How Long Should Onboarding Take? Best Practices and Ideal Timeline
"You never get a second chance to make a first impression." – Botany Suits
Delivering an effective onboarding experience is your chance at making a good first impression on your new talent. In fact, 93% of employees agree that effective onboarding is critical to employee retention.
Companies with great onboarding programs see 2.5% more revenue growth and 1.9% of the profit margin as against companies with poor onboarding processes. If that’s not enough motivation, the former also leads to higher productivity levels and faster knowledge acquisition rates.
And yet, 63% of companies don’t extend their onboarding programs beyond the first month. This is a huge mistake, considering new hires take eight months to become fully productive.
So, how long should onboarding take?
HR professionals and hiring managers agree effective onboarding takes at least three months. However, this isn’t the norm. What matters is that your onboarding process is tailored to your company and employee needs.
We’ll show you how to determine the optimal onboarding duration for your company. Instead of giving you the fish, we’ll teach you the ins and outs of fishing, the ticks and best practices, so you can set up your employee for success.
The 4 Phases of Onboarding
Understanding the different onboarding phases will help you create a strong strategy to engage new employees, improve retention, and help them adapt to your company’s culture and procedures. Let's take a look at the four phases of effective onboarding.
Phase 1: Orientation
The orientation phase introduces the new hires to your organization, senior management, and colleagues. It paints a clear picture of what your organization stands for and sets expectations for your new talent.
Orientation includes the following elements:
- Welcome speech from senior leadership
- Handbook and compliance overview
- Lessons on company culture, policies, history, and values
- Diversity and inclusion efforts
This onboarding phase is also very flexible. While in-person introductions are recommended, you can have different strategies for other elements of orientation. For instance, leveraging technology like AR and VR to engage employees, and scale your onboarding program. Here are 17 exciting ideas to make your onboarding fun and creative.
Remember, this is a very crucial time for the candidates. Even a small miscommunication and misunderstanding can make them doubtful of their decision to join your company. But if you make them feel welcomed and manage them well, they’ll feel more excited to contribute to your company’s growth.
Also, be sure all employees complete the necessary paperwork before proceeding to the next phase.
Phase 2: Role Training
This stage involves teaching new employees about their daily job duties and setting them up for long-term success. It’s another important phase of onboarding since it directly correlates to how successful employees will be in other aspects of their jobs. When the new hires have a crystal-clear idea of what’s expected of them, they'll do their job with more confidence.
Role training includes the following elements:
- Setting performance expectations
- Technical and process training
- Job shadowing
- On-the-job safety training
Employees are more likely to thrive with formal training, as it leads to better employee morale and performance. A true way to show that you care about their development.
Phase 3: Role Transition
Employees enter the transition phase after 60-120 days of joining your company.
Here, the new hire is transitioning to their permanent role under the direct supervision of their assigned ‘buddy’ or ‘mentor.’ In addition to the direct supervisor, company managers and front-line leaders should also take the initiative to teach the new hires:
- Growth and improvement strategies
- Effective communication
- Genuineness and authenticity
Managers can also set SMART goals to help employees visualize what success, quality, and productivity looks like at your company. Again, you want to lay out your job expectations as clearly as possible to avoid misunderstandings.
Phase 4: Ongoing Development
The last and final stage of onboarding, here you need to create a long-term plan. This ensures that every new employee follows a continuous professional and personal growth. This involves setting milestones, and allowing employees to see how they can contribute positively to your organization and grow professionally.
This way, both – a new hire, and your company is able to achieve individual, and organizational goals.
Ongoing development includes the following elements:
- Career mapping
- Competency assessment
- Personal and professional goal setting
- Individual development planning and strategizing
- Conducting performance reviews periodically to recognize employee efforts
- Helping new hires to improve their performance if needed.
How Long Does Onboarding Usually Take?
