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Employee Onboarding Best Practices that Increase Engagement & Retention

In today’s competitive labor market, companies need to go above and beyond to create an employee experience that attracts, engages, and retains talent. A solid and consistent onboarding process is a crucial part of that experience.

There are many benefits of onboarding employees the right way, from increased productivity and retention to easier talent attraction and a stronger company culture. Take your early employee experience to the next level with these employee onboarding best practices.


Just as there are steps that must be taken in the hiring process prior to the first interview that play a part in making a good hiring choice, there are steps that must be taken before the new hire’s first day that play a part in creating a good onboarding experience.

1. Begin Building a Relationship

Send an acceptance letter or email confirming your offer, their acceptance, and the start date. This communication doesn’t have to be confined to the formal details of the work relationship. Keep in mind this is the early stages of a professional relationship. Focus on the human aspect of the workplace and compose this as more of a welcome letter. Let the new hire know you are looking forward to working with them and having them be part of the team.

2. Communicate that Your Focus is Setting Them Up for Success

Make sure their office space, computer/laptop, hardware equipment, software apps, security logins, access keys, etc. are set up and ready for them on day one. It’s demoralizing to arrive on the first day only to find that these things are not in place, and it may leave the employee feeling that they are not expected to be productive right away. Worse, it can convey the impression that the company doesn’t have things together, is disorganized, or even worse, doesn’t consider the new hire important to the company.

3. Encourage the New Employee to Feel Part of the Team

Have ready and provide any company logo shirts, uniforms, tools, and equipment specific to the role. Make them feel welcome and part of the team on day one so they fit in right from the start.

4. Get the Paperwork Out of the Way Quickly

Get as much paperwork out of the way before day one. Items such as the employment contract; company policies that require acknowledgment; payroll and banking forms; and visa and work requirements. An electronic acceptance process for this part of the onboarding process is an excellent way of expediting these necessities while also communicating that are company is up to date with technology.

5. Prepare the Team and Company Leaders

Send an email to let employees know who is starting and when. Especially important is the team the new hire will be joining, as well as others who will work with them and/or be a resource for them (IT, Team Leaders, etc.). These people will play a part in the new hire’s support and engagement. Be clear with everyone what the new hire’s role is and how they will support certain business goals and outcomes. Be clear about expectations for the team and other company leaders and encourage all involved to embrace, support, and build rapport so that the new hire will feel welcomed and supported.

Additionally, one of the top reasons employees feel engaged is by feeling like they bring value to the organization and to their teammates. If team leaders quickly identify a goal and/or outcome for the new employee to help, especially with a deadline, this will help establish the new hire as a valuable and productive member of their team. Don’t overwhelm them with everything at once, but think in terms of helping the employee to develop a sense of mission and purpose sooner rather than later.


The typical onboarding that begins on day one often leaves a lot to be desired. Just as we know the first 90 days of a new client experience is critical to retaining that client, so too is the case with new employees.

With this mind, these six onboarding steps focus on setting clear expectations, building rapport and trust, and establishing the norms of communication and the company’s culture.

1. Design a Two-Part, 90-day Onboarding Plan

Part I: Focus on a plan that takes into the account the core motivations of the new hire. If you use an emotional intelligence assessment such as the ZERORISK Hiring System, you can objectively identify these core motivations and incorporate them into the 90-day onboarding plan.

For example, if the new hire has a high score in Intuition & Empathy on the ZERORISK Emotional Intelligence Assessment, it is very important during the first week to personally introduce the new hire to their teammates, the key leaders in the organization, and any key vendor and/or customer relationships specific to their role. High-empathy employees have a strong motivation to connect personally. If the opportunity to make these personal connections is not available early on in the onboarding process, you may leave the employee somewhat demotivated.

Another example is in the case of a new hire who has a Decisiveness score on the ZERORISK Hiring Assessment below six. In that case, it is very important to document and discuss with the new hire the goals and expectations that are most important to their direct manager early on. Without this clarity, you may cause them unnecessary anxiety.

Part II: Focus on versions of the 90-day plan specific to different types of workers, such as virtual/remote hires, employees working in different branches, internal hires versus external hires, and specific roles. If your company has multiple locations, your corporate headquarters may hire enough people to hold a live new hire orientation with company leadership, while satellite offices may use video instead.

With the increase in remote hires the last couple of years, you will need a different onboarding process to meet their needs. This may include virtual introductions with the rest of their team and the company leaders.

