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Guide to New Hire Onboarding

Employee Engagement Starts on Day One

New hire onboarding sets the tone for the entire employee experience, starting on the very first day. It's a prime time to introduce employees to company culture, values and goals. Providing employees with the support and resources they need to succeed in their new role can help increase employee engagement and improve their job satisfaction and productivity — all key ingredients to drive business success. 

This onboarding guide covers employee engagement topics that every hiring managers need to know:

  • Orientation vs. Onboarding: Important Differences
  • Employee Engagement Onboarding Strategies
  • Overcoming Remote Onboarding Challenges
  • Building Trust with Communication
    During Employee Onboarding
  • 6 Onboarding Retention Tips
  • How to Add Employee Recognition into Your Onboarding Process
  • BONUS: The Neuroscience of Onboarding
  • PLUS: 6 Onboarding Best Practices

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Guide to New Hire Onboarding:
Employee Engagement
Starts on Day One

Employee onboarding is the first step in each employee’s journey with your organization. It’s a time when employers can set employees up for success, ensuring they’re engaged and supported from Day One. But we’ve found that this critical time is not always used effectively, creating unnecessary retention challenges. Research shows that 88% of organizations don’t onboard well, and only 12% of employees strongly agree that their organization does a great job of onboarding.

Poor onboarding can cause new employees to feel lost, confused, and frustrated. Those feelings often make it difficult for them to get up to speed and start contributing to the company quickly and could even lead to them leaving the company early. But let’s not point our fingers only at HR professionals regarding onboarding challenges. For optimum results, this responsibility is best shared between the entire organization.

This guide was developed to help every part of an organization improve its onboarding and retention numbers by engaging employees right from the start. But first, let’s step back and revisit why onboarding is so critically important:

  • Onboarding is the ‘first touch’ in making new employees feel welcomed and supported, so they are more likely to be happy and productive at their new job – and happier employees are more likely to stay with the company long-term
  • Onboarding helps new employees learn how their role fits into the overall organization, so they can understand their responsibilities, become accountable and a great team player
  • Onboarding teaches new employees about the company’s values and culture, so expectations are clear — they understand when they live those values and exhibit those behaviors they are in alignment with the organization’s culture and their leader’s vision
  • Onboarding helps new employees get up to speed quickly, so they can be productive and collaborative from Day One
The team at Inspirus has put together this guide to help provide a positive onboarding experience for every new hire. When employees are equipped with all the information and tools they need, they will feel valued, assimilate faster and your organization will experience less turnover and create more efficiencies. We hope you find this information helpful, and if you have any questions, please reach out. Our tenured team can show you strategies to engage your employees during their entire employee journey starting from onboarding.

Happy reading!
Theresa Harkins-Schulz (she/her/hers)
Senior Vice President of Customer Experience and Products Inspirus | Sodexo Benefits and Rewards Services, USA

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Orientation vs. Onboarding: Important Differences

Orientation and onboarding can make or break the new hire experience — and drive long-term loyalty (or send employees running). But, while the two terms are often used interchangeably, they are not the same. They are, though, both integral parts of
a company’s employee engagement and retention strategy. An employee’s experience with your company starts from the moment of their first touchpoint with your company, be it your website, the interview process or a social post. But, once they’ve accepted the job, they’ve committed. You want to reward that commitment by making sure they feel welcomed and that every experience from that point on reinforces that their decision to join your company was the right one.

Orientation and Onboarding: Definitions

As the terms themselves convey, orientation is about orienting the employee to the job, while onboarding is about getting the employee on board and ready to be productive and engaged.

Orientation generally involves the administrative aspects of getting the new employee started — filling out required paperwork for payroll and benefits administration, sharing company policies and procedures, and explaining how their position fits into the company’s short- and long-term goals. Some organizations stop right here and feel they have successfully oriented and onboarded the new employee. They haven’t.

Onboarding goes beyond the administrative elements of orientation and encompasses a process that involves training and additional, hands-on acclimation to their work and the people they will be working with. It’s a process that can take weeks, even months in some organizations and roles.

As the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) tells us: “While orientation is necessary for completing paperwork and other routine tasks, onboarding is a comprehensive process involving management and other employees and can last up to 12 months.”

The time spent here is well worth the investment — for both new employees and the company. Employees who feel valued and connected to the company’s “why” are more engaged, more productive and more loyal. The proof? ServiceNow reports when the onboarding experience is not positive, new hires are twice as likely to quit their job compared to those who have a good onboarding experience.

