29 Proven Methods to Improve Employee Onboarding Experiences: Your Shortcut to Success
There's always room for improvement, especially when it comes to employee onboarding.
In a corporate environment where high turnover rates have become increasingly common, it's up to organizations to retool the way they meet, collaborate, and cultivate professional development.
Thought leaders in the corporate world agree, too.
Just ask Chatelle Lynch, Senior Vice President and Chief People Officer of McAfee:
"Your business will constantly be evolving, and so should new hires' onboarding. Review your operational practices to ensure steps are in place for timely material refreshes. Putting your best foot forward is critical in setting expectations for the new hire."
But if you're at a loss for ideas for onboarding new employees, fear not–you've come to the right place for help.
Discover 29 proven methods that will improve your onboarding experience. Keep reading to learn more about our favorite tips and suggestions.
✈️ Positive employee onboarding experiences: Why do they matter?
There are plenty of advantages that come with employee onboarding, making it all the more important to get it right.
After all, you would not want all the investment put into your hiring process to go to waste.
What's more, every employee (both new and experienced) can benefit from a solid onboarding process.
If you're still unconvinced, though, then let these numbers do the talking:
- A well-defined onboarding program can boost new hire retention by 50%, as reported by Harvard Business Review.
- SHRM found that companies with a standardized onboarding program experience a 62% boost in new hire productivity.
- New hire referrals jump over 70% when onboarding programs offer new hires multiple ways to communicate with their trainers, managers, and fellow trainees.
- Our customer Alasco cut time-to-productivity in half by making onboarding more structured and fun. Storyblok, a fully-remote company, registered a 267% headcount in one year, with a 9/10 employee rating for their onboarding process. All while saving 15+ hours per week.
The case for a clear, structured, and responsive onboarding program is strong.
But what are some shared traits that every onboarding program has?
🧩 6 Essential elements for positive new hire experiences
Every company's onboarding experience will look a little different, but there are six fundamental characteristics each one should include.
The best onboarding programs foster social connections among new hires and current employees.
Tip: Embrace an experience-driven onboarding focusing on more than process. You will make employee interactions more engaging, meaningful, and memorable.
The main goal of onboarding is for new hires to learn everything they'll need to succeed in their new role.
There's a lot to learn when starting a new job:
- company values and mission;
- processes and workflows;
- daily tasks;
- how to engage with key stakeholders;
- product- and industry-specific information, etc.
A great onboarding program also helps new hires conceptualize and develop their long-term professional goals. You should go beyond the technical skills they'll need to succeed in their new role.
Every successful onboarding program includes critical administrative and training processes that add a clear sense of structure.
But a process-heavy approach is something to steer clear of in onboarding nowadays.
Loading up new hires' programs with clunky processes can feel overwhelming and monotonous.
Tip: Make sure that onboarding feels intuitive and approachable for new hires.
Every great onboarding program comes with objectives and expectations for new hires.
One way to measure the success of your onboarding program is to track the performances of all employees involved, including new hires and current employees.
💡In need of inspiration for setting the right employee goals? Explore 35 role-based examples of SMART goals for employees.
Tip: Carry routine check-ins to keep track of your new hires' progress throughout the journey.
An equally important goal in onboarding is introducing the organizational values and mission to new hires. You want new hires to feel welcome and comfortable in their new role and the organization.
Tip: Can you tell your company values and introduce the team as a story in a fun set of onboarding videos?
Annie's, an organic food company, has one of the best mission videos, sharing the brand story while also showing the faces behind the work. You are immediately sucked into Annie's world and want to know how you will be a part of it.
An effective onboarding strategy will include feedback collection at every journey stage.
This feedback is crucial for knowing what's working, what isn't, and how to address challenges employees encounter throughout the process.
Tip: Towards the end of the onboarding process, consider adding additional reviewers, especially peers. Your new hire will learn how your 360 review system works while gaining valuable insights from their peers.
🚀 A shortcut to improving your employee onboarding experience: 5 Timelines of note
When done right, onboarding is a continuous, evolving process. In practice, this means onboarding begins before the first day and continues long after the probationary period ends.
But to execute the process successfully, your onboarding strategy should be divided into five distinct phases, each with specific tasks, objectives, and best practices.
📆 Before the start day
Since a third of employees decide whether to stay with a company within the first month, hitting the ground running is crucial. Frontloading the work for your onboarding process ensures the development of a smooth, coherent journey for your new hires. What that means, though, is that you'll have a lot to take care of from an administrative standpoint beforehand. Some of the tasks you'll encounter during preboarding include, but are not limited to:
- Setting up company accounts (e.g., email, Slack, Dropbox, Google Suite, etc.)
