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Onboarding best practices: boost your new hire experience

Listen: 29% of new hires say they feel unprepared for their jobs after being onboarded, and 81% say they feel overwhelmed by the onboarding process itself. Something's gotta change if you want to see an increase in retention and productivity at your own company. Follow the onboarding best practices in this deep dive into the science of onboarding.

Keith MacKenzie
Keith MacKenzie

Passionate about human resources, employment, and business management, and an expert at sharing that expertise.

onboarding best practices

Imagine stepping into a new role, filled with anticipation and a bit of uncertainty or even dread. How the organization welcomes you in these initial moments can set the tone for your entire journey with them – and, let’s admit it, can be the make-or-break moment in whether you want to stay for the long haul or dust off the resume once again.

Onboarding, when executed effectively, is not just a process – it’s the beginning of a meaningful relationship between an employee and an organization. And many organizations don’t have good onboarding best practices – only 12% of employees say their employer does a great job of onboarding new employees, according to Gallup.

And that same Gallup study finds that just one in 10 (29%) new hires say they felt fully prepared and ready to crush it in their new role after their onboarding.

Who can blame them? Another study found that 81% of employees felt overwhelmed in the onboarding process. That’s no surprise, as many companies have numerous processes, tools, and strategies that need to be learned – plus the people themselves.

So, the value of having good onboarding best practices is pretty clear. Let’s get into it.


Onboarding best practices – the benefits

There are many benefits to a great onboarding program – but these three stand out.

1. It boosts retention and employee satisfaction

Employees who undergo a structured onboarding process are more likely to feel valued and aligned with the company’s goals. According to Gallup, those who strongly agree their onboarding process was exceptional are 3.3 times as likely to strongly agree their job is as good, or better, than expected.

And SHRM reports in a 2017 study that 69% of new hires were more likely to stay with their new employer for up to three years after a great onboarding experience.

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2. It enhances productivity

Effective onboarding is not just about retention; it’s also about setting the stage for employee productivity. Employees who are well onboarded can quickly become productive members of the team .

When you see higher engagement from those new hires who are happy right off the bat, and they’re staying with you, productivity will increase.

3. It has long-term company benefits

The far-reaching effects of effective onboarding extend beyond individual employee success. A strong onboarding process fosters a positive work culture, enhances team dynamics, and builds a foundation for sustainable business growth – plus, turnover is lower and productivity is higher, lessening impact to the bottom line.

Clearly, there are benefits to having an effective onboarding strategy at your company – just as much as there are drawbacks to not having one.

So, let’s talk about onboarding best practices so you can turn this crucial phase of the work experience into a supercharged launchpad for long-term success.

Key elements of successful onboarding programs

Crafting an effective onboarding program is pivotal to ensuring that new hires are well-integrated, productive, and aligned with the organization’s goals. That’s the core purpose and goal of onboarding.

Here’s what you need to include when building the foundation for a successful onboarding program:

1. Structured plan with flexibility

A well-structured onboarding plan serves as a roadmap for new hires. However, flexibility is key to accommodate individual learning styles and paces.

This balance ensures that all new employees receive the support they need to succeed.

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2. Clear communication of expectations and roles

From day one, it’s crucial to communicate job roles and expectations clearly. This transparency helps in reducing uncertainties and setting up new hires for success.

Make it a two-way street – encourage the new hire to ask questions (even ones that they might be scared to ask). And answer them honestly and clearly.

3. Cultural integration

Beyond job functions, integrating new employees into the company culture is vital. This includes involving them in team activities and providing an understanding of the company’s values and ethics.

You don’t want them to feel like the new kid on the block – get them involved, and have people proactively introduce themselves.

4. Mentorship and support systems

Assigning mentors or buddies can significantly improve the onboarding experience by providing new hires with a reliable go-to person for queries and support. Even better when you build a specific plan for that buddy system – i.e. regular weekly 1-1s, job shadowing sessions, and so on.

Emphasize that the 1-1s can be a safe space to tackle any potentially awkward or difficult questions.

5. Utilizing technology effectively

Incorporating technology in onboarding best practices can streamline the process, making it more efficient and engaging. There are many reasons why tech so crucial.

Workable’s HR software comes ready-made with an onboarding feature allowing you to migrate employee information from their initial job application, e-sign crucial company documents, and more. And the global onboarding software market is expected to grow by 11.2% annually to 2027 – you don’t want to miss the boat.

