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Updated Nov 08, 2023

Employee Onboarding Checklist

A thoughtful onboarding process can help set new employees on the path to success.

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Allison Grillo, Contributing Writer
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Getting new employees started off right can help set them up for a successful tenure at your company. Therefore, it’s vital to have a plan for every new hire’s first day, first week, first three months and first year. Having an onboarding checklist helps put new workers on the path to becoming productive team members who stay with your company for years to come. Read ahead for everything employers should focus on during each phase of onboarding, from sending the offer letter to checking in at the employee’s one-year work anniversary. 

What is onboarding, and why is it important?

Onboarding is the process of welcoming new hires to a company and helping them get settled in. Onboarding activities may include assisting employees in filling out necessary paperwork, taking them to lunch for bonding time, getting them business cards and setting up regular check-ins.

Although onboarding is typically thought of as the steps that occur in the first few days of an employee’s tenure, the reality is that the process should last a year or longer to maximize the chances of success. That’s why it’s critical to have a clear, well-established plan in place before you welcome new team members.

The lengthiest and most elaborate onboarding processes are often reserved for executives, as they are seen as most crucial to a company’s success or failure, so greater resources are devoted to their recruitment. Nonetheless, onboarding experts see great potential in spending more time with all new employees, including entry-level staff, and it’s worth keeping in mind that poor onboarding can negatively impact your team.

What are the benefits of a successful onboarding process?

The purpose of onboarding is to give your new team member everything they need to start their new role on a positive note and succeed long term. Employees who have good onboarding experiences are more productive and engaged than their counterparts. Additionally, better onboarding may help reduce employee turnover and thus save companies money. Employee turnover is expensive, costing companies a total of $1 trillion in 2022, according to Zippia

The more engaged an employee is, the less likely they are to leave your company. Job satisfaction starts with a positive onboarding experience. If you want to retain top talent, set them up for success with thorough training and a warm welcome to your organization. [Read related article: Hiring and Retention Has Never Been More Difficult]

Key TakeawayKey takeaway
Effective onboarding helps employees get comfortable in their new work environment, encourages productivity and may prevent turnover, thus saving you money in the long term.

Employee onboarding checklist

After the hiring process is complete and you’ve selected your dream candidate, here’s what to put on your to-do list as part of the onboarding experience. 

Before the first day

Job requisition: Submit a job requisition form to human resources. This will get the payroll wheels turning.

Job offer: Send the candidate a formal job offer letter. It should be signed by the person who would be their manager. (This is assuming you are an employer in the private sector. Public agencies are subject to certain conventions and regulations that may require the job offer to be signed by someone other than the hiring manager.) A sincere and well-written job offer expresses your belief in the candidate. Always make sure the salary figure listed is correct, along with other pertinent details.

Paperwork: Once the job offer has been accepted, send all necessary paperwork to the new hire, including the following:

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires you to pay hourly new hires to complete the paperwork required for them to start their job. Although you do have the option of sending them the paperwork before their first day, you must make it clear that their filling out the documents in advance of day one, on their own time, is voluntary. In the case of nonexempt employees, a nice courtesy is to send them the paperwork beforehand but allow them to complete it either during a workday or their off hours.

Basics: Send the new hire information on office parking, building access and dress code if they will be working in the office. Provide this information sooner rather than later so they don’t fret about it.

Job description: Provide a job description that reflects what you’ve learned during the interview process about the new employee and the role. A good job description can serve as a guide for performance reviews. It can also guide onboarding over the course of the new hire’s first year and beyond.

Access to portal: Ensure the new employee can access the company portal (provided you have one), where they can stay up to date on company news, read about the company’s history and exchange messages with co-workers.

Welcome notes: Email at least two welcome notes to the new employee. One should be from a direct supervisor and the other from a senior executive. Mention that they are welcome to contact either person with questions.

Benefits: Inform the new employee of details regarding the benefits plan, including vacation, sick and personal days, as well as the potential for promotions and salary increases. 

Workstation: Make sure the new employee’s workstation is ready before their start date. They won’t feel like a valued team member if they are unable to log in to your system. Don’t forget items like business cards, a stapler and stationery, as applicable; extras like a coffee mug or flowers can also make the new employee feel welcome.

Team welcome: Let other team members know someone new is joining the organization, and encourage them to stop by and say hello if your staffers work in person or via internal communication tools if remote. Employee onboarding is everyone’s responsibility, not just HR’s.

The first day

Key personnel: Some of these “first day” actions depend on whether your staff works in person. For example, if so, you should alert the office receptionist or manager to expect the new employee’s arrival. The same goes for security staff or anyone else the new hire is likely to encounter upon entering the building or office.           

Presence of the supervisor: Have the new employee start on a day when the appropriate supervisors are present. Otherwise, the new person might feel a bit lost.

Tour:.Lead the employee on a tour of your entire workplace. Be sure to provide a glimpse of the important operations happening in your office, and remember to point out key areas, such as the human resources offices, the restrooms and the kitchen.

Special touches: Make the first day special. Have a welcome card sitting on the employee’s desk, along with some company swag, like a coffee mug or a T-shirt.           

