The Employee Onboarding Process: Tips and Best Practices for Better Retention

She was so pumped when she got the job and she’s already leaving? What the heck went wrong?!

Like most things in life, it’s rare that we can point to a single thing and say with certainty, “That is what caused this employee to quit or, for that matter, to stay.”

It’s a situation that managers and business owners deal with all the time – you do your best when hiring and feel pretty confident you’ve found the right fit. Tasked with so many things to do with running the business and seeing patients, you are constantly choosing where to place your focus. And, with that, you may not realize that there is one more critical part of the hiring puzzle. That’s where onboarding comes into play.

Download CEDR’s FREE Onboarding Checklist


When Onboarding Goes Wrong

Unbeknownst to you, after just three days on the job, your latest hire is about to become your former employee and is already venting the following online: 

“I had such high hopes for this job. I interviewed really well and liked the manager who hired me. I quit my last job, even though I loved the work, because my manager treated us like we were children. On top of that, even though they seemed to be doing great, raises were not enough for me to be able to pay my bills. 
At the new job, they told me I could make a difference, so I made the leap and turned down two other offers and went with them. I’m really upset because I was looking forward to working for a smaller employer and the better pay. 
I’ve been at the new job three days and I think I made a mistake. So, I’m planning on seeing if the other offers are still available. When I arrived, the manager who hired me had an emergency and was not there. It seemed like absolutely no one knew I was starting or even knew my name. They didn’t even have any paperwork or anything ready.”

This employee goes on to describe her first few moments and days in cringe worthy detail. While the manager seemed amazing during the hiring process, the employee came into work and no one seemed to know she had been hired or for what reason. In fact, the first employee she came into contact with, upon learning about her being hired, became obviously upset. 

As a manager or owner, that leaves you holding the proverbial bag and looking for yet another new employee to replace the one you just hired. 

The good news is that you’re not powerless when it comes to getting new employees to stick around longer. And, as it turns out, the solution often comes from making a few simple improvements to your employee onboarding process. While first impressions are the most important, an added bonus is that great onboarding can help employees stick around months and even years later. 

Quick turnover is a common problem, but there’s hope!

If it sounds like we’re talking about your business right now, you’re not alone. In fact, according to the data, 50 percent of hourly employees quit or are fired within their first six months on the job and 46 percent of new hires at all levels fail in their role within 18 months. Those are troubling figures, but they probably won’t come as a shock to most employers.

Now, here’s something that may surprise you: according to a study conducted by Gallup, just 12 percent of employees said that their company did a great job with their onboarding process. Alarming, right? But it provides a little bit of context for those other figures.

Still, there’s no reason to despair just yet! Implementing a good onboarding process is fairly easy to do and, when you get it right, it leads to higher retention and better business outcomes. For those of you that want to see the numbers, here are a few statistics:

  • 69 percent of employees who experienced great onboarding are more likely to stay with a company for three years.
  • Using a structured onboarding process can increase employee retention by 58 percent.
  • Structured onboarding can increase new-hire productivity by 50 percent.
  • Employees are 3.4x more likely to say their onboarding experience was exceptional when managers take an active role in the process.

This suggests two things: 

  1. There is a lot of room for improvement in many managers’ employee onboarding process, and
  2. Increasing the success and retention rates for new employees is largely within your control as a people manager!

Now let’s talk about what a good employee onboarding process looks like and how you can implement one for your business.
Click to download your free onboarding checklist from the HR experts at CEDR!

What is the employee onboarding process?

Not to be confused with “employee orientation,” employee onboarding is the process of welcoming a new employee to your organization, introducing them to their role, outlining expectations for their position, and helping them to get acquainted with your company culture.

The employee onboarding process can and should be looked at as the beginning of an ongoing program for engaging your new employees and getting them comfortable in their new work environment. This process begins the moment you provide them with a conditional offer of employment and stretches out over a number of weeks or even months. 

Employee orientation (also known as “transactional onboarding”), on the other hand, is a single event that usually involves collecting all of a new hire’s HR and payroll paperwork, having them read and sign their job description and your employee handbook, and showing them around the office. Employee orientation is important, of course, but it is just one step in the employee onboarding process.

So, what does a good employee onboarding process look like? We’re glad you asked. What follows is a quick breakdown of some onboarding best practices.

Employee Onboarding Process Best Practices

1. Use This Checklist.

As mentioned above, structuring your onboarding process can lead to a better onboarding experience for your employees, and that can lead to better retention and productivity. For this reason, it’s best to use a checklist to help you ensure your onboarding process is thorough, complete, and uniform for all new hires, and to make sure you don’t miss any of the important steps along the way.

CEDR’s HR experts have created a detailed Onboarding Checklist you can use for your business. You can download the CEDR Onboarding Checklist here.

2. Begin onboarding before your employee’s first day.

After you provide your employee with an offer letter stating the basic terms of at-will employment at your business and explaining that their employment is contingent upon passing a background check, you should start making sure you and your team are prepared for the employee’s first day at the office. This includes:

  • Entering their information and paperwork into your HR management system (we suggest using our free HR Vault software)
  • Preparing all new-hire documentation
  • Setting up their work station
  • Discussing the employee’s role and expectations with the business owner and/or manager
  • Calling or emailing the employee with important logistical information (when to arrive, where to park, what to wear, who to ask for when they arrive, etc.)


