eLearning Design and Development

9 Best Practices for Onboarding New Employees

Hiring, firing, and rehiring can feel like an endless cycle. You go through the trouble of collecting applications, interviewing candidates, and hiring a new employee, only to discover that the employee underperforms or decides the job isn’t for them after all. 

This scenario is not uncommon: A survey of 1,000 employed U.S. workers by BambooHR found that a whopping 68 percent of them left a job within the first three months of being hired; 31 percent left within six months: overwhelming proof that the first three months of employment are critical for retaining new hires and saving time and money in the long run.

So, what’s an organization to do?

Instead of showing your new hire their desk and dropping off an employee manual, make an investment in new employee onboarding to ensure the health of your company and future employee success.

Your industry and organization dictate a lot of the particulars. However, here are nine onboarding best practices that can help all organizations with onboarding new employees:

  1. Start before day one
  2. Assign a buddy
  3. Don’t forget to onboard the team
  4. Include cultural onboarding
  5. Don’t be too specific
  6. Define success
  7. Get feedback
  8. Utilize different training methods
  9. Don’t stop onboarding yet

1. Start Before Day One

The first day at a new job is, in a word, overwhelming. Your new hire is being inundated with where the restrooms and lunchrooms are, their coworkers’ names, and your company’s overall culture. Start the onboarding process at least a week ahead of time by sending training that your new employee can complete at home. Send training modules or FYI emails that include:

  • A list of paperwork they’ll need for the first day of work (i.e.: social security number, proof of address, certifications) 
  • A directory of their team, including pictures if possible 
  • A welcome from their direct manager 
  • A step-by-step rundown of their workplace’s location and where to report on their first day
  • A quick primer on workflow or a small portfolio of projects to peruse so they can get to know the company 

By starting your onboarding process before day one, your new employee arrives confident and ready to get started.

2. Assign a Buddy

Bill Watterson said, “Things are never quite as scary when you’ve got a best friend.” And, when it comes to those nerve-wracking first days at a new job, a buddy is an invaluable onboarding tool. 

A pilot onboarding program by Microsoft reported in the Harvard Business Review found that 56 percent of new hires who were assigned a buddy as part of the onboarding process indicated they were more productive because of the connection; that percentage went up to 97 percent when the number of interactions with the buddy was more than eight times over the first 90 days. Microsoft also found that 23 percent of new hires said their buddy increased their satisfaction with the overall onboarding process over new hires who weren’t assigned a buddy. In short: buddies work. 

Assigning a buddy gives your new employee a safe space where they can ask questions while learning more about your organization’s workflow and culture. From a management standpoint, a buddy can also relay information about goals and progress to help structure onboarding activities on an individual level.

3. Don’t Forget to Onboard the Team

In your enthusiasm for onboarding a new employee, don’t forget that some of the work should focus on the new hire’s team, too. If the team onboarding is ignored, a new employee can stir up reactions in your existing employees including confusion, indifference, or even jealousy. 

Before a new hire starts with your organization, a quick, introductory email can go a long way. Let your team know a few basic facts about the new hire, but most importantly, outline their role. With your existing team already onboard, they’ll be better poised to support your efforts and make your new hire feel welcome and ready to succeed.

4. Include Cultural Onboarding

While training new employees on policy and protocol is important, their mastery of procedures doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be satisfied at work.

It’s also important to have their onboarding buddy introduce them to your organization’s workplace culture—Friday games of lunchtime trivia; shared love of fantasy sports; the friendly rivalry between Sales and Accounting—stuff you won’t find in the new employee manual. Having their buddy model your company’s values and invite your new employee into your workplace traditions allows new hires to feel like part of the team from the start.

5. Don’t Be Too Specific

One of the most valuable (and often forgotten) parts of new hire onboarding is understanding the company from 30,000 feet. No, that doesn’t mean taking your newest employee skydiving; it means helping all employees, no matter their position or department, understand how your organization operates from every angle. 

It’s easy to get caught up in focusing only on a new hire’s specific duties. But, without a complete understanding of their role in the success of the company, those duties might seem less meaningful. A training module that connects each department or a workflow infographic helps new hires see and value their contributions.

6. Define Success

Imagine trying to put together a puzzle without knowing what it’s supposed to look like when you’re finished. You might be able to fit in a few pieces and even finish the puzzle—eventually. Without proper onboarding, new hires miss critical pieces of information in the first few months on the job. 

While a new hire might understand a little about what it means to do well, outlining what your organization defines as success creates a clear path and instills confidence. Use your onboarding as an opportunity to help new employees understand exactly what’s expected of them via practical advice and specific and tangible results by:

  • Using concrete examples from past experiences and employees
  • Setting expectations for specific performance numbers, such as a successful month of sales 
  • Creating a scale for good, better, and best results. Use examples and emphasize expectations for the first six months using the scale. In month one, for example, your new hire might be on the “good” end of the scale, but you hope they’ll reach “best” by month three. 
  • Asking your new hire if they’re experiencing any barriers to success. If you set expectations, but your new hire doesn’t feel they have the necessary tools to reach them, they can become frustrated.

With the right parameters clearly set from day one, your new hire knows exactly how to walk, run, and eventually sprint to success.

7. Get Feedback

One of the best practices for onboarding new employees is so deceptively simple, it’s often ignored: asking for feedback. New hires are a fountain of wealth when it comes to measuring, tweaking, and executing the onboarding process. Schedule a few surveys to be delivered to your new hire’s email at regular intervals. Try using a rating scale as well as comments to get the full picture and let new hires feel heard. 

8. Utilize Different Training Methods

Having new hires page through an employee guide or fill out worksheets can be part of a robust onboarding strategy; to truly engage them, you’ll need much more. After all, you likely hired someone because of their unique characteristics, so why force each employee through the exact same training? 

Instead, design onboarding that can be customized to each hire and their new position. By incorporating gamification (a safe way to practice skills), multimedia, blended learning, and even tools like quick video and audio clips, your onboarding covers all the bases without feeling stagnant.

9. Don’t Stop Onboarding Yet

A CareerBuilder survey found that unfortunately, most companies don’t spend all that much time on onboarding: 25 percent of managers surveyed admitted their companies spent a day or less onboarding new hires; 26 percent gave a week; and 21 percent devoted a month to the process. Only 11 percent of companies surveyed said that onboarding lasts three or more months. 

It’s sobering to see how a limited onboarding process leads to dissatisfaction in both managers and their new hires. Without the proper training, new employees don’t have the tools or knowledge they need to excel in their jobs, which is often seen as poor performance. Managers become frustrated, and it creates a never ending cycle of new employees feeling (at best) stunted and (at worst) like they aren’t a good fit for the job or your organization.

Plan for onboarding events to carry on through the 30, 60, and 90-day marks. By creating training that builds rather than dumps, new hires gradually become more confident; at the same time, managers know how to better set expectations and evaluate performance on a personal level. It’s a kinder, more effective way to train as you give new employees everything they need to succeed. 

Onboarding new employees is inherently tricky: you hired someone to fill a need you have now. Taking the time to get a new hire completely oriented might feel like a luxury you don’t have.

But rushing through the process, using the same boring training, or skipping the onboarding period completely only sets you and your new employee up for failure. Instead, create intentional, helpful, and clear onboarding training so your new hire is empowered to succeed on day 1, day 100, and day 1,000.