Onboarding any new hire is a multi-step process. Tasks fall across an entire company — to the new team member’s manager and peers and other departments, including human resources, IT, and facilities management.
To do onboarding well, each of those steps and workflows require the right timing and precision. A comprehensive and coordinated approach to onboarding is critical, and an onboarding checklist can ensure no step is missed. Here’s why onboarding matters, and how to create a master onboarding checklist that will unlock the potential of your newest team members.
Why Is Onboarding Important?
The start of a new job can be a vulnerable time for anyone. New hires may be nervous about making a big leap from a previous employer where they’ve developed deep connections with colleagues. And, after a long job search, some may still have headhunters in their inbox offering job opportunities elsewhere. A poor onboarding experience can leave them wondering if they made the right decision — and eager to jump to another employer.
“That time and money that you expended finding the right person, you don’t want to ruin it by terrible onboarding,” said Jim Cichanski, founder and chief human resources officer at Flex HR, an HR consulting firm.
If onboarding goes well, all that hard work during the hiring process will pay off. Workers are 2.6 times as likely to be extremely satisfied with their workplace when the onboarding experience has gone well — and more likely to stay put, according to Gallup research. But only 12% of US workers say their employer actually does a good job at it.
What Is an Onboarding Checklist?
An onboarding checklist spells out each of the steps required to properly onboard a new employee. It should start during the pre-boarding phase, about the time that an offer letter is extended and signed. Depending on the organization and the position, the employee onboarding process can run from a month to 90 days or more.
When onboarding is successful, employees gain the following:
- A clear understanding of their role’s responsibilities.
- A detailed explanation of employee benefits and policies.
- All required technology and training to do their job.
- An immersion into the company culture and mission.
- Introductions to key stakeholders, including team members, peers, department leaders, and clients.
By the time onboarding is complete, employees should be ready to take on their new role. “It’s going to reap a lot of rewards because it makes a person feel knowledgeable, welcome, and engaged,” said Megan Leasher, a talent strategist and advisor.
Onboarding tasks can stretch across months, but they typically include these milestones:
As you create a new hire onboarding checklist for your newest employees, here’s what to keep in mind during each phase.
Pre-Boarding: Before New Hire’s Start Date
The pre-boarding phase begins from the moment the new team member accepts the offer and extends until their first day on the job. During the recruitment process, candidates get a glimpse of what a company is all about. During pre-boarding, however, the company’s doors are flung wide open, and organizations need to ensure that each new experience and introduction is positive, Leasher said.
“You’re seeing every aspect — so many interactions, so many people, so many first impressions — not only of how the work gets done but also how people treat each other and what the culture is,” she said. “It’s a huge opportunity to demonstrate who you are as a company.”
During this period, your master onboarding checklist should focus on introducing new hires to the organization; ensuring their questions or concerns about their first days on the job are answered; and completing hiring tasks, such as a background check and ordering new equipment. Here are the key points to consider while crafting your master checklist for pre-boarding.
1. Staff Introductions
Get the internal team excited about their new team member. Send a welcome email to both the team and the new employee’s personal address to introduce them to their future coworkers. Share information about their new role and explain what experience they bring to the table. “Through reply alls and forwards, people can say, ‘I’m excited to meet you,’” Leasher said.
Tip: Nurture networking.
Whether it’s by responding to the welcome email to introduce themselves or connecting with them via LinkedIn, encourage current employees to engage with the new hire. People can be nervous about change, including existing team members, when somebody new joins a department, said Carrie Missele, learning and development practice lead for management consultancy Inspirant Group. “It really helps when everybody can connect with a new person and welcome them.”
2. Internal First-Days Preparation
Consider what the new hire will need from your organization during their first days on the job, and make plans to ensure everything is ready for them. Create task lists for each department that might look something like this:
- HR: Ensure they’re completing hiring tasks, such as the background check, and setting aside time to explain benefits and company policies during the employee’s first day and week.
- Facilities: If the new hire is working in person, launch the workflows required to create a company ID card and establish their workspace.
- IT: Acquire any equipment and schedule any software training the new hire will need. Ship equipment to remote employees, so it’s ready for them on their first day.
- Company-wide: Get meet-and-greets, team lunches, and other introductions on the calendar for the internal stakeholders with whom they’ll be working.
3. New Hire Notifications
Whether working remotely or in the office, it’s likely your new team member has questions about how their first days and weeks will go. No detail is too small. Before your new employee’s first day, make sure they know the answers to questions such as these:
- Where should they park?
- What should they bring to the office?
- What is the company dress code?
- Who will they meet?
- What will they do for lunch?
- What is their full schedule for their first day and week?
4. Company Introductions
Now is the time to share your organization’s mission, vision, and culture. A surprise package with company swag builds excitement. So does providing answers to questions such as these:
- How does the company mission, vision, and culture unfold during the workday?
- How does it inform team members about how they operate?
- How will your new team member’s role and work contribute to it?