Lunch: Take the employee to lunch. Try to get to know them a little better and avoid talking too much about work.           

Work: Give the new employee something to do, preferably something more than busy work, but not an overly daunting task.  

Praise: Remind the employee of your appreciation of whatever special quality they’re bringing to the company. Explain how that quality will enhance the organization’s culture and your team’s productivity.

Self-onboarding: Encourage the new employee to reach out to other team members, thus giving them responsibility for parts of their own onboarding.

Handbook: Present them with an employee handbook and go over any areas of particular concern or importance, including matters of safety and security. Discuss legal and policy regulations.

The first week

Training material: Assign training material, which should cover both short- and long-term learning.

First project: Assign an initial project and check on the new employee’s progress as they go along. Ask how you can help as they work on it.

Mentor: Assign a peer mentor to the new employee. The mentor should be an experienced, trusted member of your team. Mentoring involves showing someone the ropes and answering questions. Some new hires are apprehensive about directing questions to managers for fear of seeming incompetent, so having a peer to talk with can help. However, avoid overreliance on a mentor; be sure you are personally available to address any questions or concerns as necessary.

Supervisor: The new employee and their supervisor should discuss their role in the company’s future.

Expectations: Explain expectations for the following month. Let the new employee know about their likely workflow. Stress how they’re involved in some of the company’s long-term goals.

Orientation: Arrange for an orientation session. The session should involve HR staff members, peers, other new hires and perhaps a senior executive or two. Emphasize their contribution to the company’s future. Video presentations and slideshows are helpful, as are structured interactions with other team members. These activities should be fun and interactive – think icebreaker-type games. Avoid prodding the new hire into giving a speech or performing in some difficult way.

Paperwork follow-up: Meet with the new employee to make sure all paperwork is in order.

The first three months 

Progress: Assess the employee’s progress in becoming a productive team member and absorbing the company’s culture.

Commemoration: Celebrate the employee’s “first-quarter anniversary” with a small gift or maybe lunch. Note the occasion in the office newsletter or other information platforms.

Outside events: Encourage the employee to participate in voluntary events outside the office, such as optional company retreats or seminars, lunches, parties, or just drinks after work.

Development: Recommend reading material for professional and personal growth. Ask them to identify their favorite aspects of the new job and company, with an eye toward taking on new responsibilities.

Open communication: Meet with the employee to see how they’re doing throughout their first quarter. Avoid yes-or-no questions like “Is everything all right?” Instead, ask questions like “How could we make your job easier?” or “What things about our office do you like, and what could use improvement?” Discuss the ways they are contributing to the company’s long-term goals and how that contribution can be enhanced.

Small talk: Touch base with the new employee in the break room or wherever small talk happens. Get a feel for their level of job happiness, but also aim to get to know them in a casual way.

TipTip
Communicating with new employees regularly is one of the key aspects of onboarding in the first three months. You and the new hire must talk, listen, learn and do whatever it takes to be a successful team.

The first year

Check-ins: Continue checking in throughout the new hire’s first 12 months, always encouraging the employee to think long term. “Where do you see yourself in five years?” need not be a question asked only in the interview process.

Professional development: Offer opportunities for professional development internally, at a local educational institution or online.

Consultant: Engage the services of an outside consultant to advise new employees and act as a sounding board. Although these sorts of external coaches are typically associated with executive onboarding, they have the potential to strengthen employees at all levels of the organization.

Assessment: Evaluate what worked and did not work during onboarding across the hire’s first year. Seek the employee’s opinion, either informally or through a survey.

More tips for successfully onboarding new hires

Here are some other suggestions that can strengthen the onboarding process so your new team member starts off on the right foot. 

  • Delegate onboarding tasks as necessary. Make sure every task on your checklist is assigned to someone, and communicate with everyone what’s expected of them and when. You don’t want your new hire to arrive and be unable to log in to their computer because IT wasn’t looped in early enough.
  • Learn from past hires. Adjust your onboarding process based on employee feedback as new hires surpass the one-year mark and even as employees leave the company. Offboarding notes can be useful for identifying potential turnover causes and preventing them from repeating with new team members.
  • Be flexible. Every employee has a different style of learning, and you may need to alter your training plan to suit them better. Be ready to go with the flow and figure out what fits best for your new hire. Even with a checklist like the above, you can personalize your plans so they’re tailored to each employee.

Good onboarding practices set the stage for success

Being prepared is the first step in executing an effective onboarding process. If you want to help your new hire thrive and ensure the rest of your team flourishes alongside this new addition, prioritize comprehensive training and affirmative experiences throughout the employee’s first year. By following this checklist, you can help ensure the onboarding process is just the start of a positive, long-lasting relationship between each employee and your business.

Natalie Hamingson contributed to this article.

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Allison Grillo, Contributing Writer
Alison Grillo is based in New York City. A native of New Jersey, Alison earned a BA in economics from Drew University before working as a daily newspaper reporter. She has since contributed to many business publications, including The Business Journal and Milwaukee. She has taught expository writing at Rutgers University, Pace University and the University of San Francisco. Her love is reading great literature – and trying to create some of it herself. An inveterate Anglophile, she was once thrilled and flattered to have spoken at the University of Cambridge in England.
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