To summarize: orientation introduces employees to the company and its policies and practices, while onboarding is a broader and more in-depth process designed to help the new hire become acclimated to the company, their new role and their colleagues. Both are important but, as we’ve seen, they serve different purposes.

Orientation and onboarding should be an integral part of your holistic employee engagement strategy. While serving different purposes, together they establish the foundation for building a more productive and more loyal workforce.

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An Overview of Employee Engagement Onboarding Strategies

The most effective employee engagement strategies start before a new hire’s first day on the job. When an organization’s onboarding program is carefully planned and thoughtfully executed, the impact can last for years. In fact, employees are 69% more likely to stay with a company for three years if they experience a great onboarding process. Organizations with strong onboarding processes can increase new hire retention by 82% and improve productivity by 70%. Getting onboarding right is critical to talent management and can positively impact other aspects of the business at the same time.

Here are some proven strategies to get new employees engaged — and keep them engaged — starting with the onboarding process.

Provide a Warm Welcome

Lead with a positive, inclusive team culture. A warm welcome can set the tone for the entire onboarding experience — and the employee experience that follows. Introduce new employees to their colleagues and managers and provide a tour of the workplace — either physically or via video — to make each employee feel included and part of the team right from the start. You can even use an employee engagement platform like Connects to shower the new hire with inspirational and motivational messages!

Schedule and Document Onboarding Meetings

Announce new hires internally before they start so the entire workforce knows who is starting, when, and what role they play. Coordinate structured onboarding meetings with the appropriate team members and subject matter experts (SMEs) on tools and processes they will need to use on Day One, so that they get the right information from the right people at the right time. Help each new hire document their onboarding meetings using your company’s technology (i.e., OneNote, Teams, Mural, etc.). This will familiarize them with the tools they will be using regularly in their job and in collaboration with others, as well as provide reference of the information learned during their onboarding journey.

Personalize the Onboarding Process

Tailor the onboarding process to the needs and interests of each new employee. Consider their background, experiences, and preferences to create a uniquely personalized experience. For instance, if a new hire makes it known they have a new baby, include parenting items in their welcome “swag bag.” If the new employee is a “foodie,” encourage them to start or join an employee resource group luncheon (or virtual recipe exchange, for remote and hybrid teams). Attention to detail shows employees you’ve listened to them and that you value them as individuals. This can result in higher engagement levels, for longer.

Set Clear Expectations

During the onboarding process, set clear expectations for employees about their roles, responsibilities and what they should expect from the company. Clear and consistent communication is critical! According to Korn Ferry’s research on the future of work, 44% of employees are ready to change jobs within months as opposed to years. Helping new employees understand the organization’s long-term vision will enable them to see their purpose and contribution. All of this helps employees feel more confident and comfortable as they navigate their new roles.

Adopt an employee engagement recognition platform. The warm welcome can extend from in-person right into your employee recognition platform. Introducing employees to the platform, how to use it and why to use it, increases future participation. Social recognition on an employee engagement technology platform like Connects:

  • amplifies recognition, especially peer-to-peer recognition, because the reach is extended enterprise-wide
  • reinforces company values by using spot recognition programs to recognize employees who exhibit desired behaviors
  • creates opportunities for connection — employees to each other and to the company — to promote well-being and combat loneliness
  • creates a more inclusive culture since the platform is accessible by all employees

Align with Company Values

Part of setting expectations is sharing the company’s mission, vision and values. Explain the values, why they are important (to maintain a healthy, positive culture), and show how living those values benefits both the employee and employer. When companies align their workforce with their values, employees can better see the connection between their work and the business strategy, which helps drive better business outcomes and results.

Address the New Hire Experience as Holistic

In the new normal, a holistic employee journey includes looking at their employee wellness from all angles: physical, mental, emotional and financial health, and conveying that starts even before Day One (it should be conveyed at Day Zero during the hiring process!) Deloitte research recently revealed the crucial link between employee wellness and business health: “When worker well-being (defined holistically to include physical, mental, financial, and social aspects) suffers, productivity often declines and health care costs frequently rise.” Since wellness is so closely related to business outcomes and individual health, incorporating all these dimensions into onboarding and orientation is critical.

