The Ultimate Guide to Onboarding Processes & Programmes

employees in the first phase of onboarding

Every organisation needs an onboarding process. Proper onboarding can be the difference between an okay start, a good start and a great start. For HR teams, the results depend on how high you prioritise it.

As experts in the onboarding process, we put together the ultimate guide to onboarding. We profile the key terms to know, the steps in the process and even a handy checklist you can download for free today.

Kick things off by downloading our complimentary onboarding checklist right now.

What is Onboarding?

Onboarding is an organisational programme for getting a new employee up to speed. It involves familiarising new employees with your organisation's values, culture, ways of working and important tools that you use on a day-to-day basis.

Terms like onboarding and induction are often used interchangeably. Essentially, the onboarding process is built on (and around) getting employees up to speed in an organisation. But, it can be easier said than done.

What is the Onboarding Process?

A great onboarding process relies on a programmatic approach. Organisations typically need to build out step-by-step processes where employees (or line managers) have to take action to accomplish a variety of different tasks.

Some of the most common tasks in the onboarding process include:

  • Adding documents to an employee's digital file.

  • Meeting new coworkers or important stakeholders.

  • Completing various kinds of training (like security training).

  • Reading materials (like culture documents or role-specific requirements).

Why is Onboarding Important?

Onboarding may be the second phase of the employee lifecycle, but it is important because it can have a long-term effect on employee (and organisational) success. \

In fact, one study from the Brandon Hall Group found that great onboarding can boost down-the-line retention by upwards of 82%.

If we chart an employee's journey through an organisation, from their first day to their last, we can start to see the ripple effects of great onboarding. This can have an effect on things like satisfaction, engagement and overall productivity.

How Long Should Great Onboarding Take?

Onboarding should typically last between four to eight weeks (dependant on role). After that initial period, you will want to have established some long-lasting processes with employees that no longer require onboarding (instead, they become day-to-day work).

Do Your Onboarding Processes Require Updating?

Knowing whether or not it is time to update your onboarding relies on a few questions. The first is asking yourself: is it really working? Are you struggling with early turnover rates? Are employees satisfied?

Your best source of data is your own employees. Continue tapping into this pool of data by establishing some employee resource groups and asking them the following:

  • How did they find the onboarding process?

  • Is there anything they would improve?

  • Did the onboarding process prepare them for their roles?

  • Did they feel more connected to company culture afterward?

  • Was the process too long or too short?

Key Insight: It is in your team's best interest to pluck employees from various departments, roles, seniority levels and even differentiate between your top performers and those who may be struggling. Try to identify any inconsistencies in their experiences.

Four Keys to a Great Onboarding Process

Before you even begin, there are five things that any HR or People function should be keeping in mind:



Develop Your Onboarding Vision

Think about the 'mission statement' or 'concept' behind your onboarding. What do you want to achieve? How do you want to help? Have a guiding premise in place before you begin a rethink.

Clarify Roles & Responsibilities

Regarding things such as time-tracking and access cards, employee IDs, office stationery, computer, software and access permissions. The same applies with regard to making the necessary data available for payroll accounting and opening an employee file. Allow for realistic lead times in your plan.

Compile All the Necessary Steps

Craft a checklist for HR, Managers and Teams to cover all of the basic admin, technical, and social responsibilities. This will not only ensure that nothing is missed but will craft a routine that will make all future onboarding more consistent and more replicable. Everyone will be treated to the same experience.

Automate Wherever & Whenever Possible

Think about all of the ways that you could automate your onboarding process through HR software. Could tasks be automatically assigned? Can a digital employee file be opened automatically? Save the time of your team and managers by thinking about how HR software can play a role here.

The Four Key Phases Of Employee Onboarding

We’ll break each of these down step-by-step, but the four phases that make up a great professional introduction include...

Phase OneBefore a new employee starts
Phase TwoTheir first day and week on the job
Phase ThreeAfter their first week of work
Phase Four After four to eight weeks

Phase One: Before A New Employee Starts

As an HR manager, you can help new colleagues quickly settle in and feel comfortable. The entire process should be streamlined and successful, often with the help of HR software, so that new joiners to your company have a completely seamless experience from day one.