3. Assign a buddy/mentor to work with the new hire.

Working directly with a peer can help your new employee get more comfortable in their new workplace quicker and can help alleviate some of the social jitters that come with starting a new job. 

In the scenario presented above, our overwhelmed, well-meaning manager had no back up and planned on doing all the orientation herself. When a personal issue popped up and took her away from work for a couple of days, she dropped the ball on onboarding the employee. No judgment. It happens. But assigning a mentor can not only help make the onboarding process smoother and more personal for new hires, it can also help you fill in any gaps in case something unexpected happens that pulls you away from an employee on their first day.

Make sure the mentor you choose is friendly, enthusiastic, and up for the role beforehand so they are prepared for the responsibility and know what to expect from the task. This can include being a point-person for answering the new hire’s questions, showing them around the office, introducing them to the rest of the team, and even taking the new hire out to lunch (on the company dime, of course). This frees up your time and is also a nice bit of responsibility for the mentor. 
Click to download your free onboarding checklist from the HR experts at CEDR!

4. Make space for cultural integration.

Though you’ll no doubt be anxious for your new employee to get their hands dirty and start pulling their weight for your business, resist the temptation to thrust them into “work mode” right away. Give them space to get oriented with your company culture first. 

Send out a welcome message to your entire team before they arrive and copy the new employee on that thread. You might also want to hold a brief introductory meeting early on their first day so that nobody is left wondering who the new person is (nobody likes being on the receiving end of that “look” – you know the one we’re talking about).

Think about other ways you can make their first impression of your business a positive one. Suggestions include, but are not limited to:

  • Providing a swag bag of company-branded goodies
  • Providing them with an org chart and/or describing employee work styles
  • Explaining how decisions are made at the business
  • Providing lunch for the employee (bonus points for making it a social team lunch so your new hire can get to know everyone in a casual setting)

Be super clear and set up expectations for the coming weeks: 

“By the end of the week you will know what every department does. You’ll be well trained on the main software we use. By the end of week two you will be able to start to work independently. Soon after that we will start to introduce our quarterly goals system and explain where you fit into that and how your role and work helps us all reach our goals.” 

5. Check in at regular intervals.

Employees want to know how they are performing in their role. And keeping them engaged in their work requires constant feedback from you as a manager. Make sure they know where to go with any questions and do your best to make them feel comfortable reaching out when they need to. 

Schedule regular check-ins for the end of their first week, after 30 days, and at the end of their 90-day Getting Acquainted Period (or even more frequently, if you feel so inclined). If you perform regular one-on-ones with your team, get your new hire into the rotation. 

Use your time together to ask your new hire how they are settling in, as well as if there is anything you can do to make them more comfortable and effective in their role. Providing this direct access to you as a supervisor not only makes it easier for you to give regular input and coaching about the employee’s performance, but it will also help them feel more comfortable sharing any obstacles they are facing that you might be able to remove for them. And, if nothing else, keeping your finger on the pulse of your new hire’s experience will help prevent you from being blind-sided by an abrupt resignation if things aren’t working out.

Final Thoughts

While all employers put their employees through an initial “orientation,” evidence suggests that there is a lot to be gained by engaging new employees in a structured employee onboarding process. And the results of going from basic “orientation” to a structured onboarding process include better employee engagement, higher productivity, and increased retention.

So, rather than simply collecting their paperwork on day one and ushering them into production mode, managers will get better results when they implement a program that helps new employees acclimate to their new company’s culture, helps them understand the expectations for their role, and provides a seamless introduction to the social fabric of the workplace.

Try to look at the onboarding process as an ongoing experience that stretches out over weeks or months instead of seeing it as a single day or week. Be open to feedback on how to improve your onboarding process and, perhaps most importantly, use an onboarding checklist like the one provided by CEDR to make sure you aren’t missing anything important along the way.

By putting these basic tips into practice along with a few personal touches that work best for your office, you’ll be well on your way to better onboarding and better retention. Now all that’s left to do is download the checklist and put your new knowledge to work!

CEDR Members can get unlimited expert HR advice from the knowledgeable professionals in our Solution Center on this or any other HR topic. Learn more about how the Solution Center can help you build a better business here. If you are a CEDR Member and need to speak with an Advisor, submit a support request here.

Click to download your free onboarding checklist from the HR experts at CEDR!

May 4, 2022

Friendly Disclaimer: This information is general in nature and is not intended to provide legal advice or replace individual guidance about a specific issue with an attorney or HR expert. The information on this page is general human resources guidance based on applicable local, state and/or federal U.S. employment law that is believed to be current as of the date of publication. Note that CEDR is not a law firm, and as the law is always changing, you should consult with a qualified attorney or HR expert who is familiar with all of the facts of your situation before making a decision about any human resources or employment law matter.

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