5 Essential Components of Onboarding

Onboarding is one of the most overlooked points of the employee life cycle, which is baffling because it’s also one of the most important. According to a survey from Bamboo HR, 31% of new hires leave within the first six months of employment. And half of that group does so within the first two months, meaning they depart almost as soon as they settle in.

Employers don’t have a lot of time to make a good impression, so you have to make employee onboarding count. A successful onboarding program engages new employees, sets their expectations for working with your company and makes them feel you’re invested in their success.

Historically, this has not occurred. The most common components of onboarding have been limited to compliance, logistics and orientation. And those programs alone don’t create the human connection needed to foster long-term employment.

Onboarding programs must evolve to keep employees invested in their growth with you from the outset of their relationship. Here are five essential components of onboarding to implement at your organization.

Start (But Don’t Stop) With Logistics

Logistics and compliance are important components of onboarding, but employers often mistake them for being the most important part of the process. (And they can be challenging in and of themselves: When onboarding remote workers in different locations, remember policy training should be customized to different regional laws and regulations.) Signing compliance documents and gaining access to computer systems provides a necessary foundation, but there's still lots of work to be done.

Far too often traditionally, onboarding’s logistical components ignored an essential part of the process: how the new hire felt. After all, they already took the job; why worry about their initial positive impressions? Needless to say, this is a terrible recipe for retention. Instead, says Josh Elzy, SPHR, senior HR business partner at Macmillan Learning, you want to make them excited to tell their friends and family about their first day on the job.

Pre-pandemic, policy and compliance training was held in a classroom setting. This doesn’t make for a very compelling first day. Try to distribute logistics and policy training in a way that prevents learning fatigue. Give new hires breaks so they can absorb policies, or build in opportunities to share questions or concerns with a seasoned colleague.

Some companies have embraced pre-boarding, by sending virtual documentation and setting up new accounts before the employee’s first day. Pre-boarding allows employees to review logistical material so they can prepare questions for HR or their managers before they arrive for onboarding. It also frees up time during onboarding, which helps employees to address concerns instead of feeling like they need to rush to complete a checklist. 

Whether you’re onboarding new employees virtually or in person, find ways to balance important but monotonous material with more engaging tasks.

Show Them How Things Actually Work

As you get employees set up in your system and signed off on compliance documents, begin orienting them to your work processes and culture. Share the company’s history, organizational charts and workplace norms and practices.

The orientation component of onboarding should provide a sense of how teams work and what colleagues will expect from the new hire’s behavior and communication.

This can be a lot of information for new hires to take in, so find ways to make the material memorable. Ask business leaders to join in a video call, for example, or to introduce themselves via a video recording. Elzy suggests providing handouts or spreadsheets containing important information new hires may not know to ask for yet, like frequently used titles and acronyms.

New talent might encounter difficulties or friction from interacting with others outside of their department. An effective onboarding supports new hires as they learn the organization’s processes and infrastructure. The entire organization should embrace each new hire. Helping employees navigate departments outside of their role sets them up for success.

Emphasize company culture during the orientation component of onboarding. Provide an overview of the company’s values and expectations for behavior. Include examples to help employees understand what that looks like in action. This part of your presentation should be fluid, changing as your company culture evolves.

Make It Personal

Many onboarding programs stop after orientation. But it’s important to bring home everything learned in the group setting with a customized program from the new hire’s manager. After all, the classroom setting, whether in-person or online, can be overwhelming.

Train managers to pick up where orientation leaves off with an onboarding program customized to their role. Values are hard to teach in a classroom setting, but they’re a vital component of onboarding. An onboarding customized to the role offers a good opportunity to close the gaps between values as concepts and applying the values in action, Elzy says. Managers should also provide specific examples about applying company values to the work new hires will be doing day-to-day.

To help managers customize their onboarding programs, provide a checklist or other guidance to ensure they cover important, pertinent information.

Onboarding programs should be equitable, especially when you have employees working both remotely and from the office. This might mean offering different things to different employees. “It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing the same thing for everybody,” Elzy says. “It means they’re getting the same value out of it.” Develop basic onboarding formula managers can follow, for example, but include options to accommodate different learning styles.

You may need to customize by level, too. Entry-level talent might require more guidance. Junior-level onboarding experiences should be more involved and in-person (where possible) to give those employees better support and more exposure to other parts of the organization. Bringing junior-level talent to your corporate headquarters gives them a better sense of the company’s scope. A tour of the main office can help up-and-coming talent see their options for advanced employment within the company.

Take the Time to Go Beyond the Basics

Onboarding programs are most intense during the early stages of employment, when new hires require the most support. While onboarding length should vary according to industry and role, check-ins at the 30, 60 and 90 day marks are common. Having conversations about how an employee is acclimating at these points helps managers anticipate problems and adds structure to the employee’s first few months.

But an employee’s need for support doesn’t go away once they’ve learned the basics of their job. It takes more than one or two months to fully integrate new talent.

Plan to extend the onboarding process across the new hire’s first year. Check-ins, a lasting component of onboarding, should naturally flow into ongoing performance management. Set a realistic cadence for check-ins and feedback conversations during their first year, then set expectations for performance check-ins after it.

This might mean that you check-in and have performance conversations 4-5 times a week their first year, and then drop down to 2-3 times per week. Have managers find the right cadence for their individual team members. This is a good way to transition the employee from their new hire performance management system into the overall performance plan.

Onboarding programs require a clear timeframe, but the practices and habits managers build during that time for connecting with their employees should never stop. That ongoing sense of investment in their success should carry throughout the employee life cycle.

Establish Real Relationships

One of the most important facets of onboarding is building connections between new hires and their managers, teams and the larger organization. Have managers check-in on new hires to see how they’re doing. These check-ins can be built into performance conversations.

Helping new hires create an organizational network is a component of onboarding with a lasting effect. Slowly introduce new hires to colleagues outside of their own team. Consider developing channels for new employees to interact with one another, or keep a professional index to align people in the organization across similar interests and patterns of experience. Pair employees with new hires from similar backgrounds to help them navigate the workplace.

Be sure to demonstrate the organization’s interest in new talent, too. In the later stages of onboarding, HR managers should check in with new hires to see how they’re acclimating. These check-ins give HR an opportunity to address their long-term professional development goals, too, Elzy says. Ask the following questions:

  • How do they see this job as a step within their career journey? How does it fit in?
  • What do they want to learn, experience or achieve within this role?
  • What kind of skills from their previous jobs will patch over the easiest and provide them with easy wins?
  • What do they anticipate their biggest learning curves from gaps in skills to be?

Asking these types of questions not only demonstrates interest in the new hire, but helps gauge where they could move within the organization.

Some companies solidify their commitment to new hires with a physical gift, such as a welcome basket or flowers sent to their home. It allows employees who may still be struggling with the adjustment (or at least feel like they are) to have something tangible demonstrating they are appreciated.

When new hires see the company is invested in their professional development and personal well-being, they’re more likely to remain engaged and motivated. Fostering genuine connection at the outset lays a solid foundation for a long-term employment relationship. It also prevents having to repeat the hiring process in a few short months, when a promising hire decides they’d rather go somewhere they’re really wanted.