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Streamlining the Onboarding Process for New Employees

  • Human Resources
  • Article
  • 6 min. Read
  • Last Updated: 03/29/2024

Manager onboarding a new employee

Table of Contents

What is the employee onboarding process? What priority should small business owners place on this process? And how do you onboard new employees? Answers may vary from one business to another, but a strong case can be made that new-hire onboarding and training have a crucial impact on company culture, employee productivity, and long-term retention.

HR teams recognize that recruitment and retention play key roles in the business and are aligning their budgets accordingly. According to the 2021 Paychex Pulse of HR Survey, HR leaders responded that some of their most important HR expenditures included those that improve:

  • HR technology
  • Recruiting
  • Benefits
  • Training and professional development

Onboarding an employee, the right way can favorably affect workplace efficiency, accelerate training and development, and help drive results in a healthier, more collaborative company culture.

Read on for more information about implementing a new employee onboarding process or revamping your onboarding workflow.

What Is Employee Onboarding?

Employee onboarding is designed to help new hires adjust to their new jobs quickly while acquiring the skills and knowledge needed to genuinely contribute to the organization. This includes getting up to speed on the social and performance elements of their new positions. In this way, they can achieve the highest levels of productivity within the company.

Why Is Onboarding Important?

As an employer, it's important to take the opportunity to make a great first impression and focus on how new hires are welcomed. And for good reason. Nearly 3 in 10 new hires who are unhappy with their onboarding experience plan to begin the job hunt again within just three months.1

From the time an offer is extended until the day the new hire becomes fully productive, the employee onboarding experience can be used to create a foundation for long-term success.

How Long Does Onboarding Take?

Like any other aspect of a new hire's experience, it takes time to ensure that employee onboarding is done in an effective manner. This means more than just having new employees quickly "catch on" to their job duties. You want to create an environment and a sense of purpose that builds over time and ensures the employee feels a strong tie to the business. That’s why the Society for Human Resource Management says that a comprehensive onboarding process can last up to 12 months. However, many companies tend to rush the process, or mistakenly interchange onboarding with orientation.

You can reinforce the ongoing nature of employee onboarding and its benefits by setting benchmarks for individual progress. Create agreed-upon milestones for what the new hire is expected to achieve or work toward, possibly at monthly intervals (so there's no long stretch of time in which they are working on the wrong things). The six-month anniversary is often a good point to examine the new employee’s familiarity more closely with their job duties and to address shortcomings before they become a significant problem.

Employee Onboarding Process: Start Onboarding Before Your New Employee Starts

Some employee onboarding can (and should) be done before a new employee's first day on the job. To achieve this goal:

  • Send company welcome materials and an onboarding schedule to the employee before their first day of work.
  • Have a future manager or another senior company representative reach out to the new hire to welcome them to the team.

These approaches can help a new employee feel ready to get started on their first day and improve their overall experience.

Get Ahead of the New-Hire Paperwork Process

A new employee is better equipped to get started if some of the introductory new-hire paperwork is immediately available for them whether they are in person or remote working. The same can be said of the tools and resources the employee needs, such as a computer and telephone. Both HR teams and the new hire will likely appreciate not using the first day on administrative chores or hunting for a spare laptop.

Though required onboarding forms may vary from company to company due to regulations, industry and company benefits, and policies, certain documents must be filled out by new hires in nearly all circumstances. These employee onboarding forms include:

  • Form W-4 – Employee's Withholding Certificate: This outlines the amount of taxes to be withheld from wages. Find the most recent version of this form on the IRS website.
  • Form I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification: This establishes the employee's eligibility to work in the U.S. To make sure you use the most current Form I-9, visit the USCIS website.
  • State and local tax withholding forms: Depending on the state and locality, new hires may also need to complete these forms. Check your state and local government websites to find the correct versions of tax forms.

Although not required by law, the following documents are ones some employers choose to have new employees complete:

  • Non-disclosure or confidentiality agreement, depending on the nature and location of the business, as well as the employee's position. This document should be reviewed by legal counsel and can help ensure confidentiality, as well as formally notify employees that business-related products and intellectual property belong to the company.
  • Non-compete agreement between an employee and an employer, where the employee agrees not to enter competition with the employer or work for a direct competitor for a period after the employee leaves or is terminated. This document should be reviewed by legal counsel. Employers should check their state and local laws regarding both a non-compete agreement and non-disclosure or confidentiality agreement.
  • Emergency contact information in the event of an employee's injury, medical crisis, or some other unforeseen situation.
  • Signed acknowledgment of the employee handbook and policies. This certifies that your new employee has received your company's policies and procedures and agrees to abide by them.

