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Please note that this article is intended for educational purposes only and should not be deemed to be or used as legal, employment, or tax advice. For guidance or advice specific to your business, consult with a qualified professional.
Employee onboarding sets the stage for your new hire’s entire experience with your business. Research from O.C. Tanner found that 20% of employee turnover happens in the first 45 days, but 69% of people are likely to stay for at least three years after going through a positive onboarding experience. A structured and thoughtful onboarding program can help you increase the odds that your talented new hires will make an impact at your business.
At the end of onboarding, new hires should have a deep understanding of your policies and processes and feel connected with the rest of the team. When that happens, it not only increases retention, productivity, and happiness, but also the likelihood that this person will be successful in their role.
Employee onboarding checklist
An employee onboarding checklist can typically be broken out into tasks related to administration, training, and building connections. Whether you’re onboarding employees in person, virtually, or a mix of both, this onboarding checklist can help you ensure a successful start (and a bright future) for your newest team members.
The tasks in this section are crucial, whether you’re hiring permanent employees or temporary workers, like seasonal employees. Before diving in, give your new hire a warm welcome so they can feel comfortable as they get oriented.
Add your employee to internal systems
One of the first steps to take when onboarding employees is adding them to your internal systems and tools. This could include the tools below and others unique to your business that your employees use frequently:
- Payroll software
- POS system
- Shift scheduling software
- Email lists
- Other communication tools, like Slack
Some of these tools, like your payroll software, will also help you complete the new-hire paperwork you’re required to collect.
If your new hires need access to your POS system to clock in and out or assist customers, make sure they’re added before the first day, so you can kick off training and other onboarding activities without skipping a beat.
Complete new hire paperwork
When hiring employees, you’ll need to take care of some paperwork first, in addition to reporting your new hire to your state labor department. On the first day, or beforehand, new hires need to send certain information your way — along with any other forms you need that are tailored to your business, like an NDA — including:
- Form I-9, along with supporting documents, like a valid ID
- Form W-9 for independent contractors, Form W-4 for employees
- Direct deposit information
- Employee benefits information, if applicable
You won’t need to send Form I-9 to the IRS, but you’ll have to store it for three years from the date of hire or for a year after your employee leaves, whichever is longer. Learn more about Form I-9 requirements from the USCIS.
Some payroll providers enable new hires to fill out tax forms and direct deposit information on their own, making it easier on you so you don’t have to collect the information.
Share your employee handbook
Your employee handbook is like an operating manual for your business, and it includes key details like company values, policies, codes of conduct, and information about employee benefits. Once your new employee joins, make sure you send them a copy of the handbook so they know about the policies and procedures in place.
It can also be an opportunity to share more about your company history and mission, which is important in helping your team feel connected to the work they do. Research from Gallup found that a 10% rise in employees’ connection with their workplace’s mission leads to an 8.1% decrease in turnover and 4.4% increase in profitability.
You don’t have to require your employees to sign your handbook, but according to SHRM, it’s a best practice to acknowledge that they’ve read the material when they first join and whenever it gets updated.
Provide the tools they need
Have a laptop, phone, or any other equipment your new employees need prepared right when they start, whether you give it to them in person or send it to their homes.
If your employees are working remotely, a laptop is essential to have before their first day, so they have what they need to start communicating with the team and begin the onboarding process.
Employee training can help your new hire start to sink their teeth into the role and build relationships with other team members. Training can cover your business and company culture, your policies and procedures, and how to do the job at hand, including training on how to use the necessary tools. Customize your training program based on the experience your new hire brings to the role.
Train your new employee on specific tools
Whether your new hire is using a POS system or another tool to ring up customers, it’s important that they know how to operate it. For instance, if it’s unclear on how to use your POS from start to finish, that could lead to inaccurate sales data and inventory issues down the line.
Include training on other devices they may use for their role, like operating a credit card terminal if they’re taking payments, how to read your kitchen display system if they’re preparing orders, or how to use a professional camera if they’re creating social media content.
Start a shadowing program
Shadowing other team members can help speed up the time it takes for new hires to get acclimated, and it also helps people feel more comfortable with the team they’re going to work with.
For instance, if you run a restaurant, you may have your new hire learn from an existing staff member about how to explain the menu to diners. If you own a home repair business, you might have them tag along on a new job. Watching how other employees use your systems is also important, so your new hires use the shadowing experience to reinforce other training they receive on the tools needed to do their jobs.
Send a reference guide
Chances are, many new hires have the same questions. Create a reference doc on everything from the best lunch spots to where to find the stash of extra PPE. A map of your store, restaurant, or office can also help them feel at ease right away.
As part of the guide, provide a list of the people your new employees will interact with regularly as well as other stakeholders. This serves as a quick “who’s who” and lets them put faces to names, including people who will be valuable resources for cultural know-how. Then, assign them to go and meet each person with a general goal they should get out of the conversation so they know what to discuss.
You can also send questions to your internal team so they can use the meetings more efficiently and get to know their new teammate.
Write out role-specific goals
Be upfront about expectations for your new employees. They should understand what their responsibilities and initial goals are.
It could be as simple as creating a version of an onboarding checklist for them, listing out the tasks they need to complete during their first 30 days, more basic parts of the job as they get situated for the first 60 days, and then more in-depth knowledge of the role as they get to 90 days. Putting it all on the table makes it clear what your employees should be spending their time on.
Onboarding may lack the feeling of connection if your team isn’t fully in person, which is why it’s important to build time and space for new hires to meet with their team and manager throughout the process.
Connect new hires with an onboarding buddy
Serendipitous meetings might not happen if your business is remote, has staggered shifts, or people are social distancing. To combat this reality, give new employees someone to turn to so they can understand more about the role and what the culture is like at your business.
This person can be your new hire’s point person, and depending on the role, you may want to give your new hire two onboarding buddies — one to help the person get situated and someone who knows the ins and outs of the role when they shadow them. During the first week, ask the onboarding buddy to schedule time with your new hire so they can start building their relationship.
The more onboarding buddies meet with new hires, the more likely new hires feel like they’re becoming productive in their new jobs. Fifty-six percent of new employees who participated in Microsoft’s onboarding program and met with their buddies at least once in the first three months felt more productive, and the number rose to 97% if they met with their buddies more than eight times.
Set up regular check-ins
Starting a new role can be both exciting and anxiety-inducing, so make sure your new hire’s manager is available to make them feel at ease. This is even more important if part or all of your onboarding is done remotely.
Carve out time to connect with your new hire on the first day and at the end of the first week to reflect, and ensure they have a schedule that shows them where to go during that time. After the first week, schedule regular check-ins so they know they have their manager’s support as they continue to get immersed in the company.
While employee onboarding may happen in different places, the framework for what makes it effective hasn’t changed. Using tools to help you streamline the onboarding process will allow you and your new hire to spend more time on connecting, leading to a more fulfilling experience on your team.