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The 10 Commandments of Employee Onboarding

onboarding new hireEffective employee onboarding has a positive domino effect: it ensures new hires feel welcome and prepared in their new positions, in turn giving them the confidence and resources to make an impact within the organization, and ultimately allowing the company to continue carrying out its mission.

Much like the dreaded first day of school, the first day at a new job is rife with potential for embarrassing oneself – from getting lost on the way to the bathroom, to forgetting important paperwork, to not knowing the rules (both explicit and unspoken). But as nerve-wracking as starting a new job is for new employees, this time is no trip to wine country for managers either.

Charged with the task of making new employees feel welcome, establishing their responsibilities, orienting them in their new position and familiarizing them with the company culture, there’s a lot to cover and the process is often overwhelming.

“Transitions are periods of opportunity, a chance to start afresh and to make needed changes in an organization. But they are also periods of acute vulnerability, because you lack established working relationships and a detailed understanding of your new role.”

The preceding is an excerpt from The First 90 Days, written by Michael Watkins, a professor at the International Institute for Management Development (IMD) in Lausanne, Switzerland and renowned leadership transition expert. As Watkins points out – and as talent management experts have long asserted – employee onboarding, the orientation or mainstreaming process of a new position, is a crucial element in both individual and organizational development and establishes a foundation for future success.

Onboarding: Not Just for Employees Anymore

True, employee orientation centers around and exists to help the individual employee, but it is the company that ultimately reaps the benefits of this practice. Consider the following benefits of proper orientation:

  • Reduces costs associated with learning on the job
  • Saves co-workers and supervisors time training the new employee, thereby increasing production
  • Increases morale and reduces turnover by showing the employee he/she is valued

According to the 2012 Allied Workforce Mobility Survey, companies lose 25 percent of all new employees within a year due largely to poor onboarding programs. The survey also showed that 25 percent of companies’ onboarding programs did not include any kind of training, and 60 percent of companies  don’t set any milestones or goals for new hires.

It’s no secret that losing employees is expensive: Once you factor in costs associated with lowered productivity, lost knowledge, training costs and money spent hiring someone new, the cost of losing an employee adds up to as much as $50,000.

The 10 Commandments of Onboarding

Rules to live – and work – by for a divine onboarding experience.

  1. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy employee. Few things are more disappointing than the realization that the job you thought you were hired to do is sorely different than what you’re actually doing. As an employer, misrepresenting your employee’s new role destroys trust in you immediately, after which no amount of orientation efforts can undo the initial damage.
  2. Thou shalt give a written plan of employee objectives and responsibilities. A written plan detailing objectives, strategy and expectations of future results helps diminish any confusion about a new employee’s job functions and instead opens up the floor to discuss concerns or new opportunities.
  3. Thou shalt give thy employ thy undivided attention. Letting email, phone calls or other employees distract you during orientation sessions sends the message, “I’m just not that into you” and kills morale. Prepare a checklist of subjects to review with your new employees, set aside the appropriate amount of time to do it, and let others know that you are not to be interrupted while you are orienting your new workers. This gives new employees the message that they are the most important item on your agenda. (Or: this lets new employees know that…)
  4. Thou shalt have relevant paperwork ready. Make sure all administrative forms—such as employment, direct deposit, and benefits—are ready to be completed on day one so you don’t have to waste time dealing with it later, and so that your employee can start getting these important matters taken care of right away.
  5. Thou shalt introduce thy employee to thy neighbors. Provide staff members with the new employee’s résumé and job description and advise them to follow a meeting format that includes sharing a description of their own positions, ways in which their roles interact with that of the new hire, and how they might expect to work together in the future. (This is also a good time to assign a mentor or buddy to the new hire as an immediate resource for any questions and key information about organizational culture and goals.)
  6. Thou shall set up thy employee’s workstation. An empty workstation is to a new employee what an unkempt home is to a houseguest. Before the employee arrives on day one, stock his or her workstation with everything from paper and pens to keys and, if possible, business cards. Make sure the phone and computer, complete with voicemail and e-mail accounts, are set up. Leave a copy of an organizational chart, staff list, and phone directory on the new hire’s desk.
  7. Thou shalt schedule one-on-one time to ensure you connect regularly with the new employee. If you can’t do this on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, schedule meetings to provide feedback at 30- and 90-day checkpoints, or before a semi-annual review.
  8. Thou shalt create a balance. The first day is always tough. Vary the first day’s schedule by including less formal gatherings between meetings. Arrange for a group of staff members to treat the new hire to lunch on the first day to provide a little non-meeting relief and levity.
  9. Thou shalt clarify the company culture. Again, to avoid future confusion (or embarrassment), provide the employee with company information, policies – including dress code and late policies – and benefits. If your organization has a new employee handbook, leave that on the desk as well.
  10. Thou shalt think beyond the first few days. After 90 days, request formal feedback on the new hire’s performance from his or her supervisor, and be sure to solicit feedback from the employee as well. Take this opportunity to address any issues of concern as well as note any accomplishments so that all parties are confident that the new hire is poised for success in his or her role.

Recommended reading: The First 90 Days by Michael Watkins, HBS Press

Written for business managers, The First 90 Days applies to any professional making a career transition, and provides a framework to create a strategy for future success within that new role.

Watkins provides practical advice for learning about new organizations, building teams, and creating goals, as well as avoiding common pitfalls and protecting oneself on an emotional and professional level during this intense and vulnerable period.

Mary Lorenz

About Mary Lorenz

Mary is a copywriter for CareerBuilder, specializing in B2B marketing and corporate recruiting best practices and social media. In addition to creating copy for corporate advertising and marketing campaigns, she researches and writes about employee attraction, engagement and retention. Whenever possible, she makes references to pop culture. Sometimes, those references are even relevant. A New Orleans native, Mary now lives in Chicago, right down the street from the best sushi place in the city. It's awesome.


  1. […] The 10 Commandments of Employee Onboarding Much like the dreaded first day of school, the first day at a new job is rife with potential for embarrassing oneself – from getting lost on the way to the bathroom, to forgetting important paperwork, to not knowing the rules (both explicit and unspoken). But as nerve-wracking as starting a new job is for new employees, this time is no trip to wine country for managers either. […]

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