An important note in the case of forms and documents: some states may have their own new-hire requirements including but not limited to, paid sick leave notifications, wage-theft prevention and unemployment notices, sexual harassment, and workers' compensation pamphlets.

Be Prepared

Be ready for your new employees on their first day. To ensure a smooth transition, set up essential tools like email addresses, computers, and company ID cards ahead of time. Communicate in advance about what employees should expect on their first day and let them know where they should report on their first day of work if they are in person. You may also want to elaborate past the first day and discuss training or other orientation programs they must attend in the first few weeks. This will help to ease first-day jitters and ensure a smooth transition.

New-Hire Training and Employee Onboarding

As noted, the new employee onboarding experience is a key element in the ability to retain a new hire. What's critical is identifying and implementing training and onboarding techniques that result in new employees who are eager to invest their skills and enthusiasm into your business.

Here are some techniques for training new employees to bolster your onboarding program:

Clarify the Underlying Purpose

Effective employee onboarding involves much more than simply outlining the responsibilities and job duties of a new hire's position. The broader purpose is to instill an in-depth understanding of your company's history, culture, and mission. Presented in a positive, all-inclusive manner, this approach can result in a burgeoning sense of pride on the new employee's part, and a willingness to hit the ground running.

Present Resources Available to New Employees

While a certain amount of knowledge must be conveyed at the outset of the new-hire training process, too much information all at once can be self-defeating. Instead, provide all the materials a new hire needs to learn independently during the onboarding process — handouts, newsletters, and links embedded in your online training program. This way, new employees can easily locate and refer to this information. Self-starters will be happy to explore these resources on their own.

Incorporate Key Goals and Content in Each Training Session

If you use an online learning management system, set up individual sessions or modules, each with its own objective, as well as the tools needed to work through that session. As for the content of these modules, simple is often more effective than complicated. Where possible, avoid lengthy blocks of text and in-house jargon that a new employee can't be expected to understand. Opt instead for easy-to-grasp bullet points and graphics that convey the essence of your message as clearly as possible.

Use an Array of Learning Tools

Not everyone learns at the same pace or by the same methods. Successful onboarding programs embrace a variety of learning resources (video, interactive games, webinars, apps, animation, etc.) that promote greater interest and engagement. It also helps to offer some "real-life" experiences, such as shadowing another employee or establishing mentoring programs. Whenever new employees can apply what they've learned online to the actual workspace, it increases their sense of comfort and builds confidence in their ability to master an unfamiliar work environment.

Use Video To Engage and Train New Hires

Training videos for new employees can be both an engaging and efficient way to communicate what a new hire can expect on the first day. Tutorial-style videos are another possibility, with useful information such as how to set up a 401(k) contribution or submit work hours in the company’s time and attendance system. Depending on the position, companies may also be able to create job-specific training videos for tasks required of new staff.

Make New Employee Onboarding Mobile-Friendly

Building on the ubiquity of mobile devices and employees who may not work onsite, consider optimizing your training program for mobile use and making it readily available. More importantly, mobile-friendly programs reinforce the idea that training is ongoing, rather than something that employees must simply start and complete during their first days on the job. Consider setting up a schedule of training sessions during the first 90 days, both to reinforce what's been taught previously and to introduce new elements. However, companies should set expectations of when employees should be working on this training, as wage and hour issues may arise if non-exempt employees use their mobile devices to complete training outside working hours. Knowing that training is part of their job makes the experience feel more consistent and relevant to an employee's growing knowledge base.

Roll Out the Welcome Mat for New Hires

Taking steps to make a new employee feel like a welcome addition to the team is critical. Schedule a new employee meet and greet, if in person schedule a new employee lunch, or give new employees company swag to let them know you're excited that they've chosen to join your team. This can help new hires feel more engaged, and it’s an opportunity for them to bond with new co-workers.

