Employee Onboarding

From what it is to how it works, find out everything employers need to know about the employee onboarding process. You will learn about onboarding best practices, how a good onboarding process can improve employee retention, important onboarding metrics and KPIs your company should be tracking, and how HR can maintain and ensure onboarding compliance for new hires.

Why is the Onboarding Experience So Important?

Onboarding is the first interaction a new hire has with their employer as an official employee. Much like the first impression with a new acquaintance, this initial interaction lays the groundwork for how an employee perceives the company culture.

If an employee has a negative onboarding experience, that negativity will likely color the new hire’s perception of the organization and could potentially have an adverse impact on employee engagement. Inversely, a positive onboarding experience has the potential to lay the groundwork for a positive relationship between employer and employee.

What is Employee Onboarding?

Employee Onboarding is the integration of a new employee into an organization by providing the necessary knowledge, skills, and behaviors to be successful in the role.

The onboarding process usually starts with a background check and involves everything from filling out paperwork, meeting team members and other co-workers, and understanding the company culture.

Who is Responsible for Onboarding?

Ideally, onboarding should be a shared responsibility between HR professionals and a company’s management and leadership teams, with no single party bearing sole responsibility.

To ensure onboarding success, the entire organization should be on the same page and dedicated to creating an excellent new hire experience. With this said, there are some parts of the onboarding process that HR can own. They include:


The new hire experience should be the same for all employees. If HR creates standardized onboarding templates for what the onboarding program should look like, they can be sure that all employees are receiving a consistent experience, even if they’re not the ones executing each step of the process.

Teaching Best Practices to Managers

It’s HR’s responsibility to be up-to-date on all onboarding best practices and to effectively communicate them to everyone who is involved in the process.

Creating and Executing an Onboarding Checklist

Part of standardization includes creating a good onboarding checklist and acting as quality assurance to ensure that the checklist is being followed correctly.

Compiling and Maintaining a Culture Guide

All employees should have access to a Culture Guide or employee handbook that details the processes and procedures at your organization. Maintained by HR, a Culture Guide is like an enhanced employee handbook. It codifies everything from the company’s vision and mission to how employees should send emails and how they can view their paychecks.

Verifying Documents and Ensuring Compliance

It also falls on HR to verify all new hire documents, ensure compliance, and make sure all forms and types of identification are securely stored.

How Onboarding Impacts Employee Retention

First Impressions Drive Employee Turnover

According to SHRM, employee turnover can be as high as 50% in the first 18 months of employment. A Gallup poll found that an employee’s perception of an organization begins with the individual’s very first interactions with the company, including the sourcing, recruiting, and onboarding processes. Unfortunately, Gallup also found just 12% of employees feel their organization does a great job onboarding new employees.

For a growing business, onboarding new hires is a big responsibility. How well an organization onboards employees plays a key role in its employee retention efforts.

Put another way, the most effective onboarding programs are built with retention as an explicit end goal. But what exactly does that look like in practice?

Why Employers Should Onboard New Employees with Retention in Mind

Ideally, an onboarding process should so thoroughly integrate a new hire into a company and prepare them for success that the employee decides to stick around for the long haul. To ensure an onboarding program achieves this, HR professionals should start by drafting a thorough onboarding checklist that covers every task involved in bringing on and ramping up a new hire.

What is an Employee Onboarding Checklist?

A new employee onboarding checklist should include both items that need to be accomplished before the employee’s first day and tasks that will happen after the hire’s official start date.

Crafting and following a comprehensive onboarding checklist ensures a consistent, streamlined approach to onboarding for each new hire. It also allows HR pros to better track the work and time associated with bringing on new employees after they accept their offer letter. This data gives the company an easier way to identify and address inefficiencies in existing tactics

How to Onboard a New Employee

Crafting and following a comprehensive onboarding checklist ensures a consistent, streamlined process for each new hire. It also allows HR pros to better track the work and time associated with bringing on new employees. From step-by-step instructions to HRIS streamlining capabilities, find out what HR teams need to include in new hire onboarding checklists.

