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Employee Onboarding Checklist: How to Successfully Bring on New Hires

Ah, the honeymoon phase. Where, in the sweet newness of a blossoming relationship, anything is possible and the world is your oyster!

Such is the beginning of a new job. With a mix of excitement and nerves, the soon-to-be employee wakes up every hour on the hour the night before their first day, anxious that they’ll sleep through their alarm and start off on the wrong foot.

But what about the company? How can they ensure they’re putting their best foot forward and making their new hire’s experience as stress-free as possible?

It’s all in the onboarding.

Onboarding isn’t just about getting your new hire through their first day, though. It’s about making them excited for day two, taking them through the honeymoon phase and integrating them as a motivated, engaged member of the team for long-term success.

With a strong onboarding process, companies can increase employee retention by 82% and productivity by over 70%.

To help you get started, here’s a bit more information about the onboarding process and a phase-by-phase checklist that runs you through the first day, week, and few months of the new hire’s employment.

Employee Onboarding vs Employee Orientation

While employee onboarding and employee orientation both help companies bring on a new hire in a smooth and successful fashion, they play different roles in the process.

New employee orientation is typically a one-time meeting where the technical side of hiring is done; agreements are signed, benefits packages are reviewed, and the employee is introduced to their new employer.

Employee onboarding, on the other hand, is an ongoing process that can last up to a year. It’s an experience designed to help new hires acclimate to their role, team, and the culture while keeping them motivated and engaged in their work.

Phase-by-Phase Employee Onboarding Checklist

While your onboarding process will depend on your unique company and needs, the employee onboarding SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) can typically be broken down into five phases:

1. Preparations

Effective employee onboarding starts before your new hire joins the team—ideally, even before you start interviewing. With the right preparations, the new employee can fit into the onboarding process with ease, eliminating the stress of having to make decisions and tasks as you go along.

Employee Onboarding Checklist: Preparations

  • Review and Update

Make sure all important paperwork and internal documents are up-to-date before the employee’s first day. This includes the employee handbook, the employee agreement, NDAs (if needed), etc.

  • Prep the Team

Make sure everyone on the new hire’s immediate team knows who the new hire is, when they’ll be joining, and what their role will be. Send an email to the team manager and team members that includes your schedule for the new hire’s first day and week, what meetings will be involved and with whom, and any tasks or projects the new hire will take on.

  • Set them up Online

A new hire’s first morning shouldn’t be monopolized by account set-up and admin tasks. Instead, set up their work email for them beforehand, as well as their profiles on internal messaging platforms (such as Slack), productivity platforms (like Asana or Trello) and your team’s password manager (like LastPass or TeamPassword).

  • Check the Tech

Dress their desk to impress and to function. Check that the new hire’s computer and phone are working well, that any blue-tooth-enabled devices like their mouse and keyboard are connected and charged, and that their standing desk and chair are in perfect condition.

  • Find and Assign a Buddy or Mentor

Matching the new hire with a “buddy” or mentor will help them meet new people, get comfortable, and improve onboarding proficiency. Match the new hire with an experienced employee that checks in with the new hire at least once per week for the first few months, then once or twice a month going forward.

  • Plan Their First Task

“So… what now?” is never a question you want to hear from a new hire. If they’ll be jumping right into work, talk with their supervisor or team lead beforehand and identify their first task or project, outlining the following: What’s the task? What should they know before they get started? What’s the timeline? What are the expectations? Who else is involved?

2. Their First Day

First impressions really are everything, especially entering into a new work environment. Making sure the first day initiates the new hire into their role, introduces them to the team, and makes them feel comfortable will set the stage for successful continued onboarding and better integration into the workplace culture.

Employee Onboarding Checklist: First Day

  • Orientation

As mentioned earlier, new employee orientation and onboarding are two different processes. If your company has the ability, you can save time by running an online orientation (using electronic signing apps and video meetings) before the employee’s first official day in the office.

During orientation, review that paperwork you prepared beforehand. This may include their employee agreement, their benefits package, direct deposit information for payments, and other company-specific materials.

You’ll also want to go through your employee handbook with them and take some time to discuss your company culture, mission, and values to ensure they’re aligned with the team from the get-go.

  • Have Their Welcome Kit Waiting

If you don’t have an employee welcome kit already, this is your sign to get one rolling! Employee welcome kits are a great way to get new hires comfortable and excited about their new venture. Include practical items, branded company items, and fun items.

A hand-written welcome note from leadership to the employee goes a long way—as does a coffee mug to help keep them caffeinated. Other welcome kit ideas include a company-branded tote bag, allergen-friendly snacks, an eco-friendly water bottle, an office map, or even a gift card to the team’s favourite local restaurant or coffee shop.