Try Workable's HR software

You can hire with Workable, and you can also onboard and manage your new employees all within the same platform without messy integrations.

Learn more

6. Feedback and continuous improvement

Onboarding should be an evolving process. Regularly collecting feedback and making improvements is key. Every new onboarding brings valuable information and lessons – not just from new hires, but also pinpointing areas for improvement.

Remember that nothing is perfect, not even onboarding – but everything can continually be perfected.

7. Break down onboarding into digestible sections

Instead, use microlearning techniques to deliver information in manageable chunks – and more so, have regular check-ins to ensure memory retention.

A study by Dresden University found that the short bursts of content in micro-learning improved retention of information by 22% over traditional learning. And a California State University Stanislaus study argues that regular post-learning reviews can flatten the Ebbinghaus “Forgetting Curve” by a significant amount.

These elements form the foundation of an effective onboarding process, setting the stage for new employees to thrive in their roles and align with the company’s vision. And you know what? Onboarding isn’t only for new hires – check out our five different types of onboarding plans.

Common mistakes in onboarding

While onboarding is a crucial process, it’s often fraught with challenges that can hinder a new hire’s integration and productivity. Here are some common mistakes and strategies to avoid them:

1. Inadequate preparation for new hire’s arrival

One common mistake is not being fully prepared for the new hire’s first day. This includes not having their workspace ready, not setting up necessary tools and accounts, or failing to inform current team members of the new arrival.

Such unpreparedness can make new hires feel undervalued and overlooked during an understandably stressful time in their working life.

2. Overemphasis on paperwork and procedures

Focusing too much on paperwork and administrative procedures at the expense of more engaging, interactive learning experiences can be a misstep.

This approach can make the onboarding process feel bureaucratic and impersonal. It’s definitely not best practice.

3. Insufficient clarity on role expectations and career path

Failing to provide clear information about the new hire’s role, expectations, and potential career path within the organization can lead to confusion and misalignment – and even some kind of controlled chaos.

This lack of clarity can hamper a new employee’s ability to integrate effectively and grow within the company – and they’ll leave, too.

4. Lack of early and meaningful work assignments

Delaying the involvement of new hires in meaningful work or projects can result in a sense of underutilization and disengagement.

Give employees the opportunity to wet their feet right away – it’s not just an act of inclusion, but also helps them learn on the job more quickly.

5. Ignoring the importance of social integration

Remember when you were in high school and you felt like everyone was in cliques and no one talked to you? Exactly.

Neglecting the social aspect of onboarding, such as team introductions, social events, or informal meet-and-greets, can hinder the formation of important workplace relationships and a sense of belonging.

Incorporating technology in onboarding

You absolutely must incorporate tech in your onboarding. It’s one of the best practices you can include for success and save you many headaches. It’ll make for a more efficient, engaging, and informative experience for new hires – and it’ll take a lot of that horrible grunt work off your plate as an HR professional or hiring manager.

1. Use onboarding software

First things first, add onboarding software to your tech stack, or ensure that your HR software has a good onboarding feature.

It’ll help you tackle some of the paperwork more efficiently, and can even help you preboard new hires by having them digitally sign crucial contracts ahead of their first day, as well as review important information about the company and job.

Check out our list of top onboarding software choices for your company.

2. Incorporate microlearning tools

It’s been documented: bite-sized information and post-learning reviews boost memory retention.

Those first few weeks on a new job are overwhelming – the amount of information, tools, processes, and even colleagues is tough for many new hires to digest. Make it easier for them!

3. Use virtual reality and gamification

The benefits of using VR in onboarding are clear. A study from the University of Maryland found that VR learners demonstrated an 8.8% higher recall accuracy compared to those using traditional platforms.

And PwC found that employees who were trained using virtual reality were up to 275% more confident in utilizing the skills they learned, and were even four times faster in completing their training.

4. Document and resource management tools

It isn’t always comfortable for a new hire to feel like they have to ask questions of HR all the time – and it’s not easy for you either. Make it easier for both of you by providing access to online documentation and resources for new hires to easily find the information they need.

This can include company policies, role-specific guides, and other relevant materials. Workable’s HR software has document management functionalities.

Try Workable's HR software

You can hire with Workable, and you can also onboard and manage your new employees all within the same platform without messy integrations.

Learn more

5. Incorporate communications tools

Effective communications tools are crucial to ensure connectivity (both literally and technologically!) – especially in remote or hybrid working environments where not everyone is working together in the same physical space. Use Slack, Zoom, Google Meet, and other tools to facilitate easy communication and collaboration.