Here are some of the common things worth covering during initial onboarding…

  • Formalities - Have all contractual formalities been taken care of? Have access rights been clarified? Does the new employee have the necessary work attire? These types of questions should be addressed a minimum of one to two weeks before a new colleague starts.

  • Orientation Information - Does the new employee know when and where to arrive? Does he or she know the essentials of what to expect? This all should be communicated in advance over email (click here for some helpful new employee introduction emails).

  • Colleagues & Collaborators - All colleagues involved in the process should be provided with all necessary information. In fact, they should be aware of their respective ‘to-do-lists.’ This would typically include secretarial, office management, and IT personnel. It might also be worth considering including mentors who will provide support during the employee’s first few days on the job.

  • Workplace Wayfinding - Ideally, new employees will arrive on the very first day to a fully functional workplace. Ensuring that everything is in place will require a certain degree of lead time. So, preparations should be made well in advance.

  • Deadlines - Invite the new colleague to upcoming meetings. If possible, arrange appointments with the most important people they will be interacting with (in both their own and in other departments).

  • Employee Training Programmes - Does the new colleague need additional training in a specific area? This training should be booked before the start of employment so that the training period for particular topics is not delayed.

  • Role Responsibilities - If a new employee is coming into a position that did not previously exist, responsibilities will often be redistributed. The team leader is responsible for communicating this in detail to the current employees. As part of onboarding, the HR manager in charge should double-check to make sure that any potential resentment toward the new colleague is avoided.

  • (Optional) Welcome Gift - The day before the new employee starts, you or one of your colleagues can purchase a little gift to celebrate their start in their new working environment. It could be chocolates, a small bunch of flowers, or something along those lines. You can read below about why this particular point belongs to a successful onboarding experience.

Phase Two: An Employee's First Day

1. Punctuality

On the first day, you should show appreciation for your new colleague by arriving promptly. It often happens that a new colleague will arrive punctually at the office, but the person assigned to help them is still in a meeting or unavailable.

To spare your new colleagues the typical Monday morning chaos, and to carve out sufficient preparation time for yourself, simply allow them to begin work that day an hour later than usual.

2. Welcoming Culture

The little welcoming gift has, hopefully, been taken care of before the new employee’s first day of work (see above). Now, its effect can be allowed to unfold.

From the first second they arrive, little niceties like this enhance your new team member’s sense of belonging. They will also remain a pleasant memory. Ultimately, small gestures can have a large impact.

3. Introductions

To get off to a good start, we recommend that you arrange a small introductory get-together.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that the entire company has to be waiting in the new person’s office on the first day. However, the colleagues they will be directly working with should introduce themselves and clarify their areas of responsibility.

This will make it easier for your new colleague to establish contact. It will also reduce any hesitance they may feel in asking someone directly for help.

4. Team Strengthening

Having lunch together with colleagues from the same department on the first day of work strengthens the sense of community in an organisation. It also creates a basis of trust for working together in the future.

Checklist: Step-by-Step to a Smoother Onboarding

Teaser_Onboarding Checklist

Ensure great performance from day one. Download our onboarding checklist for a step-by-step guide to a perfect start.

Phase Three: The First Week

Onboarding Preview

To make it clear how things will run over the coming days or weeks, the process should be fully explained to the new employee. This can also be aided by streamlined onboarding software, too.

When helping new colleagues orient themselves, be sure not to overwhelm them by only providing verbal information. Give them as much written documentation as possible.

If your HR software has an onboarding feature, then set up tasks and reminders. Click here to learn more about how HR software can help throughout the process.

Mutual Expectations

Supervisors should review the new job responsibilities with the employee and communicate their expectations. On the other hand, it is also important that employees be allowed to clearly express their expectations for the next few weeks.

This way, misunderstandings can be avoided before they occur and an enjoyable working atmosphere can be created.

Initial Activities

From the beginning, the new colleague should be integrated into existing projects. At the beginning, having exciting initial activities can inspire an employee’s enthusiasm for the company.

If there are SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) associated with the new employee’s work, these must be carefully read and signed before certain activities are performed.

Company Tour

To give the new employee a clear picture of what happens where and who is responsible for each department, a tour to all of the other departments should now be conducted.

Tip: For companies with more than 30 employees, a photo gallery on the intranet or a photo wall in the office where new employees can see is a great help.