- Collecting employee data (e.g., contracts, tax forms, direct deposit forms, etc.)
- Creating and sending out an overview for Day One
- Preparing company equipment and other welcome-to-the-team materials
Handling these administrative tasks before day one allows you to do more and go deeper in the later phases of your onboarding journey. It can also help ease first-day nerves and anxieties for new hires.
However, preboarding is an often-overlooked piece of the onboarding puzzle–even though incorporating it into your strategy can help leave a great first impression. For most organizations, it's a blend of paperwork and a brief orientation with the company culture.
The beauty of preboarding is that you can tailor your strategy according to your company values and mission.
Here are some tips to give your preboarding strategy a boost.
Send in the welcome wagon
Whether with a swag-filled company care package or an informal Zoom gathering before Day One, there are plenty of innovative ways to welcome your new hires.
The marketing video platform Wistia is an excellent example of an organization that gets this right. Current employees send their future colleagues custom introduction videos. These videos seek to break the monotony that builds with repetitive conversations during the first few weeks of onboarding.
But even if your employees are a bit camera-shy, you can find other ways to personalize your welcome packages. The key is staying mindful of small details which convey to new hires that you value them far beyond what they can do for the company.
Schedule SMS or email reminders
Pairing a custom intro video or care package with routine work updates and reminders makes for some solid preboarding. These reminders typically include information and schedules for week one and an opportunity for questions, comments, and concerns before starting.
Wondering when to start sending these regular reminders?
We advise aiming for anywhere between one to two weeks before the start date.
Tip: Remember to send additional information at least three days before the start date.
Take care of new hire documentation
Getting as much paperwork as you can out of the way before Day One will free up a lot of time and space for the rest of the program. Between tax forms, direct deposit forms, and other important paperwork, there's a lot of onboarding documentation to complete and submit.
Clue current employees and stakeholders in
It's essential to keep new hires updated on everything they'll need for day one. It is equally important to let current employees know they'll be gaining new coworkers soon.
Moreover, ensure company stakeholders are also aware of the latest hiring rounds.
Effective cross-communication before day one will make for a smoother and stronger onboarding journey.
Tip: An automated onboarding workflow will comprise specific steps for new hires and fellow onboarding stakeholders.
👋 First week
The goal of week one is to make a great first impression and make new hires feel welcome.
You can build on your preboarding strategy with a dynamic, activity-packed first week on the job.
The good news is that you can welcome your new employees into the fold in many fun and refreshing ways.
Have a fun day one
What better way to hit the ground running than by filling the first day with fun activities and opportunities to connect? Since one of the biggest goals of Week One is to foster rapport, you'll want to engage new hires right from the start.
Gamify employee orientation
Onboarding isn't all just fun and games–or is it?
The case for gamification in training is hard to beat. For a good reason: it keeps employees engaged, accelerates the learning process, and encourages interaction.
As for how to gamify your onboarding, you have a few options.
For example, Zavvy's onboarding software features automated reminders and milestone celebration messages that cultivate an emotional attachment between the new hire and the training outcome.
Another option is to incentivize achievement by awarding badges to new hires who complete their tasks quickly or most accurately.
BazaarVoice incorporates scavenger hunts into its onboarding process. These hunts include tasks like intro meetings with current employees, shadowing client calls, and answering company trivia questions. These are activities employees will engage in as part of their daily routines.
Tip: Keep in mind, though, that all employees will fall in love with a gamified onboarding experience. Giving new hires alternatives that still relay the same essential information is a great way to make your onboarding strategy more inclusive.
Assign buddies or mentors to new hires
Buddy systems are some of the most valuable additions to an effective onboarding strategy.
Not only can you cut costs by leveraging current company talent, but you can help new hires feel more welcome.
Buddies and mentors can address your new hires' questions and concerns throughout onboarding and beyond.
Buddy roles are different from company mentors, though. While most employees of all levels can make a good buddy for new hires, mentor roles are typically better suited for senior-level employees.
Set expectations and objectives
By the end of week one, your new hires should understand the objectives and expectations of your onboarding program.
More importantly, they should also be clear on the expectations of their new role. In practice, this typically looks like a list of unique goals meant to be met by the 30-, 60-, and 90-day marks.
Tip: The earlier you communicate and clarify the parameters of your onboarding program, the more beneficial of a journey it'll be for your new hires.
Show them where the tools are
Giving new hires access to onboarding tools will increase their sense of autonomy and allow them to access help whenever needed. This is crucial for the first week when new hires receive a lot of new information.