New Hire’s First Day
If the pre-boarding phase was robust, the new employee onboarding checklist for an employee’s first day may be nearly complete. As the new hire starts on day one, they should already have their schedule and the answers to any of their logistical questions.
The most critical first-day tasks involve familiarizing the employee with new workplaces and faces. That includes:
- Introductions to their physical or remote workstations.
- Launching training for work-related applications and software.
- Filling out HR paperwork related to benefits, taxes, pay, and other details.
- Meeting with managers, coworkers, and executives.
- Continued immersion in the company culture.
Throughout the day, it’s important to maintain balance for the new hire, Leasher recommends. Don’t schedule back-to-back meetings. Give them a chance to both meet with people and take a moment to learn how to use their new equipment and set up their email. Continue to have their onboarding buddy serve as a guide.
“Nothing is more frightening than finishing a meeting, knowing you have another one starting at the same time, and you don’t know where you’re going,” Leasher said. “Try to think about what it’s like for someone who doesn’t know their way around and help them feel comfortable.”
At the same time, make it easy for new hires to find the answers to their questions on their own. Cichanski recommends creating a dashboard that includes everything they might need — links to the employee handbook, benefits descriptions, online training programs, company holiday schedules, and other FAQs.
“The number one request that an employee has when they start, but is totally afraid to ask is, ‘When is payday?’” he said. Make it easy for new hires to find your payday practices, too.
New Hire’s First Week
The work during the pre-boarding phase, including setting up their workspace and sharing their schedule, also should help streamline any tasks during the first week.
Key tasks on an effective onboarding checklist should focus on acclimating new talent to the work environment and bolstering employee engagement. Such tasks might include the following:
- Quick daily check-ins with their manager to identify roadblocks.
- Time to finalize any HR paperwork.
- Ongoing training on software and systems.
- Continued meet-and-greets, lunches, and coffees with new colleagues, team leader, and executive.
Hiring managers should follow new employees’ progress each day. Quick daily chats can include asking them about meetings with other department leaders or congratulating them for completing a training module, Cichanski said.
A brief daily check-in can make a big difference for your new hire. “Managers are busy, but they have got to realize that it is an expensive proposition to hire somebody,” he said. “And if they leave in the first couple of weeks because they’re not taken care of or they get that other job offer, then [managers are] going to be spending more time [trying to hire somebody new] than on the check-in.”
New Hire’s First Month
As the new hire settles into the organization and their role, the first month still poses opportunities to ensure they have what they need. The master onboarding checklist should include:
- Weekly check-ins with the manager to answer questions.
- Continued training.
- Ongoing meet-and-greets with coworkers, supervisor, and other stakeholders.
During this period, it’s critical that managers are responsive to any needs or concerns that a new hire has flagged. Perhaps they still don’t have access to a new software system or have yet to meet with a mission-critical coworker.
“The manager needs to be able to know who in HR to go to to say, ‘Hey, my person has said this twice. There’s a miss here. How can we reconcile it?’” Leasher said. “It’s the opportunity for the manager to listen and to triage anything that’s not working.”
New Hire Check-Ins
Exactly how long onboarding runs depends on the organization. But, as the first month turns to the second or third, new hires should be focusing more and more on their own work and responsibilities.
“The highest touch should be at that first month,” Leasher said. “Months two and three are about introducing you to the work.”
Those later months, however, do provide opportunities for organizations to see how well their onboarding program is working via new hire engagement surveys, 90-day performance reviews, and ongoing one-on-one conversations with managers and peers.
Find out what went well, what didn’t go well, and who needs to shore up any missteps or failures, Leasher said. “Really be thoughtful about where the gaps are and who owns the reconciliation.”
Then, she said, address those issues to ensure a successful onboarding for the next new hire who joins your ranks.
“It’s really important that organizations realize this is your true opportunity to make the first full real impression to show who you are and what your culture is,” Leasher said. “There can be a tendency to be like, ‘Okay, we got him in the door, we accomplished the goal.’ [Your] goal [should be] making them engaged.”
Onboarding: A Team Effort
The best onboarding experiences tend to happen when one person is assigned to implement the process. Often, the hiring manager or an HR team member is given the role, Missele said.
But, checking off tasks on a master onboarding checklist also can be part of a group effort. Informal welcome committees of team members who play minor roles during a new hire's first weeks and months can make all the difference, she said.
“There are people within the organization who would be thrilled to be part of the onboarding program in some small way,” Missele pointed out. “They can show up to a breakfast or be part of a panel. You can lean on your employees who care and want to be there and make a good impression and really be helpful for the new hire.”
Creating an onboarding checklist and implementing the program requires time and effort. But this organized approach will benefit your new employees, ensuring their smooth transition into your organization, and it will be a boon for your business as you build on the excitement of fully engaged new hires.
Ready to evaluate your new hires’ onboarding experience? Download Lattice’s 30-60-90 onboarding survey template and find out how well your onboarding strategies are working.