The Complete Guide to Onboarding New Employees

employees in the first phase of onboarding

Onboarding is the process of introducing a new employee to an organisation. Typically as part of an onboarding programme, it is designed to familiarise an employee with an organisation's culture, values, ways of working and collaboration methods.

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

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

Here's how teams can use Personio to run smoother onboarding at scale.

What is the onboarding process?

The onboarding process is how organisation choose to onboard new employees. Organisations typically define a step-by-step process to help HR, line managers, colleagues and the new employee in question get up to speed.

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

  • Adding information 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).

The five phases of the onboarding process

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

Phase one

Before a new employee starts

Phase two

Their first day and week on the job

Phase three

After their first week of work

Phase four

After four to eight weeks

1. 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, so that new hires have a completely seamless experience from day one.

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


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 and 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.

Relevant 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).

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.

Welcome gift (optional)

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.

2. An employee's first day

Arrival time

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

Welcoming culture

From the second they arrive, think of ways to welcome them. Offer them a coffee, a snack or breakfast or a little gift. Make them feel like they're already home.


personio onboarding software welcome message
Use Personio's onboarding software to create and send automated welcome messages to new joiners to your company. Give every employee a warm welcome!

A new hire will be keen to get to know people. To get off to a good start, we'd recommend arranging a small introductory get-together with other new hires or relevant colleagues.

Team bonding

Because nobody enjoys eating alone on their first day! Encourage a line manager or team to host an introductory lunch for their new colleague.

3. The first week

Keep the following in mind as you run through the first week or onboarding...

Onboarding context

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.

Expectation setting

Supervisors should review 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.

First asks

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

Legal formalities

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 walkthrough

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 happen by this point.

Business introduction

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

Corporate strategy

Be sure that your corporate 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.

Corporate culture

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 tough 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.

4. Following the first week

There's two steps that play an important role in this phase:

  1. Gathering first impressions: Gain feedback from your new hire. How are they feeling? What is their overall impression? Could anything be improved? Push for them to give real feedback to help your onboarding process.

  2. Follow-up questions: During the first week, your new employee will have to process a lot of information. Open up space for them to ask any and all questions, free from judgement, to ensure that they know their way around their role and the organisation.

5. The following weeks

The final phase of onboarding is more of a temperature check. After this, you are more likely to evaluate your new hire as part of the probation review phase. But, in the weeks that follow their start, it's still smart to have a quick check in.

You can do that via:

  • Ongoing feedback: 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.

  • 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.

Why does onboarding matter?

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 employee retention rates 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.

Four best practices for great onboarding

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

  • Develop your vision for onboarding - 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 and 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 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.

personio hr software for onboarding SMEs
As part of a full employee journey, Personio is built on best practices around onboarding, development, data security and more. Find out more about us today.

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).

Onboarding designed for employees

personio onboarding hr software
Deliver an onboarding experience your organisation can be proud of with Personio. Our software helps teams runs an automated and seamless onboarding programme.

Using Personio, your teams can build automated onboarding programmes, segmented by department or sub-team, so that new hires and line managers are made aware of their tasks immediately.

You can also schedule in status checks, feedback sessions all the way up until the probation review period. It's everything you need to run an onboarding programme, so you can focus on the quality of the programme itself.

Learn more about the advantages of onboarding with Personio or speak with one of our helpful HR experts today.

Frequently asked questions: Onboarding

Is onboarding important for nonprofit organisations?

Onboarding is incredibly important for nonprofits and charities. For many, this is a stage where employees not only learn what they will be doing, but how they will be making a difference. 

That in mind, onboarding goes way beyond training someone to do the job at a nonprofit. It also gives them a sense of the organisation’s mission, who they serve, how they help and how it all comes to life. 

If you are a nonprofit or charity, it’s crucial to consider how this plays out in your own onboarding process. Here are some things to think about that can help: 

  • Engage new employees before their first day. Invite them to a team outing or something related to your mission. Let them see the work they’ll be contributing to in practice. 

  • Focus on core values. Onboarding can be incredibly overwhelming, so it helps to offer a streamlined understanding of what your organisation stands for and what should guide a new hires decision making. 

  • Bring in team members. You don’t need to leave it to executives, line managers or HR representatives to lead onboarding. Ask other employees to lead sessions or serve as onboarding buddies. 

The most important thing to do for nonprofits is to offer a structured, digitised onboarding experience. Employees should know what is expected of them, and when, in a clear and user-friendly way. 

HR software that includes employee onboarding can help deliver that experience. It can ensure employees are treated to a consistent and comprehensive process, every time. 

To learn a bit more about how Personio supports busy nonprofits with onboarding and other important people processes, click here.

How often should you update your onboarding?

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.

How long should 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).

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