👨🎓 First month
By the end of the first month, new hires should be settled into their role and gaining confidence in the new skills they're developing.
Essentially, this phase is about maintaining momentum and addressing any snags.
To ensure a successful first month, though, there are a few more things to take care of.
Hold first-month progress reviews
Even though new hires will be checking in regularly with program coordinators, buddies, or mentors, conducting a progress review at the end of the first month is still worth it.
This review is the perfect opportunity to determine whether your new hires meet their onboarding objectives or if there is room for improvement.
Get feedback on the program
One of the best times to start collecting feedback on your onboarding program is at the end of the first month.
Once employee insights come in, you can address any early issues and still have ample time to retool later phases of the program.
However, the key here is asking the right questions when soliciting feedback, which you can incorporate into an employee onboarding survey.
💡 If you need help getting started with a list of survey questions, check out our employee onboarding survey for ideas.
Ensure that all new hires are in the system
It's a good practice to double-check that all new hires have access to the various company systems, such as payroll and employee benefits. Also, make sure that PTO is accruing as expected.
Set goals for the coming months
In addition to reviewing new hires' progress thus far, it's essential to set goals for month two and beyond.
Once new hires start settling into their role, onboarding becomes less about getting the hang of daily tasks and more about professional development.
While this development varies from person to person, professional goals at this stage can look like honing specific soft skills or tackling certain weaknesses. Whatever the goals are, make sure they don't add too much on top of whatever new hires are currently working on.
Reiterate company values
There's no better time to drive home your company's values and mission than throughout onboarding.
As the journey progresses, you can bring new hires further into the company culture by finding parallels with their professional goals and showing them where they can contribute.
Tip: You can also hold regular, informal hangouts with other employees to demonstrate further what your organization stands for.
In these ways, your new hires can further develop camaraderie in a manner that promotes your organizational values to the fullest.
Give them access to company resources
All employees need to stay updated on internal processes, departmental KPIs, and the like, and new hires are no exception. These resources will also give new hires a more comprehensive understanding of the organization's primary product or service.
Maintain open communication lines
Keep the momentum for your program going by maintaining open lines of communication with your new hires. Studies show that teams that experience a high sense of psychological safety are more efficient and productive in the workplace.
Celebrate the little wins
Another way to strengthen that sense of psychological safety is by celebrating your new hires' milestones.
Tip: Both big and small achievements are worth celebrating.
You can go even further by offering small prizes and awards to new hires who meet their goals and integrate successfully into the company. You can use this as an opportunity to reinforce company values and culture.
🎯 Months two and three
Formal new hire training for most organizations ends around month two or three. However, now is the time for any supplemental training to ensure that new hires stay on track.
In addition to winding down the formal training phase of the program, longer-term professional goals will come into greater view here.
Since the training period will likely end here, new hires will now enter into "maintenance mode." That being said, maintaining that momentum is just as important.
Unfortunately, many companies fail to consider that the end of training is the beginning of new hires' long-term career development.
Tip: Career development conversations can start early on, even before onboarding concludes.
Check in with all relevant parties
New hires aren't the only employees you'll want to keep an eye on during onboarding. Buddies, mentors, and relevant senior-level employees are worth touching base with, too.
For example, if you sense that some of your new hires are hesitant to share their true feelings on how they're faring, the other employees who are involved in the program can offer a different perspective.
A holistic view like this can help you pinpoint some of the weaknesses within your onboarding journey, and you can take action to remedy them as needed.
Track and review progress
Reviewing your new hires' progress should be a weekly task. However, as training winds down, it can be easy for your program's structure to weaken.
Tip #1: We recommend frequent 1:1 meetings to keep new hires on track.
➡️ Check out our 1:1 meeting template to hold more structured 1:1 meetings, define action items and lead more meaningful conversations.
The end of the first month is also an opportune time to check on your new hires' overall well-being. One way to do this is through an employee pulse survey, which asks new hires for feedback on their wellness within the workplace.
Tip #2: The end of this period is a great time to collect more feedback on the overall effectiveness of your onboarding program.
💪 Months three to six
During months three to six, new hires should meet some of the short-term goals they've set for their professional development. They should also be comfortable performing their role's daily tasks and reaching out to colleagues for help.
Like month two, you should address any issues related to workplace performance as soon as possible.
Tip #1: Learning and development are central to any excellent onboarding program, and it goes well beyond the end of the probationary period.
But as the end of the onboarding program starts to appear, it's time to start fleshing out what new hires' post-onboarding journey will look like.