1. Use Employee Onboarding Software

As a cost-effective practice, employers must learn to optimize employee onboarding. The first step to creating an efficient onboarding procedure is to take onboarding online with a human resources information system (HRIS).

By taking onboarding online, HR and hiring managers can eliminate the need for paperwork. As a result, every participant can decrease the time it takes to onboard a new hire. Online onboarding also allows HR to keep a record of all new hire documents without any added steps.

2. Prepare an Onboarding Checklist

An onboarding checklist is a set of standardized procedures that employers use to introduce new hires to the necessary knowledge, skills, and behaviors needed to be successful in a given role.

This retention-focused approach to onboarding allows HR pros to better track the work and time associated with bringing on new employees, which gives organizations an easier way to identify and address inefficiencies in existing onboarding processes.

The best onboarding checklist include the following components:

  1. Legal and Employment Paperwork
  2. Technology Instructions
  3. An Introduction to Company Culture
  4. Other Practical Needs Employees Need to Know

Review this blog to learn more about how to create an onboarding checklist.

3. Begin Onboarding Before Day 1

Onboarding online and before day one benefits both the administrator and the employee. The employee benefits because they don’t have to worry about the stress of onboarding paperwork on their first day. The administrator benefits because the employee can start learning their position sooner, which ultimately decreases time to full productivity.

4. Create, Implement, and Share a Culture Guide

In the onboarding process, employees should review and acknowledge a full Culture Guide. This enhanced employee handbook should include sections about governing principles, operational policies, benefits, leave of absences, and general standards of conduct.

The Culture Guide should also be readily accessible to every employee at all times. Companies that use employee onboarding software—like the kind included in BerniePortal—can upload this and other onboarding documents using a single system. This approach empowers employees to acknowledge they’ve read all required info and completed employment-specific compliance documents like Form W-4, as well as gives them access to the Culture Guide when needed.

5. Start with an Agenda for Your New Hire’s First Day

Hiring managers need to prepare an agenda for the new hire’s first day, which should out a timeline of tasks and goals and the steps to take to get started.

Agendas should break down the day by morning, lunch, and afternoon—all of which give the employee an opportunity to be introduced to the organization and to become acquainted with their very first day. 

6. Develop and Implement a 30-60-90 Agenda

Effective HR teams also use 30-60-90s to effectively communicate what’s expected of new employees within the first 30, 60, and 90 days of employment. It’s considered best practice to introduce the 30-60-90 at the end of Day 1.

The goals included in these plans should be tailored to the position, meaning no 30-60-90 will be the same for different roles. 

7. Define Available Resources

It’s easy for new hires to feel overwhelmed when they start. HR can alleviate some of this stress by clearly defining the resources available to them. These resources should include procedures, communication channels to use, and platforms through which information can be accessed.

Onboarding Metrics and KPIs You Need to Use

Organizations that decide to optimize their approach to onboarding need to know if their efforts are successful or not. That’s why it’s so important to measure and track different metrics.

Quantitative Onboarding Metrics to Track

Voluntary Turnover Rate

How many of your employees choose to resign from the company? A larger quantity of voluntary turnovers might indicate an issue with onboarding practices and securing employee buy-in.

How to calculate voluntary turnover rate:

# of Employees who left voluntarily / Average # of employees on the payroll X 100 = Voluntary Turnover Rate.

Average Tenure

How long, on average, do your employees stay with the company? If you have a lot of people who wash out within the first year or less, this may point to an issue with their onboarding and setting expectations.

How to calculate the average employee tenure:

The sum of all months worked by current employees / # of Employees* = Average Employee Tenure.

*Make sure you’re only using current employees when calculating this metric.


Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS) indicates if your employees would recommend working at your organization to a friend. If your eNPS is low, you might want to investigate how you’re setting expectations for employees, especially during onboarding.

How to calculate eNPS:

Total score / # of Participants = eNPS.

To calculate this metric, you’ll need to deploy an employee Net Promoter Score survey to your employees. Keep in mind promoters are considered anyone who answers 9 or 10, and detractors are anyone who answers 1-6.

Onboarding Costs

How much does it cost for you to bring on a new employee? Is that number consistent over time, or are your costs increasing?

