Finding great people for your organization is no walk in the park, so when you do hire someone to join your team, you’re probably hoping that they’ll stick around for a while, right? To improve employee retention and cut down on turnover, top employers promote a healthy working environment where employees are engaged and given the training and support they need to be successful – and these retention efforts should start on day one.

What are we getting at? Simple: THE 👏 ONBOARDING 👏 PROCESS 👏 IS 👏 SO 👏 IMPORTANT.

Sorry for shouting, but really, the importance of a great onboarding program can’t be understated. During those first few days and weeks, new employees are learning essential skills, making important connections and developing their understanding of the role they’ll play in your organization. More than that, the onboarding period is the time where your new hire is deciding whether to buy in to your company’s mission and values, or to walk away and find something that’s a better fit.

We’ve outlined some onboarding best practices that can increase employee productivity and improve retention in the long-term.

Stay in touch prior to the start date

Don’t let the excitement of signing the offer letter fizzle before day one! It’s important to keep in contact with your new hire, ensuring they’re excited to join the team and not having any second thoughts about their decision.

There’s lots of different ways you can do this – inviting them to relevant recurring meetings, arranging a lunch with their new team and asking them about any dietary restrictions or restaurant preferences, and, of course, you’ll want to make sure that they’ve got any important details or instructions they’ll need for their first day: where to park, what to wear, who to ask for upon arrival, etc.

(It’s also a great idea to send an email to the rest of the company to introduce your newest employee! Include the basics: name, start date, position and a photo, if possible, with a note to welcome this individual when they see them in the office.)

Create a welcoming environment for them to walk in to

First day nerves are enough for a new hire to think about, and you can help ease their anxiety by having a welcoming, organized environment waiting for them when they walk in the door – this is a big moment, after all – for both of you!

Right from the get-go, you want your new hire to feel like they’re part of the team and that you’re excited to have them on board. Make sure that someone’s ready to greet them and that their desk or office is set up with everything they’ll need: this will likely include the details they’ll need to access their email account, other important IDs and login information – and a welcome package doesn’t hurt either.

Maybe it’s a company branded mug and a welcome note from their manager, maybe it’s a little more glam – we’ve heard of new hires who’ve had t-shirts, backpacks, bottles of wine or even iPads (!!!) waiting on their desk on day one. Don’t feel like you have to roll out the red carpet and break the bank on your welcome package, it’s a gesture more than anything else. The goal is to show your new employee that you’re super excited that they made the decision to join your company.

People > paperwork

Do: get them excited about working for your company!

Don’t: bog them down with endless stacks of paperwork!

Let’s not beat around the bush here: paperwork’s a drag. A necessity, of course – but a drag, nonetheless. Ideally, you want to get this part of the onboarding process out of the way as efficiently as you can, so you can move on to the good stuff.

If you’re able to, it’s a great idea to provide your new hire with the required documents ahead of time (whether that’s physically or electronically). This ensures that they’re able to review everything thoroughly and have most of the paperwork completed in advance of their first day – that way, you can focus your attention on ensuring they’re meeting people, learning about the company and just getting settled in general.

Stick to the schedule 

When you’re in a new environment, a little structure goes a long way – and a pre-planned and clearly organized schedule is essential in letting a newcomer know what’s expected of them, what’s in store over the next couple of weeks and what they should be doing at any given time.

We asked our LinkedIn network what’s most important to them during the onboarding stage, and more than anything else (yes, even more than an iPad!), employees say they want structure from their new employer. In fact, nearly 40% of respondents indicated that being given a clear, structured schedule is critical to providing a positive, effective onboarding experience – so our advice is simple: give the people what they want!

Clearly define expectations early on

This is the time to let your new employee know what they can expect from you as an employer and what you’ll be expecting from them as an employee – and bear in mind, specifics are your friend here!

It’s important to clearly communicate any and all role responsibilities as well as performance goals or targets. Encourage questions and be ready to clarify any details about key tasks or job requirements – you don’t want this person to be blindsided when you check in on their progress a few weeks or months down the road!

When you walk away from this discussion, you should be certain that your new hire has a good understanding of not just their position, but also the importance of the role they’ll be playing within the organization.

Buddy up

When you’re learning the ins-and-outs of a new organization, you’re bound to have loads of questions about everything from setting up your tech to booking vacation time, from where to go for lunch to preparing for an all-staff meeting – and everything in between.

It’s important to ensure your new hire feels supported during those early days, and a big part of that is making sure they have somebody to approach with queries that pop up during the course of the day, but that might not be covered in the training manual. You want your new start to be comfortable asking questions, big or small, to clarify details about the office, the culture and the job, so their go-to person will ideally be a peer rather than a manager.

Set the stage for future growth

Mentorship and growth opportunities have taken center stage as of late, with many employees citing career development as one of the most important factors to consider when joining a new organization. A major reason for employees to begin considering a career move is a lack of opportunities to expand their skillset or grow with their current employer. By offering ongoing training programs or access to professional development courses, employees are provided the tools they need to develop their knowledge and skillset, opening the door to advancement within the company.

With that in mind, make sure to block out time to have a brief one-on-one with your new hire to learn more about their professional aspirations and to reinforce your commitment to helping them achieve their goals. You want your new employee to know there’s a future for them with your company, so take advantage of this opportunity to discuss what their career trajectory could look like with your organization and to get them excited about what’s to come.

Communicate your culture

A heads up about Friday’s after work happy hour or an invitation to join a group lunch are great ways to help the newest addition to your team feel welcome and help them get to know their colleagues. These kind of social gatherings provide the individual with more insight into
the culture and the team dynamics – but ‘company culture’ is more than just socializing, it’s the heart of your organization.

Educate your new hire on your company’s background, future plans and core values. Basically, fill them in on what you’re all about. What’s important to your organization? What do you believe in? Engaged employees believe in their company’s mission and connect with its vision and values – so be sure to communicate those things early on.

Offer ongoing training + check-ins

After the initial orientation and training, your employee will (hopefully!) be getting more comfortable in their role and gaining independence – but your work’s not done yet! Onboarding doesn’t end after the first couple of days, in fact, it will ideally be ongoing for the first couple of months and, in some cases, even longer than that.

Schedule regular check-ins with your new hire over the weeks and months that follow their first day. During these chats you can check in on their progress, get updates on any assignments or projects and address any questions or concerns they may have. It’s also a great opportunity to determine if additional training is required in any specific areas, or if there are particular aspects of the role that this employee finds especially challenging or particularly enjoyable.

The most important thing is to be sure you’re keeping lines of communication open, signaling to your employee that you’re invested in their development and ensuring that, should any problems arise, you’ll be able to identify them early on.

Encourage feedback re: your onboarding process

Feedback is your friend here! Ask your new hire for honest feedback on their experience onboarding with your organization – any intel you get will only help you tweak your processes so that they’re even better for the next person who comes on board.

You might send out a quick survey, arrange for a casual face-to-face catch up with their direct manager or just let them know that you’re always open to hearing their thoughts about what works, what doesn’t and considering how you can improve moving forward.

BONUS: Remote onboarding

Don’t cut corners with your remote employees! Learn how to adjust your onboarding strategy for your WFH team members here.