As mentioned, hiring managers and HR managers agree that employee onboarding should last a minimum of three months. 1-2 weeks certainly isn’t enough time to make employees comfortable at the office and expect them to deliver.
New employees thrive when they’re familiar with the company culture, know and understand company policies, procedures and technology, and have settled into the learning experience. That’s why onboarding should happen continually within the first year of hiring a new employee.
Let’s also not forget how alienating starting from scratch feels.
Not only do new hires have to meet the team and management and fill out paperwork, but they also have to get accustomed to a brand-new environment, figure out how things work, and just generally find their place in the company.
If a year sounds too long for you, other HR professionals agree employees can also learn a lot about their new role and feel “at home” in the first six months of joining the company. Consider building a development and onboarding program that’s focused on the first six months to help employees transition smoothly, after which they should be ready to go solo.
Developing an effective onboarding strategy takes time. But how do you figure out the right fit for your company? Should your onboarding take three months, six months, or a year?
8 Factors to Determine How Long Onboarding Should Take In Your Company
If you’re looking for a cookie-cutter onboarding process, we’ve got news for you: there isn’t one.
Every company and employee is unique, which is why blindly following statistics isn’t going to result in effective onboarding. You have to customize the process based on specific factors.
1. Job Role
The whole point of onboarding is to provide new employees clarity— on what their job is, how to do it, what’s expected of them, who to report to and ask for help, and the “unsaid rules” that are typically a part of a company’s culture.
This usually takes the first 30 days, but can go longer. You can also provide your employees with templates and playbooks to ensure consistent and experience-focused onboarding.
Onboarding duration also depends on whether it’s for internal transfers or external hires.
Depending on the size of your company, the culture of one department can be significantly different than another. While you want to accommodate these changes, you don’t want an existing, transferred employee to feel like a newbie in your own organization.
To avoid this, they’ll need different training, feedback, and socialization systems for a smooth transition.
2. Company Complexity
You want to provide new hires an overview of your company‘s mission and values, its product line, targeted audience, and the pain points your product solves. Familiarizing them with the overall organizational structure, processes, systems, infrastructure, facilities, tools, and interfaces is equally important.
Naturally, the more complex the information, the longer it’ll take for employees to learn the ropes.
3. Onboarding Media
As a part of onboarding, you can give employees handbooks or show them videos to teach them about company policies.
While employee handbooks serve as a handy guide and reference for company policies and procedures, they aren’t as engaging.
Our brain is wired to remember visual content. Research found the average viewer retains 95% of a message when they watch it, as opposed to a mere 10% retention rate when reading it. A reason why including video-based training in your onboarding program makes the whole process more engaging, and also cost-effective.
4. Relational Onboarding
Onboarding isn’t a transactional process. You can’t have the new hires fill out the necessary paperwork, read the employee handbook, and be done. It doesn’t work that way.
You have to factor in relational onboarding, where you nurture and welcome new employees and give them the required support. You also want the new employees to build strong relationships with their co-workers and help them quickly adapt to your company’s culture and processes.
5. Remote vs. In-house
Remote onboarding is more complicated than in-person onboarding.
When you’re onboarding online, you have limited access to the new hires. You can’t just pop in and ask the person, “How’s it going?“ or lean over to the person at the next desk to say “Let me show you how it’s done again.“
You have to be extra attentive and put in more effort to ensure new hires get off on the right foot during remote onboarding.
Contrarily, in-person onboarding is more flexible and hands-on. You can read the new hire’s body language to understand how comfortable they are and check in on them throughout the day to smoothen the transition.
6. Technology and Infrastructure
New hires must have the equipment and access to the right systems for training to be effective, especially for remote or hybrid workforces.
Many companies choose to give employees step-by-step guidance on how to use a new software. Thus, ensuring no valuable time is wasted on system training. But some of these tools have a steeper learning curve, which again affects how long onboarding should take.
