Onboarding

What are the 5 Stages of Employee Onboarding?

Learn about the five stages of employee onboarding and how to make each successful for new hires.

Introduction

In case you haven’t noticed, the Great Resignation is upon us. These simple yet powerful words were coined by Anthony Klotz, an organizational psychologist, and professor at Texas A&M University, during an interview with Bloomberg

They’ve now shaped the future of work. 

The Great Resignation has dominated headlines. Its impact leaves businesses reeling as employee turnover numbers continue to increase. In November 2021, the Labor Department’s latest Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey reported that over 4.5 million workers had left their jobs.

If you think these figures are scary, we can only imagine what will happen in years to come. Likely, more people will continue to choose flexible and remote-first companies or decide to set up their own businesses. A December ResumeBuilder.com poll of 1,250 American workers shows that about 23 percent of employees will seek new jobs in 2022, while nine percent have already secured a new position.

We’ve already written on how to thrive and survive the great resignation. In that work, a common theme echoed by the CEOs, founders and company presidents we interviewed was the importance of an effective onboarding process.

This article will discuss:

  • What onboarding is.
  • The importance of a healthy onboarding program. 
  • How each onboarding stage is a tool for employee development, engagement and retention.

What is employee onboarding?

You might ask what employee onboarding is all about. If you go to different professionals, you’ll most likely get varying answers. For example: 

  •  An employer branding specialist might say onboarding is a prime opportunity to set expectations about a company’s employee experience. 
  • A recruiter could define onboarding as the process of hiring new employees.
  • An operations manager might tell you that onboarding revolves around preparing new employees to perform at the highest level.
  • An employee enablement manager could say it’s an opportunity to empower new hires with tools and resources to be the best at their jobs.
  • A human resources coordinator could summarize it as an employee orientation.

Ultimately, employee onboarding encompasses all of these and more. Effective onboarding provides new hires with information and resources to help them adapt to their roles and the company. A positive onboarding experience starts from the day an employee accepts a job offer and ends when an employee can get work done without any hand-holding. 

What makes a great onboarding program?

A great onboarding program creates positive experiences at every stage of the process. It aims to guide new employees through their responsibilities while fostering connections with their teammates, leaders and the rest of the company.

Why is employee onboarding important?

After a new hire accepts an offer, they undergo a series of phases. Research shows that organizations with well-defined processes increased new hire retention rates by 52 percent. A positive employee onboarding experience increases the likelihood of an employee choosing to stay by 82 percent.

Onboarding can set clear expectations, encourage communication, improve productivity and performance, and increase employee retention. 

A viable program relies on more than a checklist. When mishandled, onboarding will negatively impact your bottom line. In 2020, voluntary turnover cost organizations over $630 billion.

The standard cost of onboarding a new employee is almost $4,000. To fill a vacant position, you could pay between $3,000 to $18,000. Multiply these figures by one employee per month, and you’ll see companies lose between $36,000 to $216,000 annually.

Five Stages of employee onboarding

If your organization is preparing to onboard a new employee or if you’re an early-career HR professional, these five employee onboarding stages will get your hires excited, increase their engagement and reduce attrition rates.

Stage One: Preboarding

Think back to when you landed your first job. What was the onboarding process like? Many of us went through a few interviews, then finally received an offer. Following that came the introductory letter.

Then, nothing but radio silence until the first day. 

It’s naive to assume you’ve secured your new hire just because they’ve signed your offer. The weeks preceding their first day are wide open for recruitment elsewhere. Even after they’ve started, 59 percent of employees leave their current job for one with a similar role and wage. Today, more than a third of the workforce are active job seekers.

An employee’s relationship with their organization starts during onboarding. More specifically, it begins during what’s called the preboarding stage. That is, the time before the start date. Companies that don’t preboard will likely lose employees in the first six months. 

During preboarding, you can send over necessary documentation, forms and details about day one. As one of the employee’s first touchpoints, take advantage of the chance to answer questions and build a personal relationship. 

Let’s dispel a myth here: the general notion about preboarding is that it’s strictly for administrative tasks. But these activities won’t strengthen your employee’s tie to the company. After all, what’s exciting about setting up an account or filling out a bunch of forms?

Some companies will send a welcome kit to spark enthusiasm, while others will encourage team members to introduce themselves via email or LinkedIn. Think of preboarding as an appetizer. The new hire can anticipate what’s to come. 

Stage Two: Initial onboarding/welcoming new hires

Formal onboarding might last days or months, depending on the position. It’s the most structured stage, including orientation and initial training. 

With so much to come, keep the first day simple. Communicate your organizational structure and policies and let your new hire acquaint themselves. Don’t bog down your new hire’s calendar with meeting after meeting. Over the course of the week, introduce them to your culture, tools and processes. 

Standard onboarding workflows during this stage are:

  • Review of the org structure. 
  • IT set up.
  • Payroll. 
  • Benefits enrollment.
  • Meet with the team and other stakeholders. 

Stage Three: Team-specific training

After formal onboarding, new employees adapt to their teams and learn more about their roles. They often start making connections and familiarizing themselves with the tools and resources that support their workload.  

During team-specific training, new hires develop individual and team goals, collaborate with colleagues and make their first contributions. At this stage, companies should create resources to help new hires thrive. A lack of support can lead to disengagement, job dissatisfaction and a high turnover rate. 

Most companies should have a learning management system or knowledge base. Ensure employee access and easy navigation. The goal is to reduce overwhelm and help them feel prepared. Process documentation tools like Scribe can help you create step-by-step guides to ease this transition. 

Everyone learns differently. Communicate with your employee about what suits them best. Then, offer different techniques, such as micro or self-paced learning, based on their preferences. 

Stage Four: Mentorship, growth and acclimation

In this next stage of the employee onboarding process, new hires work on more projects and become more familiar with the teams and their responsibilities.  Here, the new hire should be prepared to contribute independently. You can measure their progress in a quarterly review, or check-in. 

Support your new hire by assigning a mentor or scheduling regular 1:1s with their manager. Since this onboarding stage begins at the 30-day mark, the new hire is now a fully-fledged employee.

Stage Five: Nurturing and continuous employee development

After  90 days have passed, introduce ongoing employee development. New hires should know their performance KPIs and understand your performance review process. Based on your framework, they can also participate in regular meetings with managers or mentors for feedback. 

There should be a clear trajectory with growth opportunities. Strategize goals based on what your employee wants to learn or where they’d like to go next in their career. Some companies will offer educational stipends or internal programs dedicated to professional development. 

An ongoing experience

When the final phase is complete, the work isn’t done. Invest in your employees’ growth to encourage them to stay for the long haul. Onboarding is an integral part of any company lifespan. Each step should acclimate new hires with your organization’s values, mission and processes. What happens beyond depends on your commitment to creating a company culture that inspires employees to grow alongside you.