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Program Best Practices

Best Practices for Employee Onboarding

What’s our #1 wish for employees? For them to be fully involved and enthusiastic about their work —  you know, those go-getters who help further your organization's objectives, output, and reputation.

As you’ve probably read, only 32% of U.S. employees are engaged at work — meaning optimum performance and profitability of the other 68% is escaping most businesses. For the majority of U.S. companies that are missing out on the benefits of a fully-engaged workforce, your first place to start is simple - the moment they walk through your doors on their first day.  Otherwise known as Employee Onboarding — and the first stage of the active employee lifecycle.

It all starts with crafting a strategic employee onboarding program — one that goes beyond just accommodating new hires with benefits, paperwork, and workstation set-up. To effectively accelerate new hires to full productivity, you’ll also need to focus on employee engagement and experience when designing your employee onboarding program.

Check out these quick best practices for an engaging employee onboarding experience, beginning with their first day:

1) Plan for an Engaging First Day

The first day sets the stage. When welcoming new hires to your team, work environment, and immersing them in your company culture, there are strategic ways to set them up for early and ongoing success.

Offer a welcome gift to show you’re happy they’ve joined the team. Instead of the stale welcome balloon or coffee mug, get creative with first day gifts.

  • Has your new hire just moved to town? Gift them with a local food or bicycle tour.
  • Is your new hire a wellness-enthusiast? Gift them with rooftop yoga lessons or stand up paddle boarding. To make a first day gift truly special, make it a memorable, personal, shareable moment with experiential gifts for employees.

Plan a first day lunch. This will helpnew hires feel less like interviewees and more like team members.

  • Gather just 3-4 team members to be a new hire’s ‘first day lunch buddies.’ Too many people can detract from providing new hires with the introductions, information, and personal connection they need.

Ensure their desks are fully set up and ready to go, with a bit of customization.

  • Make new hires feel like their arrival is important and planned for by setting up their workstations before day one. Have their computer, login details, phone, and any other necessities ready to go from the moment they sit down.
  • In Ron Friedman’s The Best Place To Work, we learned that organizations that encourage employees to customize their workspaces tend to have happier teams. That’s not all — researchers also measured a 32% increase in performance among employees who were allowed to customize their offices compared to those who were not. To add a touch of customization, consider reaching out during pre-boarding to ask their preferred computer configuration, type of desk chair, or favorite plant. This makes for a warm, personalized welcome.

2) Build Relationships with Social Onboarding

Social onboarding goes beyond first day introductions. For an engaging experience, the entire organization must play their role to help new hires build relationships that will contribute to their employee engagement.

Implement a Buddy Program. Pair new hires with a volunteer who’s passionate about welcoming new team members. The core purpose of a Buddy Program is engagement, assimilation, and friendship. Buddies should share useful information to help with a new hire’s cultural acclimation, such as:

  • The best nearby cafe or happy hours
  • Great lunch spots
  • The nearest pharmacy
  • Weekend access hours

See more best practices for Buddy Programs online here

Encourage team building during Employee Onboarding to promote collaboration and productivity.  For example:

  • Frame strategy, planning and ideation sessions as “Brainstorm Meetings,” so that they feel more open and informal, and allowing new hires to grow more comfortable contributing their ideas in a relaxed environment.
  • Urge new hires to contribute to team conversations, such as posting daily goals or contributions in a dedicated Slack channel.


Keep employee profiles in a central onboarding portal. Your staff can familiarize themselves with new hires and the new hires will have a directory of reference for those they’re meeting along the way. Some things to include in an employee profile:

  • Headshot
  • Professional Title
  • Favorite book/superhero/food/other fun fact aligned with your culture or values
  • Interesting information, such as hobbies or personal ambitions
  • Undergrad or grad schools
  • Hometown

3) Communicate your Mission, Vision, and Values

Total employee engagement is a product of alignment with your company’s mission, vision, and values. Before you can work towards alignment, you first need to paint a picture that shows new hires what these elements look like. Begin communicating your mission, vision, and values as soon as a new hire joins the team.

Teach them about your company’s history. Not by throwing dates and numbers at them, but by making it personal through storytelling — the goal is to make employees feel like a part of something bigger.

  • Engaging videos, welcome gifts, and personal conversations can help tell the story of your organization’s history — How did the company get its name? What’s an interesting story from the founders’ start-up experience? What was the first office like? First customer like? How did the company hustle to get where it is today?


Familiarize them with your product. Whether that’s navigating around your business’ online platform, wearing your brand’s clothing, or drinking your most popular brew — your new hires can’t become engaged employees before getting to know your product first-hand. For example:

  • Invite them to participate in User Testing so they can have a peek into what’s next for product development.  
  • Alternatively, have them rotate time through customer service channels or community boards. This allows them to interact 1:1 with your customers, understand their challenges, needs, and aha moments (hopefully more positive than negative!)


Identify and communicate your core values, then empower new hires to act on them.  

  • Lead by example — upper management should communicate and act on the company’s core values so that new hires can learn through observation.
  • Empower employees — cut back on handbooks and policy manuals, and instead focus on educating new hires on company values. Empower new hires to make decisions based on those values, rather than referring to a page in a dated policy manual.
  • Reward values-based behaviors — Company-wide employee recognition programs tied to employees displaying the company’s core values increase happiness at work. Whether peer- or manager-nominated, consider monthly or ad hoc opportunities to encourage and incentivize employees who bring your core values to life in a big way.

4) Leverage Technology to Optimize Engagement

With today’s available resources, it’s important to recognize and leverage technology that can optimize employee engagement. Here are a few ways to introduce technology into the Employee Onboarding process:

  • Leverage collaboration tools, like Google Docs for file sharing, Basecamp for project management, and Slack for shared whiteboards and community conversation.
  • Engagement survey and analysis tools, such as Culture Amp, Reflektive or Officevibe, to monitor engagement levels in real-time and understand how to take action.
  • Purpose-built onboarding software, such as Sapling, to streamline the new hire transition and manage the employee experience.
  • Employee recognition vendors like Blueboard, that enable you to send meaningful employee rewards with just one click


By building an engaging onboarding experience, you’re setting up new hires to move forward as fully engaged employees — increasing retention, enhancing company culture, and advancing your overall business outcomes.

Author Bio:

Jeni Fahy is a Content Specialist at Sapling, a culture-first organization helping People Ops leaders deliver employee onboarding programs with consistency, visibility, and analytics. If you’re interested in enhancing your employee experience with strategic employee onboarding, schedule a demo with the Sapling team.

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