How to improve your employee onboarding process

Looking to improve the induction or onboarding process for your new employees? We share suggestions that work whatever sector or industry you are in.
Hatching Insights - Top ways to improve your employee onboarding process

by Rebecca Bridger

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How to improve your employee onboarding process

Can you remember what it was like to start a new job? Walking a tight rope between being competently nonchalant and eager as hell.

In this post I share recommendations to help you to develop a positive onboarding process. One that capitalises on the positive emotions your new employee’s are feeling (excitement, enthusiasm, eagerness) whilst mitigating the negative ones (apprehension, uncertainty, isolation).

Preboarding! Get started before they start…

Don’t think the process only begins on day one when they walk into your office, instead think about what things you can do before they’re in post.

A study by the Aberdeen Group found that 83% of the highest performing organisations began an on-boarding process before a new employee’s first day1Laurano, M. (2013). Onboarding 2013: A New Look at New Hires. Aberdeen Group..

Employee Onboarding - Start the process before your employees start their new role

Consider producing a simple PDF booklet that can be shared with new employees before they start, letting them know how excited the business is that they are joining and what they should expect in their first few weeks on the job.

Another option, if you have an online HR platform or learning hub (see Using Technology below), is to provide new employees with access to the key files they will need to complete on their first day, so they can get a head start on the formal admin required. 

Start with all the things that would annoy you

Some people find it easier to solve a problem than to think of the ideal solution. Instead of painting a wish list of all the fantastic things you could do during your employee onboarding, start with the key things that might prevent them from doing anything at all. You don’t need to be an expert in HR or management to know what they are.
Employee Onboarding - What has annoyed you in past jobs?

Cast your mind back to all of the annoying things that have happened to you when you first started a job. Such as:

  • Your computer not working
  • Email not set up
  • A scheduled coffee with a colleague – who didn’t show up


Forget all the bells and whistles for the moment – this is your starting point.

Ensure that those potential niggles, hurdles and barriers are addressed. If the onboarding process doesn’t cover them, then you’re preventing the employee from getting onto their feet quickly and will immediately be causing frustrations. 

Map out the structure

I’m not suggesting you map everything out to the point that you are micromanaging the employee’s time – instead evidence suggests that autonomy and independence is key to happiness in the workplace2Gagné M., Bhave D. (2011) Autonomy in the Workplace: An Essential Ingredient to Employee Engagement and Well-Being in Every Culture. Cross-Cultural Advancements in Positive Psychology, vol 1.; however, providing clarity and structure to the onboarding process is important and is a key part of developing an effective team3Rozovsky, J. (2015). The five keys to a successful Google team. re:Work..

Prioritise: ‘Must have’ vs ‘Nice to have’

Write a list of all the things you could include in the induction – perhaps things you already do now. Things you want to do. Solutions to problems you’ve identified. Highlight the items that are critical and start there. They are your ‘must have’ items. Everything else is a ‘nice to have’.

Don’t forget the social stuff…

Evidence suggests that it is also important to have a mixture of educational and social elements – so that the employee is given the chance to learn the ropes and bond with others4Yancey, G. (2011). Assessing new employee orientation programs. Journal of Workplace Learning..

Lengthen the process

Research found that 61% of companies that were considered ‘Best in Class’ extended their onboarding process beyond a month5Barrow, K. (2016). Why Onboarding That New Hire Will Increase Your Bottom Line. Gillespie Associates..

A lot of organisations invest in the first two weeks and then drop the ball after that. Instead of just their first two weeks, think about what should happen in their first month. What occurs in the run up to their probation? The plan for their first nine months? A year?

If you’re stumped for ideas, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Services (ACAS) provides guidance for what sorts of things to include up to the first 12 months of an employees tenure in their free ‘Starting Staff’ guide.

Stagger content

One key way to spread out the onboarding is to stagger content. When you know all the things you want to cover, it can be tempting to shove everything into their first day or week. Don’t! Instead, spread it out to give the new employee a chance to digest the information and try it out before they move onto the next thing. 

Employee Onboarding - Stagger content out

Generational differences

Thinking beyond the first two weeks is particularly important if you’re hiring employees who fall into the Millennial or Generation Z bracket. As they value the being invested in, personal development and varied learning in the workplace. 

Assign buddies

In addition to the line manager, there are some key roles that others in the organisation can fulfil to help the new employee overcome hurdles, further their development and ensure social integration. 

Some organisations, such as management software business Buffer, assign ‘buddies’ to new employees that are responsible for taking on key roles6Dutel, R. (2015). What Happened When We Renamed a Job Listing: Hiring at Buffer in August 2015. Buffer..

