What is employee onboarding?

Why companies are rethinking—and digitizing—how to welcome new hires


As described by Sapling HR, employee onboarding is the process organizations use to introduce new hires to their role at an organization as well as the organization’s culture, environment, and values. The employee onboarding process should be:

  • Standardized so that all team members share a common experience
  • Tailored for role-specificity to provide greater depth of content for individual roles and processes
  • Include team building/welcome activities to support a new hire’s introduction to their teams and the organization as a whole.

While all organizations approach onboarding differently, there are some key components that should be included in the process to set both the employee and the management up for success when onboarding new employees:

  • Introduction to roles and responsibilities, team members, and managers
  • Access to hardware and software necessary for the role (software logins, email accounts, etc.)
  • Fulfillment of necessary paperwork and materials like benefits enrollment and payroll
  • Understanding of the organization’s culture and mission
  • Provide an overview of professional development/career growth opportunities
  • Introduction to team building and other social components of the organization, if applicable

1. The onboarding process

Modern onboarding entails far more than traditional employee “orientation.” Preboarding, for example, allows companies to establish a personal connection with an incoming employee between the job offer and start date, as well as get a jump on policy sharing and paperwork that might otherwise clutter their first week.

Activities and information sharing on Day One remain central to the onboarding experience. The key is ensuring that everything an incoming employee needs is ready for them, but that the volume of new information doesn’t feel like drinking from a firehose.

Viewed holistically, the onboarding process extends for months:

  • Team activities months after a start date help solidify connections to company culture.
  • Mentoring and evaluative check-ins help identify employees who aren’t transitioning well and may be flight risks.

2. Employee onboarding challenges

The employee onboarding process can be fraught with challenges. The job market is tight and fluid, and employees are leaving new jobs earlier and earlier if their initial experiences are poor. Recruiting talent is expensive—data collected by SaplingHR shows that for executives, it’s upwards of 200% of salary.

Mass adoption of digital and mobile technologies have shifted workers’ expectations. Consumerized, customer-focused experiences are everywhere, and research from PeakOn suggests that digital natives don’t understand why the workplace shouldn’t offer the same experiences.

Many HR departments are poorly equipped to create the arrival experiences employees crave. Onboarding tasks span multiple departments, including HR, IT, facilities, and legal. Manual processes create the risk of costly mistakes. HR teams often lack the benchmarking data to help them chart a measurable path to process improvement.

3. The case for digital onboarding

Digital workflows are improving the onboarding experience at many companies. Companies that digitize key onboarding processes can realize huge benefits. Onboarding tasks can be collected in a single self-service portal. Incoming employees and their managers can complete multiple onboarding tasks by swiping their way through mobile apps.

Paper checklists and email chains are replaced by an automated cadence of triggers and status alerts. As a result, HR pros spend less time on frustrating manual processes, freeing up time for more strategic and creative work.

Automation also creates opportunities to set benchmarks, capture data, and measure performance, allowing for iterative improvements to processes and empowering supervisors to act when employees show signs of churning. The bottom line is not just an onboarding process that employees and managers are happy with, but one that strengthens teams by prolonging the tenure of key employees.

4. Employee onboarding automation

Employee onboarding automation continues the important work of digital onboarding by providing greater flexibility for HR teams and managers to focus on the cultural and role-related fit for new hires. Demonstrated by research from a 2018 Jobvite study, automating employee onboarding processes has many benefits, from increasing employee retention, to improving hiring cost efficiencies across the board – leading to increased ROI.

Automating the employee onboarding process also helps ensure that all employees experience a uniform, consistent onboarding process — one that sets them up to be as successful as possible in their new roles.