The experience new employees have in the first days and weeks on the job is critical to helping them fit in and become productive as soon as possible. The onboarding process, as it’s now called, is a far cry from the orientation of old. And it’s not just for corporations.

Unlike orientation, onboarding is not a stand-alone event but part of a more comprehensive process. It's an opportunity for small and midsize businesses to do more to ensure new employees can hit the ground running and, especially important for your retention efforts, become satisfied members of the team.

The employee onboarding process goes beyond mere practicality. It covers matters ranging from the company’s strategic objectives and mentoring programs to the workplace culture. Here are some practical steps managers can take to improve a new employee's odds of success.

Easing first-day anxieties

Even though new employees have likely been on your company premises previously during the interview phase, their experiences on the first day of work leave a lasting impression. You need to offer a first-day welcome to begin the process of making them feel at home.

  • Alert the receptionist that a new employee will be there on a certain day and time and make sure this person greets the newcomer warmly and wastes no time informing you that they have arrived.
  • Arrange for someone (you, if possible) to personally escort the new hire to his workstation or office.
  • Personally introduce the newcomer to other members of the working team.
  • At some point during the day, meet with the employee to take up where the last interview left off. Let her know how glad you are to have her on board and that you will provide a comprehensive introduction to the company and the job within the next few days.

Onboarding during the first week

Go over the basics about your company. It’s fine if some of it was covered in the interview; the new employee will appreciate a review.

  • Your company's basic products or services
  • Size and general organization of the company
  • An overview of your industry and where your business fits into the overall picture (including your chief competition)
  • Your company's mission statement and values
  • Company goals and strategic objectives
  • Your workplace culture
  • Names and phone numbers of people to contact in the event of questions or emergencies
  • How your mentoring program works, if you have one 

Taking the onboarding process through the second week and beyond

A key part of the employee onboarding process is early follow-up.

  • You or supervising managers should meet with employees at predetermined points: two weeks after the first day on the job, a month after, two months after — or at intervals that work best for each job's complexity and changeability.
  • At the meeting, ask new team members how things are going for them. How well do they understand the business and their roles? Do they have any questions that have not been answered?
  • Inquire especially as to the value of training programs. Are they helpful? Do they address the right areas? Are they worth the time being spent on them? What future developmental experiences would employees like to see?

These follow-up meetings are also good times to hear employees’ assessment of the onboarding process thus far.

Employees form their opinions early about whether a role is consistent with their career plans and day-to-day satisfaction. If you do it right, onboarding can reduce turnover in your organization.