Introduce Training and Development Opportunities

Onboarding tends to focus on getting new hires up to speed on company initiatives and processes so they can perform the job they were hired to do. But it’s never too early to show new employees what the future may hold. Highlighting training and development opportunities during onboarding can motivate employees to grow within the organization. LinkedIn’s 2022 Workplace Learning Report revealed that companies that excel at internal mobility are able to retain employees for an average of 5.4 years — that’s nearly 2x as long as companies that struggle with it, where the average retention span is 2.9 years. Providing growth opportunities helps each employee feel more confident in their abilities, fosters their sense of purpose and motivates them to grow — all of which increases their engagement within the company.

Assign a Mentor

Assigning a mentor to new employees helps reduce the churn and burn that can happen with improper onboarding. Mentorship helps engage employees from Day One, because mentors:

  • share their knowledge and experience so new hires can learn and grow starting on Day One, and as their career progresses within the organization
  • act “sounding board” for bouncing ideas off of and getting feedback
  • are a safe place to talk about their challenges, goals and potential opportunities
  • help new hires build a network of contacts within the organization, which could provide additional opportunities for learning and future career development

As an added bonus, creating mentorship experiences that balance strengths and weaknesses tends to help form stronger bonds and build community within your organization.

Solicit Feedback

Every organization’s onboarding program should be considered a work in progress that evolves over time. During onboarding, ask employees for feedback on the experience, what worked well, and what could be improved. This can help HR leaders identify areas of improvement and make adjustments to ensure a more effective onboarding experience for new hires in the future. Plus, asking new hires for feedback from the start of the employee journey establishes that continuous feedback is important and valued within the organization. New hires who feel comfortable giving feedback, without fear of retaliation, will likely champion future feedback surveys and participate in Employee Voice feedback surveys.

Approximately 35% of companies spend zero dollars on  onboarding, and the majority of these organizations spend approximately $11,000 on recruitment and turnover costs! SHRM reports that the average cost of recruiting an employee  is $4,700 and many employers estimate the total cost to hire a new employee can be three to four times the position’s salary. And these numbers have climbed since the pandemic, amid talent shortages and increased competition for quality candidates. With these mounting costs, it’s more important than ever to improve employee retention — by focusing on employee engagement at every stage — to control costs, boost productivity and create a thriving business. Proper onboarding sets the tone and reduces the pain (and expense) that comes from failing to prioritize the employee experience from Day One.

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Remote Onboarding and it’s Unique Challenges

Getting and keeping employees engaged from Day One, especially if they are remote, is challenging. Onboarding is an important part of the talent acquisition process — a time when new hires are set up for success in both tangible and intangible ways.

They’re learning the skills needed for their new role, acclimating to company culture and connecting with teammates while also setting up necessary tools (like Teams, Outlook and more) and getting access to the resources they need to do their jobs. A successful onboarding process makes these critical steps in the new hire process (somewhat) easier. But when the new hire is remote, the many moving parts of the process increases the difficulty and adds to stress levels for both new hires and HR professionals.

Big Benefits to Effective Onboarding

Onboarding isn’t just “nice” to do; it’s a critical part of ensuring that new employees are acclimated to both the company and their new role and that they’re ready to hit the ground running. And there’s data to prove it:

  • Employees who attend a structured orientation program are 69% more likely to remain at the company for at least three years,
  • Organizations with a strong onboarding process enjoy upwards of 70% in improved productivity, and
  • 78% of organizations who invested in onboarding reported increases in revenue in the last fiscal year — 64% of those companies saw positive gains in most of their organizational KPIs, and 54% saw significant gains in employee engagement metrics.

In addition, HR Cloud shares data indicating that managing onboarding well may increase retention by 82%. Unfortunately, they also report that 60% of companies don’t set any objectives or establish benchmarks for new recruits to help measure the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of their onboarding efforts.

There’s certainly opportunity for improvement, especially when it comes to onboarding remote staff. Here, we look at some best employee engagement best practices that can help you boost the odds that your remote onboarding efforts will lead to higher productivity, engagement and retention.

Surprise Them with a Swag Bag on Day Zero

Even before your new remote employees formally start their jobs, you can help make them feel welcome by sending them a branded swag bag filled with company products, the employee handbook (either printed or accessible through a QR code), along with a handwritten note to help punctuate the excitement you feel for having them on board.

Encourage new employees to also share their excitement by promoting their new role through their social media channels to amplify inclusion and spread positive vibes.

Formalize Communications

Communication is a key factor in any onboarding process — even more so when onboarding remote employees. This is the time to establish processes and expectations for ongoing communication. Since lack of “face-to-face” interaction can make building rapport more difficult, it’s especially important to establish clear communication guidelines and checkpoints from Day One.