Example of a General 90-Day Onboarding Plan

  1. Have a thoughtfully planned welcome and introduce the employee to teammates and leaders on day one.

  2. Introduce the employee to their office space on day one.

  3. Review and discuss the job description and organizational chart on day one.

  4. Assign a “buddy” on day one (see below for more detail).

  5. The manager should meet with the new hire to discuss overall expectations related to the team, department, company, and culture at the end of week one. This is a two-way conversation so that questions can be answered and clear expectations established, at least at a high level.

  6. By the end of week one, communicate a couple of outcomes for the new hire to work on. Get them accustomed to working with the others on their team sooner rather than later.

  7. During weeks two and three, focus on the new hire’s training for their role, arrange outcomes they can achieve, and continue to pay close attention to the relationships they need to be building.

  8. At the end of the first 30-days, the manager should meet with the new employee to discuss how the first 30-days went and to begin establishing consistent one-to-one meetings. I recommend managers have consistent one-to-ones with their direct reports at least monthly.

  9. At the end of the first 60-days, arrange an informal review with the new hire. Give them input on work aspects such as their initiative, timeliness and the quality of their work, as well as things that would be beneficial to their growth and development. Also provide feedback on how they are fitting into the culture, and their rapport and engagement with their teammates, manager, company employees, customers, and others with whom they interact.

  10. At the end of first 90-days you should have enough data to document and set very clear expectations. Items to be communicated are as follows:

    1. Key performance indicators that are actionable, observable, and measurable.

    2. Actions, behaviors, and the frequency of each that you observe the employee performing that leads to achieving the desired outcomes.

2. Team Introduction & Early Involvement

Communication from the direct manager is a very important aspect of the new hire experience. The new hire’s teammates need to be made aware of who their new teammate is and what their role will be. It’s important to begin building rapport and make the new hire feel special and welcome right from the start. For example, make sure someone walks them around to meet and greet the team.

Make sure the key leaders in the company are introduced to the new hire as well, especially if they will be working with the employee or would otherwise benefit from building rapport sooner rather than later. Additionally, make sure the president and/or CEO is personally introduced to the new hire on day one or two if possible.

It’s also recommended that, on the first day, the direct manager take the new hire to lunch to begin building that key relationship. If this is not possible, then try and have food brought in for the team to have a lunch together and begin building relationships.

I also believe it’s key to make the new hire feel like they are bringing value as early as possible. An HR leader recently told me that one of their new hires mentioned that they felt like they weren’t needed because they didn’t see anything that they could accomplish during their first couple of weeks. They were constantly told that they needed to get trained on everything first, but this delay in bringing value was actually stressful for the new hire.

3. Assign a Team “Buddy”

Consider assigning a buddy to help the new hire learn about the company, the culture, and their specific team. This provides an important peer connection for asking questions and getting settled in. I recommend this buddy be a teammate.

4. Establish Consistent 1-2-1’s

I highly recommend communicating to the direct manager the expectation of having a consistent and regular one-to-one meeting with their employees. This might be a brief meeting weekly, bi-weekly, or once a month. These one-to-ones are essentially a brief, informal review and catch-up. I typically recommend the direct report have the first half of this 20-30-minute meeting to discuss anything that’s on their mind and/or to give feedback on how things are going for them. The second half is for the leader to give feedback on how things are going from their perspective.

Setting this expectation right from the start sets up consistent dialogue and can help with building trust.

5. Set Clear Expectations and Goals

It’s vital to establish clear goals and expectations from the beginning. Now that we’ve outlined the key steps to address for pre-boarding and initial onboarding, it is time to establish clear expectations and meaningful goals.

As noted above in the 90-day onboarding plan, you’ll want to document and communicate the specific goals and KPIs expected of the new employee. You may begin working on, and communicating some of this, within the first 60-days. It’s recommended that this be addressed and documented by the 90-day mark.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to setting clear expectations that are actionable, observable, and measurable, while also being realistic.

6. Get Feedback from New Hires

Always ask new employees for their input throughout the onboarding process. Their thoughts and ideas can provide insight into whether your efforts are effective and whether there are any gaps or areas for improvement. It’s important to ask for feedback both during the initial onboarding as well as a few weeks and months into the new hire’s employment. Because they’re often inundated with information during the first days, it can take time for them to recognize whether anything is missing.

By continually striving to improve and update your onboarding efforts, you can ensure you’re covering all the necessary information efficiently and effectively. And by following these onboarding best practices, you can make sure each new hire is prepared to succeed. Pay attention to this part of your employee experience and always look for ways to improve this process.


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