in the first 30 days.

30-day goals

The first month is about getting to know the organization and helping the new employee settle into their role. 30-day goals should be internally oriented towards learning how to do the job. If there are external goals, they should be small and achievable. 

The new employee’s manager and Human Resources should work together to encourage the employee to set three to five goals for this period and to learn as much as possible, ask questions, and connect with their team. 

Each goal should always have a measure of success so it’s clear when the employee achieves it.

An example of a 30-day goal could be to learn about the company’s product. The measure of success could be to create an account, explore the platform for an hour every day for one week, and read ten customer reviews. 

60-day goals

The second month should help the employee step into more role-specific activities. At the end of the 60 days, the employee must have a more solid understanding of the fundamentals of the organization and its pain points. They should also become a contributing member of the team.

HR professionals should work with the employee and their manager to set three to five more goals related mostly to role-specific tasks and responsibilities.

For example, a goal may be to learn about the company’s sales process. The deliverable or measure of success would be to shadow five sales calls, make a list of observations, and discuss these afterward with your manager. 

90-day goals

The 90-day plan aims to ensure an employee is effectively onboarded and integrated into the team and culture, adding value to the business. To achieve this objective, you should closely align the 90-day goals to the longer-term performance expectations of the role. This is an execution phase that leverages the learnings of the previous 60 days. Its success depends on how well the employee achieves 30-day and 60-day goals.

An example of a 90-day goal could be to lead a sales meeting with a UK client. The deliverable could be to solicit feedback from team members from the meeting and list three areas for improvement in the future. 

During this final month, HR and the employee’s manager should clarify that they are expected to fully transition into their role at the end of this 90-day window. This will differ per employee based on how quickly they integrate, the degree to which they can work independently, and their seniority/competence level. Ask the employee what support they need to help them succeed in this transition.

New employee training

New employee training is key to employee onboarding, especially in the first 90 days. It focuses on teaching employees how to complete tasks and operate equipment and software so they can succeed in their job and be as effective as possible as quickly as they can. 76% of new hires consider on-the-job training the most important activity in their first week, while research shows that employees who feel sufficiently trained are 27% more engaged than those who don’t.

Types of training include:

  • Instructor-led learning
  • E-learning
  • On-the-job training
  • Job shadowing
  • Mentoring

5. At the end of the first year

Have a final “onboarding” meeting with your employee to wrap up your onboarding program. You could combine this with their first annual performance review. Here are some things to cover:

  • Practicalities: Check in with employees and see how their first year has been. 
  • Performance: How are your new employees performing, and have they met their long-term goals?
  • Future: Discuss your company’s L&D program, ask them about their preferences and career ambitions

Another important thing is to collect feedback. Google sends an anonymous feedback form to all new hires so they can provide suggestions and constructive criticism on the process without worrying about offending anyone. This will enable you to improve your onboarding process and can also help boost retention rates because employees feel heard and valued. 

Terry Traut, CEO at leadership development company Entelechy, shares how feedback helped improve the onboarding process at a large national communications provider. “Following numerous interviews with senior leaders (managers of managers), our team was surprised to hear that a common issue was effective calendar management. Many leaders were constantly double booked or in back-to-back meetings all day, leaving no time for priority projects, interacting with their team, or just plain thinking,” says Traut.

“We weren’t expecting to address this issue in our onboarding/transitioning program, but we ended up creating a very valuable module on time management that received excellent feedback and allowed the entire senior leadership team to follow the same approach to prioritization and scheduling. The end result was a more focused, effective, and productive management team,” Traut concludes.

7 employee onboarding best practices

Here are a few practical tips you can add to the onboarding process in your organization today:

1. Integrate HR practices

The 30-60-90-day plan should include why the job was created in the first place and accurately reflect the job description and posting. If this is not the case, the candidate has applied for a different job. In other words, when they come to work and see that the actual job is different from the job they applied for, the result is an unhappy hire and an increased risk of them leaving. 

This is why it’s essential to integrate HR practices, do a great vacancy intake, and align your job description with your job posting and 30-60-90-day plan.