How to calculate onboarding costs:

Expenses / # of Onboarded Hires = Average Onboarding Costs.

To calculate cost per hire, tally all the expenses you spent on onboarding divided by the number of hires for the year.

Completion Rate

How many new employees make it through your onboarding process? If you find a lot of new hires are not completing onboarding and are leaving the company, you’ve got a real problem.

How to calculate completion rate:

# of Employees who begin onboarding / # of Employees who complete onboarding= Completion Rate.

To calculate completion rate, simply divide the number of all the employees you started onboarding during a certain time period, and then divide by the number of employees who successfully completed onboarding.

Track Onboarding Metrics with HR Software

This is a lot of information to keep track of! When it comes to calculating and tracking recruitment KPIs, an HRIS platform like BerniePortal can come in handy.

Instead of having to track down these different numbers and headcounts, HR can store all of this information in a single system, which will greatly decrease the time it takes to pull these metrics—and reduce human error when it comes to reporting.

Qualitative Onboarding Metrics to Track

Rely on Feedback

During onboarding, HR should conduct focus groups with new hires to find out their feelings and impressions of their new role and the company as a whole. This is a great opportunity to solicit feedback since new hires have a fresh set of eyes coming into the organization.

Administer Pulse Surveys

Pulse surveys should be used to obtain quick feedback about an aspect of the onboarding process. They’re typically short and frequently sent to get a “pulse” on how the new hire is feeling. While this could be administered via paper, email, etc., consider including the following questions:

  1. On a scale of 1-10 (1=definitely not, 10=absolutely), how likely are you to recommend working at the company to a friend?
  2. What was the best and worst part of your week?

1:1 Meetings

Traditionally, there are a few ways to conduct performance reviews and appraisals, including stay and exit interviews. However, the best organizations now use 1:1 (or 1-on-1) meetings when conducting regular performance management check-ins.

Teams that prioritize 1:1 meetings between managers and their employees establish a consistent and reliable channel for mission-critical information to get to the right places (both upward and downward on the organizational chart). During these weekly or biweekly sessions, managers and employees discuss current and upcoming projects, opportunities for improvement, and plenty more.

How HR Can Maintain and Ensure Onboarding Compliance

Onboarding documents can be complex and cumbersome. However, with a proper HRIS in place, HR and hiring managers can streamline new hire onboarding without the hassle of traditional operations.

With that said, all managers and HR personnel should be familiar with the most common onboarding documents and the purposes they serve, found below:

Form I-9 Onboarding Compliance

Form I-9 is an official U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) document that helps a company verify that its employees are legally permitted to work in the United States.

Every American employer is required to complete Form I-9 for each worker they hire, including both citizens and noncitizens. Likewise, people who are hired by American employers must fill out the form and present documents to verify their identity and authorization to work in the country.

According to the USCIS, Form I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification is made up of three components:

  1. Section 1 – Employee Information and Attestation: Filled out by newly hired employees
  2. Section 2 – Employer or Authorized Representative Review and VerificationFilled out by employers
  3. Section 3 – Reverification and Rehires: Completed by employers, this step is reserved for employees who are rehired or whose employment authorization needs to be reverified

Employees must complete Section 1 no later than their first day of work. They then deliver documents to the employer, which then fills out Section 2 no later than the third business day after the employee starts their job. The employment verification documents must be reviewed in the physical presence of the person presenting the forms.

To learn more about Form I-9 compliance, review this BerniePortal blog.

Form W-4 Onboarding Compliance

Form W-4 is an IRS tax form that employees fill out so that employers can withhold the correct federal income tax from their wages. Employees can also withhold additional taxes from their wages, particularly if they hold multiple jobs, receive income from self-employment, and if their spouse also earns income.

New employees are required to complete Form W-4 upon hire. This helps organizations remain compliant with the federal government, as, according to the IRS, “[e]mployers are required by law to withhold employment taxes from their employees.” Employment taxes include federal income taxes as well as Social Security and Medicare taxes, otherwise known as FICA taxes.

To learn more about completing Form W-4, review this BerniePortal blog.