There’s also technology that reduces the amount of time spent with transactional onboarding procedures, like completing paperwork, opening accounts, and granting permissions. Obviously, companies employing such technologies will have faster onboarding than those that don’t.
7. Required Guidance for Focused Training
A successful onboarding process also allows for higher-level learning.
Having intensive onboarding gives new hires more time to absorb information and more opportunities to build advanced skills that can benefit your organization. You can also train employees to develop soft and technical skills to ensure their personal development.
Another thing that influences onboarding duration is the availability of collaborative learning opportunities.
Assigning a ‘buddy‘ to your employees is a great example of collaborative learning. This system ensures employees won’t have to go through the onboarding process alone while giving them the chance to bond with other colleagues, share experiences, and understand their role within the company.
8. Employee Enthusiasm
The last factor affecting how long should onboarding take is also the trickiest: your new employee’s enthusiasm.
If your onboarding is solely a transactional process, it won’t connect employees to your company. If it's more collaborative and immersive, your employees will be fully engaged with the company. They'll enjoy their jobs, feel committed to the company, and put greater effort into their work.
Time-to-Productivity vs. Time to Onboard
Here’s our view on how long should onboarding take:
Onboarding duration depends on a host of factors, but research suggests employees can benefit more from longer, structured onboarding processes.
This doesn’t mean your employees will always take longer to be productive.
Let us explain.
Most HR professionals focus on the time-to-onboard metric, when they should be focusing on another HR metric called time-to-productivity.
Time-to-productivity measures how long it takes for employees to become operational and productive. It indicates the time between the employee’s first day and when the employee is being fully productive and actively contributing to the organization.
Naturally, the shorter your company’s time-to-productivity, the faster your onboarding, and vice versa.
Zavvy’s employee onboarding experience software streamlines and structures onboarding by giving new hires the tools and templates they need to succeed. This helps cut down your time-to-productivity and improve candidate experience. You can read our detailed case study on how we helped Alasco slash time-to-productivity by half.
In our experience, an effective onboarding process takes at least one month and usually extends to six months, which is also when probation ends and people are expected to work at full capacity.
We highly recommend holding more one-on-one feedback sessions, check-ins, and scorecard reflections after the new employees complete their three-month milestone at your company for improved retention.
Ideal Timeline: Most Important Milestones in an Employee Journey
Below is our ultimate take on what a successful onboarding experience should look like. We’ve broken down the whole process into 4 different time frames for your better understanding.
To make the employee comfortable and ready for their first day at work, you’ll have to familiarize them with the company and its culture during the preboarding stage.
- 1-2 weeks before: Send a welcome package and document checklist to the employee, introducing them to the company and a few team members.
- 5 days before: Give employees a detailed rundown of the company culture and processes—what it is and does, office rules and regulations, working hours, and set expectations.
- 1 day before: Send them a first-day plan and ensure employees have access to all the required systems and documents.
B. Onboarding Stage 1
This stage focuses on the first week of the employee joining your company. You want to introduce them to the team and the office and familiarize them with your partners, customers, and competitors.
- Day 1: Extend an official welcome to the employee. Introduce them to the team, the company’s culture and values, and the product line. Make sure they complete the required paperwork.
- Day 2: Lay out job expectations and what you expect them to accomplish in the first week. Explain the KPIs and OKRs you’ll use to measure their performance.
- Day 3: Introduce them to other departments and tell them who they should be going to for help. Assign a ‘buddy’ to the employee to help them settle in.
- Day 4: Tell them about the company’s partners, customers, and competitors. You can also give the employee documents explaining these in greater detail.
- Day 5 and Day 6: Encourage them to actively participate and get involved in the company.
- Day 7: Have a 1:1 meeting with the employee, and reflect over their first week at work. Appreciate their accomplishments and clear any doubts they may have.
C. Onboarding Stage 2
This stage covers the employee’s first month at your company. Your motive here is to make them more involved and productive, as well as provide lots of feedback to smoothen their transition.