2. Create effective workflows

It’s likely that your organization already has an onboarding workflow and different systems and processes applicable to your organization’s size. Implement new, suitable ways of working into those existing workflows. For example, what steps mentioned above in this article is your process missing? How can you bring them in?

Ensure that whatever workflows you use, you leverage onboarding to build a personal connection between the direct manager and the employee. Personalizing the onboarding process and giving new hires attention is the root of a successful onboarding experience your employees will rave about. 

3. Use onboarding checklists

Onboarding checklists help keep your employee onboarding process consistent. A manager can physically or digitally check the boxes as they onboard the new hires. It provides structure and ensures that necessary steps are completed methodically. 

This article provides useful onboarding checklist steps that we encourage you to copy, edit and use where appropriate. 

4. Ensure consistency

Your checklist is only as good as you are. If managers have a checklist but don’t use it, items will likely be forgotten or missed, and the onboarding process will lack structure and consistency. 

Implement a checklist (or another digital system that is easy to track) and ensure all your managers use it. 

5. Communicate

Communicate clearly and frequently with employees throughout the onboarding process. This should start when they sign their acceptance letter and continue throughout their full first year of employment.

Set clear expectations from the start, conduct progress check-ins, and ensure there is a point of contact for every new hire to go to with any queries or concerns. 

6. Bring in organizational culture & values

As mentioned earlier in the example of Google, it’s important to weave your culture and values into the onboarding process and beyond. Provide your new hires with a strong understanding and examples of what these values mean at your organization so they can adopt them and strengthen your organizational culture

7. Evaluate

As you receive feedback from your new hires, you can improve and optimize your onboarding process and tailor it to convey your unique company culture, values, and mission. 

Use employee onboarding metrics such as new hire turnover, onboarding satisfaction, and training completion rate to track the effectiveness of your onboarding, uncover issues, and prevent unwanted turnover.

    Employee onboarding software

    Analog approaches to onboarding are slow, sap HR’s time, and are prone to errors. Regardless of your organization’s size, leveraging technology and using employee onboarding software can help you create a more efficient onboarding experience, automate certain processes, and save your HR team and department managers time. 

    There are numerous onboarding software vendors, including:

    • Enboarder
    • Freshteam
    • Eloomi
    • BambooHR
    • ClearCompany

    On a final note

    A well-structured onboarding process is essential for the success of any organization. It can help you attract top candidates, reduce new hire turnover rates, boost employee engagement, and reduce hiring costs.

    It is important to take care of the practicalities, like ensuring the employees have all the hardware and software they need on their first day and sign the relevant new hire paperwork. But it’s equally important to focus on engagement. Communicate with your new hires from the moment they accept your offer, set clear expectations, make them familiar with your company culture & values, and help them connect with their colleagues and integrate into the team.

    That way, you’re making sure that you’re setting your new hires up for success.


    What is onboarding?

    Employee onboarding is a process to guide new hires from the day they sign their offer of acceptance to their first day at work and their first year of employment. It’s a way to communicate, build engagement and excitement, set clear expectations and goals, help them settle into the organization, understand and adopt the company culture and values, and give them the tools and knowledge needed to succeed.

    Why is onboarding important?

    Onboarding is essential because it shapes new hires’ first impression of the company, gets them operational as quickly as possible, and gives them a clear structure for the first 90 days and beyond at their new organization. A positive onboarding experience will reduce the likelihood of a new hire exiting the company, help you retain top talent, and reduce hiring costs.

    What is required for employee onboarding?

    Some of the key elements of a successful employee onboarding program include:
    – Planning and preparation
    – The right onboarding software
    – A clear 30-60-90 day plan
    – Regular communication, structure, organization, and consistency
    – Training and development opportunities,
    – Mentorship from colleagues and managers

    What are the most common mistakes during the onboarding process?

    – Not communicating consistently or often enough
    – A lack of structure
    – Failing to set clear expectations
    – Lack of progress check-ins
    – Too short of an onboarding process
    – Not utilizing software to automate tasks

    How long should onboarding last?

    How long an onboarding period lasts depends on the role and the organization but generally, a thorough onboarding process should last for a full year.

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