How to Plan for Employee Onboarding Program: 4 Crucial Steps
In the Great Resignation era, employee retention is critical for organizations hoping to maintain productivity, save costs, and preserve talent. According to 2022 research from Employ, US workers are increasingly willing to pursue alternative employment, often within the first few months of being hired.
The good news is that a robust employee onboarding program can significantly increase retention—by 82%, according to some estimates—and help sustain workplace productivity, culture, and talent in uncertain times.
Onboarding is the process of integrating new employees into the workplace. Contrary to many organizations’ practices, onboarding does not only cover basic orientation tasks like filling out paperwork and making introductions. It also encompasses integrating new employees into an organization’s culture, values, and mission, and gives new hires the support needed to succeed early in their employment. Effective employee onboarding programs are often implemented up to a year after an employee’s first day.
If you’re reading this article, you might be wondering how to plan a successful onboarding strategy. Onboarding programs are often divided into four key steps: resources, rules, roles, and relationships. Here’s how to approach each one.
As a first step, consider what resources your new employees need to integrate into their roles. Most onboarding programs start with introducing basic employment paperwork, such as programs and benefits—including health benefits, insurance, time off, or professional development—available to new employees. This stage of the onboarding process also covers standard forms for employment, such as tax forms.
The resources component of onboarding also includes information related to your organization, such as its history, mission, culture, products, and goals. New employees also need access to resources required for their specific roles, such as office supplies, a computer, software, uniforms, and other tools. Onboarding programs should provide necessary resources and adequate training on how to use them and whom to consult if additional support is required. Incorporate these role-specific resources into your onboarding plan.
Your organization and each department within it most likely has policies established to keep operations running smoothly. Your onboarding program should communicate all the rules, guidelines, or policies relevant to a new employee’s specific role.
Some items to prepare in this category may include:
- Day-to-day operating procedures, including department- or role-specific procedures
- Scheduling information, including working hours, breaks, and overtime
- Conflict resolution and communication guidelines
- Rules related to hybrid work environments (remote vs. in-person)
- Confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements
- Safety and security protocols
- Uniforms and dress codes
- How to navigate time off and personal emergencies
If your organization faces high turnover or workplace conflicts, these issues could be rooted in unclear roles and responsibilities. While often overlooked, an effective employee onboarding strategy should clearly define what an employer expects of an employee and vice versa. Taking the time to define role expectations—a process called role clarification—helps establish trust and communication between employees and their leaders. It also keeps employees more engaged, reducing opportunities for role ambiguity to cause stress and burnout.
The roles component of your onboarding plan should define:
how and when employees and employers are expected to communicate. This can include details such as preferred communication methods and guidelines for giving and receiving feedback.
- Role requirements:
prioritizing tasks, navigating role overlap, and what goals or target metrics to aim for.
which tools, resources, or support an employee has access to in their role.
- Learning opportunities:
how to evaluate skills gaps and when and how to access professional development opportunities.
Many organizations consider casual, day-one introductions adequate for employee onboarding. However, a stronger onboarding strategy is more integrative, helping new employees establish relationships and build a workplace network. Part of your onboarding plan should define an ideal workplace network for each role and establish practices that foster that network development.
To help new employees build a network, your onboarding strategy can start with educating new employees about their team members’ roles and responsibilities, planning workplace networking events, or assigning mentors and subject matter experts to support new hires. Consider giving new employees tasks that will require them to collaborate with other employees in their ideal network, which may be both within and outside of their department.
If you have in-person employees, your workplace’s layout is also worth considering for relationship-building: does your new employee’s workspace foster collaboration or does it isolate them from their network?
Creating a new standard
Gallup polls suggest that only 12% of employees agree that their employer does a great job at employee onboarding. As high employee turnover and a competitive hiring market persist, organizations must establish more supportive onboarding programs to attract and retain talent. If your organization wants to create a new standard—one that satisfies the other 88%—consider an onboarding plan that incorporates comprehensive guidelines for employee resources, rules, roles, and relationships.
Bad employee onboarding can also lead to new employees leaving within the first year of employment.
Some common reasons include:
Lack of alignment with the company's values or culture: If an employee does not feel like they fit in with the company's values or culture, they may decide to leave.
Unclear job expectations: If an employee is not given clear expectations for their role, they may become frustrated and decide to leave.
Lack of support and resources: If an employee does not feel supported by their manager or the company, they may become disengaged and decide to leave.
Poor fit for the role: If an employee does not feel like the job is a good fit for their skills and interests, they may decide to leave.
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Mistakes New Managers Make When Onboarding New Employees