- Day 9: Explain the feedback culture of the company, as well as the channels used to provide it. Make the employee comfortable with the process of getting and giving feedback.
- Day 12: Arrange a coffee break with their assigned buddy for feedback.
- Day 14: Hold a brief reflection session, covering the events of the previous week. You can also hold a short learning quiz to test their knowledge of the company.
- Week 3: Invite them to the intra-departmental meeting. Remind them to go through the company documents again.
- Week 4: Do the first-month check-in and provide necessary feedback. You can also send them a survey to ask them how their onboarding is going.
D. Onboarding Stage 3
This stage covers the employee’s second to sixth months at the company. The process here involves regular 1:1 and feedback sessions to get them to contribute more towards the company’s growth. You also want to learn their future plans to align their interests with company goals.
- Second month: By this time, internal training should be completed. Encourage the employee to attend more team meetings, share their opinions, and suggest improvements. Hold regular 1:1 and feedback sessions and a monthly check-in.
- Third month: Employees should be able to diagnose issues and offer solutions by the third month. Assign them to projects and encourage autonomy. Consider building a survey asking the employees which skills they’re interested in developing. Hold regular 1:1 and feedback sessions and a monthly check-in.
- Fourth month: Make them a "shadow learner" and encourage them to think of future directions. Hold regular 1:1 and feedback sessions and a monthly check-in.
- Fifth month: Ask the employee to create a development plan and monitor their activities. Hold regular 1:1 and feedback sessions and a monthly check-in.
- Six month: Ask them to create a plan for the next year and ask them for feedback. Give them their six-month performance review.
At the end of six months, your employee should have been successfully onboarded. Of course, the process may be shorter or longer based on the factors we explained above—the above timeline just represents what we think are the most important milestones in a successful onboarding journey.
Case Study: Onboarding Timeline at Mailchimp
96% of employees at Mailchimp say it’s a great place to work compared to 59% of employees at a typical US-based company. This is mainly because the company has made some effective tweaks to its onboarding process over the years.
Mailchimp onboards over 200 new employees every year, and has created an ‘Employee Integration Associates‘ program for smoother onboarding. These associates are responsible for providing the new hires with all the resources they need to work and making them feel welcomed.
Some of the highlights of this program include:
- Swag bags
- Complimentary lunches
- Office tour
- Chat with two of the co-founders
Before their first day, each employee has to fill out a form listing their favorite snacks, colors, hobbies, and more, which is then used to set up their workspace. Managers also send them greetings on postcards for a personal touch.
On the first day, the new employees are given a tour of the main office after which they complete the paperwork. They’re also given their onboarding schedule for the week that has free lunches, department overviews, and discussions explaining Mailchimp's targeted audience.
Every new hire is also told what's expected of them by the end of the week. This can include gaining a general understanding of the company and how it functions, setting up their computer, or meeting with the team.
What’s more, the new hires go to lunch with new colleagues in the first week and attend informal meetings. This helps to break the ice, enabling them to integrate more quickly and seamlessly into the organization.
Mailchimp‘s cultural onboarding experience takes place in person for the first week, but really the onboarding lasts for three months. This gives employees a better understanding of what the team does and what their role is, along with how they can do the job effectively.
Another reason why Mailchimp’s onboarding is so effective is that the management is always open to feedback and iteration to create a more impactful experience for the new employees.
Plan out your ideal timeline with a click
A good onboarding process isn’t long or short—it’s effective and impactful.Therefore, instead of focusing on completing onboarding within a set number of months just because a study says so, figure out what works for your employees and company.
Leading companies trust our onboarding software to automate their internal onboarding processes. With Zavvy, you can create rich, diversified experiences that go beyond emails. Our software provides new hires a systematic overview of all the information they need and gives them step-wise elements to monitor their progress.
The end result is happy employees, reduced overhead, and faster and more effective onboarding.