  • Conduct a Tour-De-Office

Yes, meeting new people can be awkward. But it’s not as awkward as having to introduce yourself to someone weeks or months after starting a job. If you’re a remote team, introduce the new hire on your company’s internal messaging platform or via video call in the first all-hands meeting of the day.

When in office, guide the new hire through the office to help them get a lay of the land and get familiar with the many new faces and departments.

  • Arrange a Team Lunch

Nobody wants middle school lunchroom flashbacks on their first day of work. A first-day team lunch doesn’t have to be an official event in the calendar, but it’s a great way to ease the new hire into the team and culture. Plan the lunch as a team before the new hire’s first day, and let the new employee know before they start that lunch plans are already taken care of (and even better, covered by the company).

  • Book One-on-One Manager Meetings

Bookending the new hire’s first day with one-on-one manager meetings gives both parties an opportunity to build a strong relationship, develop trust, discuss the role and expectations, explore past team successes, and get to know each other outside of the traditional onboarding process.

3. Their First Week

Once they’ve made it through the first day, onboarding week one is all about training and immersing the new hire in the team’s flow. Easing them into their new environment is key here; you want the new hire to feel trusted and give them autonomy, but not so much that they feel overwhelmed or isolated.

Employee Onboarding Checklist: Week One

  • Conduct a Job Knowledge Test

A job knowledge test doesn’t have to be intimidating or stressful to the new hire. It’s simply to demonstrate what they already know about the systems, programs, processes, clients, or products involved in their new role. Then, their manager can customize their training and onboarding process to their findings.

  • Book Training Sessions

Whether you want to schedule all the employee’s training for one day or have it spread out through their first week, using an online training platform will help simplify and enhance the experience. Depending on the employee and company, training can include courses on team culture, processes, real-world scenarios they may encounter, or compliance training.

  • Keep One-on-Ones Going

Arrange one to three meetings for your new hire and their mentor/buddy (either working meetings or casual lunches) so they can check-in, ask questions, and continue to settle into their new environment. An end-of-week meeting with their team lead or manager will give them an opportunity to review their progress and end their first week on a positive note.

  • Dive into the Work

While you don’t want to overload an employee from the moment they walk in the door, you do want to prove to them that you trust their skills and expertise—that’s why you hired them, after all!

Demonstrate that trust by assigning them tasks or getting them started on a new project. Schedule time for them to meet with the necessary team members to prep them on their work and give them clear goals, expectations, and timelines, with quick, helpful feedback so they can improve as needed.

  • Introduce Missed Team Members

If, on their first day, the new hire only met their immediate team members and management, be sure to introduce them to departments they may not work with directly or regularly. This includes anyone who has been away or who was unavailable during the initial introductions.

4. Their First Few Months

The truth is, you can only prepare and train a new hire to a certain extent. As time goes on, there will always be scenarios that arise where they’ll need guidance and support, which is why it’s so important to continue the onboarding process for several months.

Employee Onboarding Checklist: First Few Months

  • Schedule Check-Ins

After their first week, the new hire will adapt to the routine meetings and team calls that keep them up-to-date. But you’ll still want to continue with one-on-ones to ensure all is running smoothly. Schedule a 30-day check-in as well as a three-month check-in to review their experience thus far, measure their expectations, help them set goals, and answer their questions.

  • Introduce Formal Mentorship

While having a buddy or mentor with them for their first week is especially helpful for new hires, connecting them with an official mentor or coaching program can help take that team assimilation to the next level. In your regular one-on-one meetings, let the employee share about their career goals and related curiosities to help match them with the right mentor or coach.

  • Get Social

Social events should be a part of your workplace culture year-round, but they’re especially impactful when you have a new hire. Be sure to plan and schedule several social events or team-building initiatives to get the new hire involved and engaged in the team. Show them that great workplace culture you advertised in the job ad!

  • Assess and Adjust

Each new employee provides the company with a valuable opportunity to assess their onboarding process. Discuss the employee’s onboarding experience with them individually, and also touch base with their immediate team and superior to see how they’re acclimating. Identify any issues, reward and recognize their successes, and use the information you glean to improve your onboarding methods.

5. Ongoing

Onboarding really is a long-term experience, often lasting for up to one year. While the task list gets slimmer and slimmer as time goes on, there are still some steps you can take down the road to help your not-so-new hire thrive in their role.

Employee Onboarding Checklist: Ongoing

  • Arrange a One-Year Anniversary Meeting

One-year celebrations always come around faster than you expect. Arrange a one-year review well in advance to assess the employee’s first year and performance (and to get their feedback as well), and also to discuss their goals and future with the company.

  • Give Them Room to Grow

Employees are eager to grow and learn in their work—in fact, 74% of them want to spend their spare time at work learning. By offering and continually adding to a roster of training and courses that help your employees upskill, you can not only improve their performance, but increase their engagement, motivation, and help them become top talent that you retain for longer.

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