For instance, designate when email should be used instead of phone calls — or when phone calls would be preferable to Teams meetings or Slack messaging. In addition, set some expectations and parameters for reasonable response times, taking into consideration (and respecting) the different time zones employees may be working in.

Assign a Peer Ambassador

Lack of physical proximity makes it especially important to assign remote employees a peer ambassador who can help them navigate the organization and ensure they don’t feel isolated or disconnected. A Peer Ambassador is not a mentor, but a co-worker who acts as a “go-to” resource for all the little questions that are bound to come up as they start their new job. Introduce the new employee to their peer ambassador on Day One and allow some time for them to connect.

The ambassador can also play a role in introducing the new employee to others they will be working with, connecting them virtually and explaining the company structure and relationships at the same time. Maintain this formal peer ambassador relationship for the employee’s first six months, with touchpoints diminishing over time from daily to weekly to monthly as the employee becomes acclimated and gains confidence.

Encourage Collaboration

As your new remote employee’s peer ambassador is making introductions during the employee’s first few weeks on the job, they’ll likely get a sense of different cross functional groups or teams that they may have an interest in.

Personal growth and development play a large role in employee engagement. In fact, the 2022 LinkedIn Learning Report indicates that “opportunities to learn and grow” is the #1 driver of a great work culture. Those first few days and weeks on a new job is the time when new employees can see where growth opportunities may exist.

While it may seem counterintuitive to burden new employees with additional information during this hectic introductory onboarding process, it’s really the perfect time to plant the seed for future development.

Devote Time to Tech

Getting new employees set up with the technology they need to be productive is an entirely different process when they’re working remotely and needs to be approached proactively. New hires in physical offices generally find that their computer equipment is set up and ready for them to go on their first day. That’s not the case with most remote workers. Many may, in fact, be tasked with setting up their own equipment.

Ship computers to remote employees preloaded with the resources they’ll need and offer an IT professional’s time to help them set everything up, step-by-step, ensuring that they’ll get things right the first time and avoid frustration. Even tech-savvy millennials — and tech native Gen Z employees — are likely to have some questions.

Foster an Inclusive Culture

To foster an inclusive culture, it’s critical to ensure that remote workers feel that they’re part of the team, even when their managers and colleagues may not be able to see them face- to-face. Create a time and space for them to understand the company culture from Day One.

As you are scheduling onboarding meetings (see An Overview of Employee Engagement Onboarding Strategies) make sure new remote employees are set up on the company’s employee engagement platform — it will be a very important connection point for them. For instance, Inspirus Connects allows all employees to send personal and spirited messages to new hires, so those good wishes are ready and waiting to greet them right away. This can contribute to a positive employee experience and help drive business success.

Schedule Onboarding Meetings

Announce new hires internally before they start so the entire workforce knows who is starting, when, and what role they play. Coordinate structured onboarding meetings with the team members and subject matter experts (SMEs) on tools and processes they will need to use on Day One, so that they get the right information from the right people at the right time. A strong onboarding process helps to engage and retain employees from their first day of employment. 69% of employees are more likely to remain at the company for at least three years, when they experience a structured onboarding program.

Encourage Remote Employees to be Proactive in Making Connections

Remote employees may feel they need “permission” to reach out to others on their own — especially those co-workers who may be in higher level positions or belong to other work teams. Remove these barriers by making it clear that you encourage employees to reach out and engage with others as often as they’d like.

Check In with New Employees Regularly

Make sure you’re staying in touch with, and on top of, your new remote employee’s experience and any questions or issues they may be facing. Check in with them regularly just to see how they’re doing or ask if there’s anything they need to help them be successful in their role. Connect them with others internally, as needed, to get the answers and support they need.

Onboarding is one of the key drivers of a positive employee experience. New hires who will be onboarded remotely especially need to feel valued, engaged and connected, so getting off to a strong start creates the momentum that will propel new employees to a fulfilling employee journey.

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Building Trust with Communication During Employee Onboarding

You never get a second chance to make a great first impression. When it comes to introducing new hires to your company culture, the onboarding and training experience is a huge opportunity to initiate employee engagement by communicating your mission, vision and values from Day One. Employees who feel connected to the company’s “why” bring more of themselves to work, are more engaged and more loyal.

Too often, companies settle for mundane orientation (paperwork, “here’s the coffee maker,” etc.) and think they’ve got an onboarding program. You can do better!