Onboarding Compliance for State Withholding Forms

Some states impose income taxes in addition to the existing income tax required by the federal government (Form W-4 deductions). Each state that withholds this additional amount from each employee’s paycheck needs to administer a state withholding form to all employees. These forms are used to identify the additional amount of income that an employer withholds from its employees’ paychecks.

States that do not require a State W-4 include Alaska, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming.

How to Document Onboarding Compliance

To stay compliant, employers should maintain records of all employee agreements, notices, and onboarding forms. For each of these documents, employers should keep a record of the following:

✔ Proof of document distribution

✔ A written procedure taken to administer documents

✔ A timeline of actions taken to comply with legal standards 

✔ The final version of the document 

✔ Employee recognition of the documents and acknowledgement to its terms

Reasons Why Employers Should Maintain Records of Onboarding Documents

“Good faith” can reduce penalties

If your organization is not 100% compliant, documentation can still work in your favor. Through a legal principle called “good faith,” employers can significantly reduce the fines and penalties resulting from non-compliance.

What exactly does good faith mean? In this case, it means that the organization made a true effort to comply with federal, state, and local laws. Of course, to prove good faith, an organization needs to document its efforts to reach compliance standards. One of the best ways to prove good faith is to conduct an internal audit to review compliance efforts.

Documentation can improve internal practices

Documentation can also help improve internal practices. By reviewing a timeline of a company’s efforts to comply with various regulations, administrators have the opportunity to identify trends within their own organization.

Once these trends have been identified, they can assess factors within their business, such as risk, efficiency, and company culture. By taking this fine-toothed-comb approach, employers and administrators gain more insight into their organization and, as a result, can make improvements that facilitate growth.

What is Onboarding Software?

With an online onboarding software solution, new hires can upload all their personal information, such as identification documents, Social Security numbers, addresses, emergency contacts, and other details before they even begin working.

Employers can also maintain and distribute Culture Guides, benefit booklets, and other relevant hiring information within the same system, saving time, paper, and money.

How Does Onboarding Software Work?

Onboarding software platforms ensure compliance, maintain employee records, and allow new hires to complete all the necessary paperwork before their first day. As a result, HR is able to make in-office onboarding processes more valuable by focusing on training or other high-value activities. 

What to Look for in the Best Onboarding Software Systems

HR professionals should compare all-in-one HR systems that include onboarding functionality to point solutions. Some organizations may have unique needs that require a standalone solution, but most will benefit from an all-in-one platform. BerniePortal’s all-in-one HRIS offers an onboarding feature that saves time, improves employee retention, and enhances productivity.

The advantage of a comprehensive HR solution is that new hires only have to fill out their relevant information once when they onboard. These solutions also provide benefits administration and other HR functionalities, but because the employee’s information is already there, HR only has to deal with one system and information source.

Other Features Included in the Best Onboarding Software Systems

Federal standard forms processing

HR should look for a system that has capabilities pre-built to handle documents like Form I-9, Form W-4, and Form W-9. Because every employee is required to fill out the information on these forms, the system should be able to collect them as part of its core functionality.

State withholding forms processing

Similarly, these capabilities will be required by enough users that any system you adopt should have these capabilities pre-built as well.

Custom forms functionality

There are multiple types of needs when it comes to custom onboarding forms. Some groups may collect a variety of personal information that isn’t required to be printed onto a government form. Any HR platform that has customizable onboarding functionality should be able to collect information like this. Think workplace preferences, training information, or even shirt size.

A more complicated functionality is customizable forms that also need to be printed for compliance purposes. An example of this is a local withholding form, like those required in Lansing, Mich. For forms like this, it’s unlikely that a platform will have this capability pre-built.

Rather, HR should for a system that prompts employees to enter the relevant information and maps responses onto the required form.

Why Onboarding Software Functionality is Key

As with most software solutions, effective adoption is key to maximizing the user’s return on investment. If an organization’s onboarding system makes it difficult to upload and store the required information and forms, the benefits of moving online will be minimized.

Looking for the above functionality will help small and mid-sized organizations find the right system and reap the advantages of online onboarding.

Learn How to Improve Onboarding with BerniePortal

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