Personalizing the onboarding experience

Tailoring the onboarding experience to individual needs and preferences can significantly enhance employee engagement and retention. Here are ways to personalize the onboarding process:

1. Look at the individual needs

Begin by assessing the unique needs and preferences of each new hire. This could involve pre-onboarding surveys or informal discussions to understand their learning style and any specific support they might require.

2. Customized learning paths

Based on the assessment, create customized learning paths. For instance, some employees might benefit more from visual materials, while others prefer hands-on training.

3. Mentorship programs

Pairing new hires with mentors or buddies who have similar backgrounds or skills can foster a more personalized and supportive onboarding experience.

4. Flexible scheduling

Flexible work has immense value – in fact, it may be a reason why your new hire wanted to work for you. In that spirit, allow flexibility in the onboarding schedule to accommodate the personal commitments and work preferences of new employees, ensuring they can absorb new information without feeling overwhelmed.

5. Regular check-ins and feedback

What we shared above about memory retention? Exactly. Regular check-ins are crucial in onboarding best practices – and keep the conversation open to discuss progress, address concerns, and tailor the process as it happens.

All in all, you’re showing the new hire that they’re a valued individual and not just another cog in the machine.

Measuring the success of your onboarding program

Evaluating the effectiveness of your onboarding process is crucial for continuous improvement and ensuring long-term benefits for both employees and the organization. Here are methods to measure success so you can further evolve your onboarding best practices:

1. Employee feedback surveys

Your employees are the direct beneficiaries of your onboarding strategy – so why not ask them what they think? The feedback you receive can provide valuable insights into the strengths and weaknesses of the onboarding process.

2. Performance metrics

There are actual data points you can monitor – and even establish as KPIs in your own scorecard. Keep an eye on time to ramp, time to productivity, job performance, and onboarding task completion rates. These metrics can help assess how well new hires are adapting and contributing – and you can make small improvements in your strategy accordingly.

3. Retention rates

Again in the spirit of KPIS – track the retention rates of employees who have undergone the onboarding process. If your people are sticking around for a long time, that’s a great indicator that you’re running an effective onboarding program.

4. Engagement levels

This one’s a little harder to measure – but you can track it in terms of productivity. Happier, more engaged workers usually are better workers. Keep an eye on engagement levels both during and after the onboarding progress, as it ties directly back to their onboarding experience.

Regular evaluation and adaptation of your onboarding program based on these measures can lead to a more effective and satisfying onboarding experience for new hires.

Case study: Netflix’s onboarding approach

This isn’t all just abstract stuff. There’s a real-life example of the benefits of onboarding best practices at Netflix. Their approach to employee onboarding is a standout example in the corporate world, combining innovative methods with effective engagement strategies.

Let’s look at highlights from a Comparably study on Netflix’s onboarding best practices:

1. Preboarding initiatives

Netflix’s onboarding journey begins before the employee’s first day, focusing on cultural immersion and the completion of essential paperwork – in other words, the preboarding stage. This early engagement sets a positive tone for new hires.

2. Onboarding buddy system

Each new hire is paired with an onboarding buddy, a peer mentor crucial for navigating the initial days at Netflix. This system has been particularly effective, with 91% of employees stating their direct manager was incredibly helpful during onboarding in the first 90 days, according to the Comparably review.

3. Project assignments and team interaction

Early project involvement and team interactions are key. Impressively, four out of 10 (39%) employees socialized with team members outside of work at least once a week or more. This will go great lengths in fostering strong team bonds and a sense of belonging.

4. One-on-one meetings and feedback

Regular one-on-one meetings during the onboarding process ensure new hires receive the necessary feedback and support. At Netflix, 52% of employees say they get helpful feedback at least once a week that helps them get better at their jobs.

Ultimately, 90% of employees say they had a positive onboarding experience at the company. The correlation between that number and Netflix’s onboarding practices are clear.

Onboarding best practices: time for progress

In this exploration of onboarding best practices, there are three crucial insights:

  1. Structured onboarding = higher retention
  2. Tech is a great onboarding tool
  3. Personalization is key

What’s next for you? You don’t have to be a behemoth like Netflix – a lot of these tips can happen in a small or medium-sized business. There are plenty of onboarding best practices outlined in this tutorial – incorporate as much as you can into your overall strategy and you’ll see the benefits in the bottom line.

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