While sorting out those routine tasks are important for your new hire to become a productive member of the team, they do absolutely nothing to nurture employee engagement or communicate the uniqueness of your company culture.

Society for Human Resources’ (SHRM) New Employee  Onboarding Guide offers some key questions you should answer and operationalize to give new employees that great first impression you’re after:

  • When will onboarding start?
  • How long will it last?
  • What impression do you want new hires to walk away with at the end of the first day?
  • What do new employees need to know about the culture and work environment?
  • What role will HR play in the onboarding and training process?
  • What about direct managers? Co-workers?
  • What kind of goals do you want to set for new employees?
  • How will you gather feedback on the onboarding program and measure its success?

Start Building Trust on Day One of Onboarding and Training

Have you gone through a corporate training program that was held off-site that included several professional peers going through the same program? During the training sessions that lasted for several weeks, the head trainer spoke to the training class as a whole throughout the entire onboarding experience. However, did the head trainer ever pull you aside to determine how you were progressing through the training program?

Onboarding and training are the ideal time to establish the level of trust that puts new employees at ease. If new employees believe that you have their back, they are more likely to go all-in with your company. Over 50% of new hires quit their job when their onboarding was one week or less, and 25% of workers do not trust their employers. So, building trust through comprehensive onboarding should lower your new employee attrition rate.

Provide Clear Direction During Onboarding

New employees want to know how to get from point A to point B. You can give new employees direction during onboarding by describing the growth and advancement opportunities available with your company. During training, providing direction is especially important during role-playing sessions. For example, a restaurant management training session that includes role- playing might ask each trainee to handle a customer complaint. The job of the training team is to give advice on how to handle customer complaints, as well as point out when a trainee succeeds in assisting a role-playing customer. Providing direction during training can help boost the confidence of every new employee.

Set and Review Specific Goals

Every week, during the first few weeks of onboarding, encourage managers and employees to work together in identifying 3-5 specific goals to be accomplished that week. The following week set aside time to review progress, what was achieved and set new goals for the coming week. This cadence sets up new hires to be goal-oriented, and to celebrate their successes. During the weekly review of accomplishments “it’s important to ask new employees to share their observations, and how they are feeling during the onboarding process,” says Theresa Harkins-Schulz, Senior Vice President of Senior Vice President of Customer Experience and Products at Inspirus. “Gaining this insight guides managers to provide the right level of support, which is different for each individual.”

Resolve Conflict During Onboarding and Training

As new employees go through the onboarding and training processes, conflicts may arise. For onboarding, conflict can arise with the technology used to move a new employee through the process. For example, filling out onboarding paperwork by using an on-site Wi-Fi connection can lead to slow page downloads. An effective communicator stays on top of the progress of a new employee going through the onboarding process.

Improve Employee Engagement

Going through onboarding and training is like attending the first day of school. Trepidation generally runs through each new employee’s veins, likely caused by fear of the unknown. It’s the job of the HR professional to alleviate the tension many new employees are feeling during onboarding and training. Making new team members feel at ease — welcoming them warmly, having frequent check-ins to reduce feeling overwhelmed and making meaningful introductions — goes a long way towards improving their engagement levels and motivating them to perform well.

Encourage Team Development & Increase Employee Retention

You can promote teamwork until you turn blue in the face, and some employees will still ignore your cry for team building. Effective communication during onboarding and training will foster the development of teamwork, explaining the importance of collaboration, and then encouraging teamwork by meeting with new trainees after every training session. Teamwork is a win-win for organizations: collaboration increases employees’ chance of being successful in their role(s), and organizations reap the rewards of more innovation and increased employee retention.

Discover A Boost in Productivity

Rallying new employees during training to embrace teamwork is much more than an emotional appeal for unity. Whether it is a 20-year pro or a new employee that is still in training, teamwork  boosts employee productivity. Effective communication that encourages the development of teamwork and collaboration is an essential component of a successful employee engagement strategy because it increases employee satisfaction and improves productivity.

Finally, effective communication during onboarding and training is the key to building lasting professional relationships. By using active listening skills, providing timely and relevant feedback, and helping develop skills that improve performance, new employees can build professional bonds with other team members that remain strong for years to come and become productive quickly.

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To Learn More on Onboarding Download the Full Guide!

6 Things to Keep in Mind During Employee Onboarding to Increase Retention

How to Add Employee Recognition into Your Onboarding Process

The Neuroscience of Onboarding

PLUS: 6 Best Practices

Download the full Guide to read all the Onboarding Strategies and Best Practices