Employee Onboarding - Assign new employees to buddies

The ‘Go-To’ Buddy

Tag the new employee up with a ‘go to’ peer in the office who can help with the practical elements element of their job – where to find the tea bags, what happens if the fire alarm goes off, how to use the printer etc. Being clear about who their ‘go-to’ is helps to alleviate pressure from their manager and enables easy hurdles to be overcome quickly.

The ‘Mentor’ Buddy

Setting up a shadowing or mentoring system with an established employee – particularly someone who isn’t in the same department or division – can expose them to different ways of thinking, provide a wider appreciation of the business and develop skills that might not have been identified when you were planning their development.

The ‘Culture’ Buddy

Okay, the title I’ll admit, sounds a little wooly – but bare with me here! Social connection is a key part of employee happiness and isn’t necessarily something managers have the time to champion. Assigning a new employee with someone who is a cheerleaders for your organisations culture can make sure they’re immersed in the social aspects of the role, as well as “how we do things around here” as soon as possible.

You don’t have to use all three buddies (or even the same wording!) but think about if you’ve made it clear who new employees can go to for various things and if there would be a benefit to making that official from day one.

Onboard your managers to onboarding

Sometimes when we’re so focused on the employee, we forget about the individuals who will be delivering the induction. If they’re not bought into it – it’s unlikely it’s going to happen as they will be the first ones to prioritise more pressing matters.

Take the time to ensure they’re bought into the process. Do they know:

  • Why there is a process in process
  • What it involves
  • How they can contribute

Use technology to share the load

One of the most challenging parts of the induction process is the time it takes to deliver! 

If you have access to a HR or learning platform, for example Learn Amp, you can pre-populate it with reusuable that the new employee can access in their own time.

Teach your managers about ‘situational leadership’

They say that employees don’t leave jobs, they leave their manager7Goler et al., (2018). “Why People Really Quit Their Jobs”. Harvard Business Review.. With that in mind, it is worth considering how you can improve the management ability within your organisation. One method is to improve your managers’ awareness of what different leadership and management styles could be most useful to an employee and when.
Employee Onboarding - Teaching your managers about situation leadership can be helpful

Situational Leadership® II is a model developed by group dynamics researcher Ken Blanchard. The model shows an individual’s transition from immaturity (such as when they are new in post) through to maturity (when they are completely autonomous). Each stage of the model describes the type of management style that should be adopted (directing, coaching, supporting and delegating) before the employee can graduate to the next stage. 

Need help developing your managers ability to deliver different leadership styles for situations? Get in touch with us

Measure if you’re successful

It’s important to keep tracking and testing how effective your employee onboarding is (or is not!). This enables you to identify things that can be improved upon, as well as share successes in the organisation. It also enables you to provide evidence – hopefully – of why further investment should be made to further develop and expand employee onboarding8Dávila, N. & Piña-Ramírez, W. (2018). Lets talk about onboarding metrics. TD: Talent Development.. Conversely, if it is felt you are spending time on something that does not add value to the business, you will open yourself up to criticism.

Measure the things that are important to the business. If performance has been low – have people been getting up to speed quicker than before. Retention not good? How much longer are new recruits staying for?

Some other obvious things you could measure include:

  • Cost – How much did it cost you to develop training materials? Did you use an external trainer for any sessions? If so, what was their price tag? How do these things compare to the cost of paying a recruitment firm a fee to find a new hire?
  • Turnover – How many resignations have there been? What % of those went through the  onboarding process?
  • Feedback – Ask employees for their opinion, both during the onboarding process (e.g. Was today useful?) or at regular intervals afterwards (e.g. Looking back, are there things you wish we had covered?). Seek the opinion of line managers and colleagues as well.

As ever, this is just an overview of some of the generic things you could be doing within your organisation to improve employee onboarding.

If you want to know how Hatching Ideas could help you to further develop your process, visit our page on working with us.

Additionally, we are always looking for examples and stories of what others are doing so we can help the people in the organisations we work with to reach their potential. If you have any (good or bad) please do share in the comments section below.

2 Responses

  1. Thank you for sharing so much information. It is thought provoking and extremely relevant! Our working hours are often more than our leisure hours, so I truly believe that companies need to adopt a family approach as in my experience everyone benefits.

    1. Thank you for sharing Julie. Glad you found it thought provoking and relevant to you. And a very valid point regarding the importance of a ‘family approach’. One that probably doesn’t always get well recognised in a lot of workplaces.

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Rebecca Bridger

Rebecca Bridger

Founder of Hatching Ideas, Rebecca is an experienced coach and facilitator and is particularly passionate about helping others to realise their potential.
Rebecca Bridger

Rebecca Bridger

Founder of Hatching Ideas, Rebecca is an experienced coach and facilitator and is particularly passionate about helping others to realise their potential.

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