Tip #2: As onboarding enters its final stages, you can encourage new hires to create their first growth plans.
Conduct a probationary performance review
Many companies have a probationary period for their new hires.
A performance review will typically take place at the end of this period, ranging from 60 days to one year.
During the probationary review, relevant company managers assess a new hire's performance.
Tip: You can start the preparation for the probation period review by inviting new hires to conduct a self-assessment of their performance. Here is a list of suggested questions:
- Do you understand the expectations and requirements of your role?
- How would you describe your performance over the past X months?
- What do you believe has contributed to your success so far?
- What do you think has negatively impacted your performance in this role?
- What are your greatest strengths within this role?
- What professional goals do you hope to achieve within the next six months?
- How can our organization help you achieve these goals?
- How do you see your future progressing with us?
- What could the organization have done differently for you to have a better experience?
The list goes on, but including several of the above questions in your review will give you valuable feedback. You'll also understand how your new hires see themselves fitting into the larger company picture.
Keep collecting feedback
We don't mean to sound like a broken record, but collecting periodic feedback is the most valuable and efficient way to see what's working (and what isn't) for your program.
Meet with senior-level employees to get their thoughts. Plus, encourage your new hires to offer feedback. These insights can strengthen your onboarding for future hires.
Assign additional duties, if possible
If some of your new hires are flourishing in their roles and are eager to advance in their career development, consider assigning them additional duties.
For example, you can delegate more challenging daily tasks or appoint them as a buddy to a new hire that's come on board after them.
You'll have to understand what skills or knowledge the specific employee aims to develop.
While new hires need to lead the conversation about what they're comfortable doing, it's okay to encourage them to try something new.
Looping in company mentors or senior-level employees can also offer a balanced perspective on how much additional work a new hire can take on.
Tip: To determine whether new hires will need additional training for these new duties, conduct a training needs assessment to pinpoint areas of improvement.
💡How can HR managers enhance the employee onboarding experience?
Since HR managers will likely spearhead a lot of the onboarding experience, it's important to address different ways in which they can improve the entire process.
Starting a new position is overwhelming in itself, so keep employee onboarding tools in a single place as much as possible.
Thankfully, if you're using onboarding software, you'll keep pertinent information and documentation in a single, easy-to-access place.
Automate, automate, automate
Automation is the way to go when streamlining your onboarding process. Some higher-level activities would always happen in person, e.g., 1:1 meetings with senior-level employees or mentors.
But you can automate admin tasks like submitting paperwork and scheduling meetings.
Clarify opportunities for growth at the outset
Let your new hires know about opportunities for professional development within your organization right from the start. You will show them that you want to see them grow beyond their new role and that you have the tools to help them achieve their long-term goals.
Focus on employee engagement
Keeping your new hires engaged throughout the onboarding process is no easy feat. However, the work is worth it.
A Gallup poll found that 43% of businesses with high employee engagement have low turnover rates.
It comes down to consistently providing role clarity, work-life balance, opportunities to connect with other employees, and psychological safety in the workplace.
Approach feedback constructively
Pinpointing areas of improvement for employees can feel like a daunting task, which is why it's always best to approach it constructively. We are fans of the "sandwich method" ourselves: couch an area of improvement with two things they're doing positively.
For example, "Hey (name), I'd like to offer some suggestions concerning your organization. While you're excellent at creating ideas on the spot, at times they can be hard to track if you're not writing them down somewhere. However, you excel at creating meeting summaries, so try incorporating your ideas into your minutes moving forward."
Follow up on employee feedback
If any of your employees have specific concerns throughout the journey, follow up on them. Not only does this signal to your employees that their input is valuable, but it creates a more robust onboarding experience overall.
➡️ Deliver unique onboarding experiences without drowning in manual work with Zavvy
There's no better tool to help you create unique onboarding experiences than Zavvy's employee onboarding software.
Zavvy comes with multiple features, including:
- 🚀 Preboarding
- 🔀 Automated workflow management
- 📅 Automated event scheduling
- 👥 Buddy programs
- 🎬 Rich content
- ❓ Surveys & multiple questions to choose from
- ☑️ Tasks to all stakeholders
- 📈 User-level progress
- 📊 Company dashboard
- ⚙️ HRMS integration (Personio, BambooHR, etc.)
- 🌱 Beyond onboarding: continuous development, career frameworks, training, and 360 feedback software.
Zavvy is your one-stop-shop for all things employee enablement.
Get in touch to see how you can create exceptional onboarding experiences and grow your most valuable asset, your people. Book a free 30 minutes demo.