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New Employee Onboarding Guide


What's the secret to producing and retaining all-star employees? It starts with onboarding. 


There's a common misconception that small businesses don't have the time and resources to develop and implement an onboarding process— but we're here to tell you that's not true. 


Don't overcomplicate it. Follow this guide to create a successful onboarding experience that is more than worth its ROI.


What is the purpose of employee onboarding?

Onboarding an employee used to be a fairly simple process focused on paperwork and on-the-job training. In today’s working world, onboarding carries a lot more weight and purpose than before. 


The purpose of onboarding, as we know it today, is to collect the information you need to legally hire someone, communicate expectations about the company and position, and create an impactful experience that makes a new hire feel welcome and confident in carrying out their employment.


As an employer, you are essentially laying down the foundation for a strong employment lifecycle. 


What are the benefits of a successful onboarding process?

Onboarding directly affects attracting and retaining employees and contributes to morale and productivity throughout their time at the company. When your onboarding process is effective, you can see the benefits almost immediately. 


Have you ever hired someone only to have them quit shortly after? Sadly, it’s extremely common. Multiple studies have demonstrated that about 30% of new hires quit within the first six months of employment. BambooHR recently surveyed 1,000 U.S. workers and found that 31% of people have left a job within the first six months, with 68% leaving within three months.  


On the bright side, research conducted by Glassdoor found that exceptional employee onboarding can improve retention by 82% and productivity by 70%.


So what are the benefits of a successful onboarding process? To sum it up: 

  • More applicants to choose from
  • Longer employment terms
  • Engaged & productive employees
  • Reputation as a desirable place to work

How to onboard a new employee

Now that we’re clear on the “what” and the “why” of onboarding let’s get to what you are really here for, the “how.”


“How” to onboard a new hire is a broad concept. There are countless ways to go about it, but in this case, we will focus on the most effective way to onboard someone— which means ditching the paper and pens.


[FEATURED RESOURCE] Download the New Employee Onboarding Checklist here.>>


Step 1) Collect new hire forms and details

Some companies wait until the first day to start the onboarding process— we don’t advise that. Try to get the most mundane tasks out of the way, so your new hire can hit the ground running on the first day instead of sitting in a corner filling out paperwork. 


Who doesn’t remember awkwardly sitting in the lobby/dining room/waiting area for someone to get you on the first day? Or sitting in silence with a new superior staring at you while you try to remember how to fill out a W-4? 


Talk about a buzzkill— but the good news is there’s a better way.


You can utilize various technologies to complete early onboarding tasks before your new hires officially start. You can begin by checking with your current payroll provider for onboarding tools available or sign up for Symply’s employee onboarding software entirely for free


Regardless of how you capture new hire information, these are the essential items you will need: 


What you need to collect from a new hire

  • First and last name
  • Social Security Number
  • Date of birth
  • Home address
  • Bank account information for direct deposit
  • Email address 
  • Emergency contact information
  • Signed and completed copy of Form I9
  • Signed and completed copy Form W4


What you need to complete on your own

  • Determine compensation 
  • Select work location
  • Verify personal details
  • Verify banking details
  • File a new hire report with the state
  • Distribute employee handbook, and other company required documents
  • Order a background check


Step 2) Communicate company values and expectations

Your employee handbook should include some documentation of company values and expectations, but we recommend that you take time to communicate these details firsthand as well.


Since you got the required paperwork out of the way, kick off the first day by reviewing company policies and answering any questions your new hire might have. Creating an open conversation around policies and expectations can encourage employees to speak up where they may not have otherwise. Asking questions takes courage and can be intimidating for a new employee, so it’s important to provide a safe space for clarification.


You can make your new hires feel more comfortable by probing questions around policies that are known to be confusing or by offering more helpful resources. 


Setting crystal clear expectations will save you time and money in the long run. A common reason employees leave within the first six months is due to misconceptions about the position.


Step 3) Introductions 

Connect your new hire with their supervisor as soon as possible. 


This is easy in a smaller company with less hierarchy, but companies with an official HR department or highly involved owner typically take longer to make the hand-off. New hires want to experience the true nature of their working environment, which can only be done with involvement from their manager. 


As soon as you get past the initial forms, company policies, and values, introduce your new hire to their manager and team.


Step 4) Assign a buddy or mentor

Employees want to feel engaged with the company and their position as soon as possible. 


The best way to help a new hire settle in is to match them up with someone else in the company. Look for employees who embody the company culture and values to show new people the ropes. A buddy should be able to answer questions or point the new hire in the right direction while making them feel comfortable and welcome within the company. 


According to HCI, 87% of companies that assign a buddy during onboarding claim that it effectively boosts employee proficiency.


Ideally, a buddy is someone from the same team or department, but if not, that’s okay too. Small businesses often overlook the buddy system if they have one-person departments, which leads to siloes. Implementing a buddy program in your onboarding process can help prevent employee turnover due to feelings of neglect. 


Step 5) On the job training

Better training makes employees feel confident and engaged in their position. Start training right away.  Let your new hire get their “hands dirty” on the first day. It could be virtually anything that mildly relates to their position. 


Here are a few examples:

  • Quick-service restaurant employee: Build your own burger 
  • Marketing coordinator: Write a blog post about your first day 
  • Full-service restaurant server: Read the daily specials to guests
  • Sales representative: Pitch a product in the office to a coworker


Small businesses typically don’t have the luxury of mock environments for training, but that shouldn’t hold you back from implementing hands-on experience. It just means you have to be creative and a little scrappy. Lean on other employees, managers, stakeholders, and potentially current customers to emulate real-world scenarios, so your new hire can get all the practice they need.   


Step 6) Review and check-in

Keep the momentum going in the first several weeks with regular check-ins. If your onboarding process is effective, you should be able to tell by this point. 


As a leader, it’s your role to initiate the conversation and encourage an open dialogue. Don’t settle for questions with one-word answers like “How are things going?”


Try some of these open-ended questions instead:

  • “What is your favorite thing you’ve worked on so far, and why?”
  • “What was your favorite day since you started working here, and what made it special?”
  • “If you could make x better, how would you do it differently?”


If your onboarding process is successful, new hires will better understand the company and their role as time goes on. If your new hire can’t name five people in the company after the first week, there’s something wrong. 


Ready to try out Symply's free onboarding tool? Sign up here and start using  the tool today >>