Product Introduction

A detailed product presentation is an essential element of onboarding. Especially for colleagues from non-product-related areas, such as accounting, it is important that they know which products/services the company offers.

If several new colleagues are starting work on the same day, this type of presentation also offers a great opportunity to get to know people from other departments.

Corporate Goals

What are the corporate goals and what strategies are being followed to pursue them?

Be sure that your goals are clear to your new employee: for example, share what you want to achieve in the next quarter and let them know precisely why their contribution will make a difference. These goals should then also be reflected in the employee’s target agreement.

Corporate Culture

Knowing which values are important to the company is crucial to helping new employees identify with their employer. This is especially true if the new colleague is coming from a different corporate environment (click here to read our definitive guide to corporate culture).

For example, if they have moved from a start-up to a large corporation, the new environment can be quite different from their previous experience. Here, too, it will be important to pay attention to the little things, such as:

  • Do we sometimes go for lunch together?

  • Are smoking breaks permitted?

  • What about working from home?

Make sure to explain the values that apply to all employees equally. And, in some cases, ensure that your onboarding software also has the opportunity to communicate these things through various documents and materials, too.

Team Spirit

It can often be difficult for new colleagues to integrate themselves into existing ‘employee groups.’ Nothing is worse than having to eat lunch alone during the first week of work because, once the first day is over, no one takes responsibility for the new employee.

Make sure your team includes the new colleague at lunchtime and that a sense of togetherness always develops.

Phase Four: Following The First Week

1. Gather First Impressions

Solicit input from your new employee. What positive or negative observations did they make during the first week? The longer you work in a company, the more you get used to the way things work there. This always includes both positives and negatives.

2. Follow-Up Information

During the first week, your new employee will have to process a multitude of impressions. Give information a little at a time rather than all at once. By the end of the first week, at the latest, the new employee should know/have everything they need. This would include such things as vacation guidelines, working hours, lists of abbreviations, etc.

Phase Five: Following Weeks

1. Ongoing Feedback

If, after the first few weeks on the job, there is no review of the employee’s experience, then even the best process is of little value.

It is crucial that, after a pre-determined period of time, a feedback session is held with new colleagues, and that this process is repeated regularly. This can often be aided by onboarding software.

This is not just so that you can evaluate your new employee’s conduct and work, but also so that they can openly give you feedback about their first impressions of the company.

2. Networking

If several colleagues from different departments all start work on the same day, you can promote interdepartmental networking by organising a joint lunch date a few weeks after they have started.

The awareness of a common start date makes it easier for colleagues to stay in touch. This, in turn, nurtures an even more positive working environment.

Onboarding Software: For Seamless New Starts

Template Onboarding Tasks with HR Software

Give every new employee a flying start with Personio’s automated onboarding software, trusted by 8,000+ happy customers across the UK and Europe.

Best Practices for HR During Onboarding

To deliver great onboarding, there are definitely some things like HR professionals, leaders and line managers should keep in mind. Here are some of the best practices that you should be considering today...

  • Phases are your friend - craft an onboarding process that covers the different tasks unique onboarding 'phases' that help ground your overall concept. Think of it like this: first impression, first week, first month, first performance check-in, for instance.

  • Clarity is key - for example, when it comes to provisioning software access, employee ID cards, office supplies, hardware, etc. The same applies to the provision of data in payroll accounting and the creation of a digital file. Plan realistically for lead times.

  • Progress is progress - it seems simple, but it works. Craft a checklist for onboarding so that new employees and managers alike can feel tangible progress as they make their way through various steps. A checklist can really resonate.

  • Unlock the value of HR automation - leverage HR software to automate various steps of onboarding. That way, your HR team can deliver a scalable programme, while also being able to focus on the qualitative aspects of onboarding (and not just that it runs).

Discover Personio's Onboarding Software

Don't let a disorganised or cumbersome onboarding process slow down your business. With the help of Personio, you can streamline your entire onboarding process for both new employees and HR professionals.

Automated tasks and reminders allow you to introduce a brand new onboarding process at scale. Collect required information and documents with ease, and send reminders so every step is completed in a timely manner.

Give every new employee a great start. Speak with an expert or start a free trial today.

Download Our Free Onboarding Checklist

Teaser_Onboarding Checklist