Design a new employee orientation program that's interesting, fun, and interactive. Instead of offering a straightforward training session, consider breaking up new hires into teams and ask them to participate in a game show format. This can help them learn the rules in a fun and memorable way. Onboarding is your opportunity to get new hires excited about the company's mission and unique culture. They should leave the employee onboarding experience with a feeling that they made the right decision by joining your organization.

Offer Support From Colleagues and Mentors

The onboarding process is another opportunity to get to know your new employees beyond their resumes. Consider assigning each person a mentor who they can turn to with questions about their new environment and company culture. It may be more comfortable to ask a peer for advice on where to park or grab lunch rather than a manager or supervisor.

Why It’s Important To Prioritize the Onboarding Experience

Many onboarding processes are poorly planned or nonexistent, leaving organizations exposed to risks. Companies may mistakenly view onboarding new hires as simply completing required paperwork, then leaving them to integrate into their new work environment with the help of co-workers or entirely on their own. An informal onboarding process can lead to negative consequences for employees, such as:

  • Poor retention rates
  • Higher recruiting costs
  • Poorly trained employees

A poorly designed onboarding strategy can also negatively impact your company's productivity, customer relations, and company culture.

The Benefits of Automating Employee Onboarding

If you feel that your company's current onboarding system is inefficient or in need of an upgrade, there are options available to help improve and expedite the process. Automated employee onboarding software has many benefits.

Reinforce Their Decision To Join Your Team

Starting a new job is a major adjustment for every individual. Onboarding technology demonstrates that your business is a modern organization that offers employees the tools and support they need to develop their careers. Despite the level of apprehension or excitement they may feel about their new opportunity, a seamless onboarding experience can reassure them that they've made the right decision to join your team.

Prioritize Employees' Time

When using onboarding software, employees can sign important documents and review supplied resources when it’s convenient for them. When they can complete onboarding tasks on a device that they prefer, employees can look forward to a productive first day where they can focus on beginning their job. Automated onboarding programs can also track time spent completing such tasks to ensure you're complying with wage and hour laws.

Provide a Personalized Experience

It's important for new hires to receive a consistent, personalized experience in those critical first few months on the job. Some small businesses often lack the infrastructure or resources to offer formal, in-person orientation sessions for every new hire. New-hire training technology can provide employees with information related to specific training, policies, and procedures that they need to be successful. When the employee has a question specific to the company or its policies, they can refer to the materials housed in the program to find answers.

Other tangible benefits of automated onboarding programs may include:

  • Costs saved by no longer printing all documents (expenses like paper, printers, ink cartridges) and storing them (folders, file cabinets, etc.)
  • Compliance assistance due to employee files being stored in the cloud, potentially eliminating redundant backups, and protecting against unforeseen disasters
  • Greater efficiency in transitioning new hires into the company's benefits programs

In addition, data can be automatically shared across various HR areas (e.g., attendance tracking and payroll), which can eliminate time-consuming manual data entry. As a result, HR staff can use this time to focus on other responsibilities.

Features of an Online Employee Onboarding System

With an online onboarding system, the new-hire onboarding workflow can be handled effectively from start to end. New employees can complete their paperwork from any location and review useful information about what to expect on their first day.

An onboarding system can also be where new hires go to review and acknowledge the company handbook and polices. The system can track time spent completing these tasks. Remember that the time spent reviewing this material or completing new-hire forms may be compensable under federal, state, and/or local law.

At the same time, HR staff and the employee's manager can be kept informed of the new hire's progress through automated notifications. They may also have easy access to completed forms online.

Enhance Your Employee Onboarding Experience Today

While onboarding systems may help make the process easier and more comfortable for HR staff and new employees, automating new-hire paperwork with the right technology may also help boost workforce performance across the board — and unlike paperwork, that is something that can inspire enthusiasm in your HR department.

It's clear that an effective employee onboarding process is essential to a smooth entry into your organization and a key element in employee retention. Learn more about employee onboarding tools to help new hires complete paperwork and introduce them to your business and culture.

12024 Pulse of HR: The Future of First Impressions


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* This content is for educational purposes only, is not intended to provide specific legal advice, and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice of a qualified attorney or other professional. The information may not reflect the most current legal developments, may be changed without notice and is not guaranteed to be complete, correct, or up-to-date.

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