Employee Engagement Employee Retention

The 5 Stages of Employee Onboarding Explained

The first day on a new job is both exciting and a bit scary for new employees. 

They walk through the door optimistic and eager to make a great first impression. However, making a great first impression is not just reserved for new employees, it’s something employers should strive to achieve as well.

Providing a proper orientation and making sure first interactions with your team are positive will help new employees feel welcomed and get started on the right path.

That said, many companies confuse employee orientation for employee onboarding. While day one employee orientation is definitely important, it's only one component of a larger employee onboarding experience which can run for many months.

In this post, we’ll explore why onboarding matters, and take you through 5 essential stages of onboarding to make sure you start off on the right foot with your employees.

Why is employee onboarding important?

An effective employee onboarding program will help new team members build connections with colleagues and supervisors, understand the company's purpose/mission, see their potential at your company, integrate with company core values and culture, engage in their work, feel appreciated, and ultimately become loyal brand ambassadors. 

There are more immediate, tangible benefits to your company, too. Better onboarding means your new hires get up to speed faster, and can ramp up to their full production capabilities a lot sooner. Onboarding programs that help them make connections outside their departments and learn about other areas of the business can also lead to more collaboration opportunities.

Employee onboarding ROI

The return on investment (ROI) for employee onboarding programs can be substantial. First off, it’s vital for retention. A great onboarding program could reduce your employee turnover by as much as 30%, helping you build talented teams that can accomplish amazing things.  

But it can also have an impact in other areas. The Recruiting Roundtable found that great onboarding can improve employee performance by up to 11.3%. It’s perhaps no wonder that companies that build strong onboarding programs can expect to double corporate revenue growth when compared to firms with average onboarding.

After devoting months to finding the right talent, then a few more months to train a new employee, it would hurt a lot to lose that person in their first year of employment. Therefore, it's worth taking the time to build an amazing experience through all the employee onboarding stages that maximizes the potential for the new hire to succeed at your company.

Breaking down the 5 stages of employee onboarding

The most important thing to remember is that onboarding is not a one-and-done task. While there are sometimes different areas of focus and timelines at different companies, most HR professionals break down the task into 5 specific employee onboarding phases.

These stages typically cover preparing before a new hire joins, welcoming them into the company, integrating them with their time, getting them up to speed in their role, and then monitoring and assisting in their ongoing development.

Stage 1: Before the first day – preparation

The phases of employee onboarding begin even before the employee sets foot into the office. You can’t jump straight into the employee’s first day on the job without some preparation, and there are several crucial tasks you should look to complete beforehand to make sure you’re fully ready come day one.

Employee paperwork and provisions 

Whenever possible, have anything the employee needs to get started (computer, security logins, name tags, etc.) all ready to go before they arrive. Also, make sure their employment contract, any relevant benefits forms, and all other paperwork is waiting for them. 

If possible, you should also include materials that give them an intro to your organization’s overall mission and culture, such as an overview of the company purpose, core values, organizational hierarchy, and anything else you think is relevant.

As you onboard more staff, it might also be a great idea to start compiling a list of FAQs gathered from past new employees (e.g. where are the bathrooms?). This will ensure that any issues that come up a lot are covered right out of the gate.

Alert and involve the team

According to a 2017 report from TinyPulse, only 24% of workers feel connected to their co-workers. Yet, this isn’t always something employers take heed of, particularly when it comes to employee onboarding. You’ll often find companies where many employees aren’t even aware that new hires are joining the team, which is never a good start.   

Notify your existing team members about incoming employees, and encourage them to carve out some time to connect. This will not only make new employees feel welcomed, but also eager to collaborate with their new colleagues.

In Kipling's Jungle Book, he says: "The strength of the wolf is in the strength of the pack". You should never underestimate the value collaboration can bring to your company.

Stage 2: The first day – orientation

Your new hires are finally here, and they're ready to get cracking! Here’s a few tips to make their first day extra special, and show them that your company is somewhere they’ll want to stay for a long time.

Create an epic welcome

Make sure the first day begins with a well-planned workspace orientation experience. Choose a fun and exciting program to get the new hire motivated.

Some company orientations include gamification, scavenger hunts, bootcamps, office trivia and all kinds of new experiences. The goal of these activities, apart from breaking the ice, is to communicate your company's purpose, mission, vision, core values, working style and general expectations in a more human and interactive way.

Welcome New Employees
Assign a work buddy 

Work colleagues play a huge role in job satisfaction and motivation. In fact, research has found that the number one thing employees like about their jobs are the people they work with. Having a buddy helps them acclimatize faster.

By introducing a buddy system, your new hires will always have someone to approach during the first few nerve-wrecking weeks on the job, and have better access to resources, ultimately learning the ropes quicker.

Assign them a buddy in a similar role or anyone on the team who can regularly communicate and check in with them. This can also give them an intro to social activities like employee outings, lunches, etc. and will make the transition to the new team smoother.

Give them a team uniform

Some of the top performing teams in the world wear uniforms. Giving new employees something to wear with your company branding will instantly make them feel proud to be part of the team.

While some companies will obviously have actual uniforms that employees work in, we’re talking more about Swag that employees can wear on their downtime. Consider giving new hires hoodies, t-shirts, or other items of clothing. Better yet, use Guusto’s Swag feature – offered as a custom reward on our platform – to let them choose what they want.


Stage 3: The first week – integration & potential 

After a successful first day, the next phase of onboarding should be about helping new employees learn everything possible about their role, see where they can leverage their strengths, and envision their growth potential at your company.

Schedule one-on-one meetings

Managers should schedule time to chat with every new employee to help them understand the firm's big-picture goals, set clear expectations, offer tips for best practices, discuss upcoming project opportunities, set some short-term goals, and outline longer term potential. 

Then set a cadence for regular one-on-one meetings (perhaps weekly, at least for the first 3 months), so new employees know they'll get designated time with managers to receive guidance, and voice ideas or feedback.

Recognize effort 

New employees likely have to learn a lot to successfully tackle their first few tasks. Towards the end of the first week, it can be tremendously powerful for their manager to recognize their efforts with a public shoutout and/or a spot reward if you’re using a recognition program like Guusto. Showing new employees there is a true culture of recognition at your firm will motivate them to reach for ambitious goals and do their best work.

Stage 4: The first 3 months – engagement

After a great first week, the first 3 months of an employee’s tenure are the next stage of employee onboarding. This is a crucial time for new hires, they start to fully get to grips with their role in its entirety. Unfortunately, it’s also the period when the ‘honeymoon period’ of their relationship with your company can start to wear off.

During this time, you and the employee’s manager should focus on engaging new employees and helping them set goals. You need to make sure that they maintain the enthusiasm and excitement they had when they were first hired, and don’t begin to become uninterested or disillusioned with their work as they start to encounter challenges and higher expectations.

Revisit your company purpose and core values

Once new employees are actively contributing in their new positions, check-in with them periodically to review the ‘Why’ of your company and how their efforts are contributing to the Mission. Ask them how they're trying to demonstrate the company's core values in their work and decision making. A few gentle nudges in the right direction can help align new employees with company culture.

Review performance and set goals

Towards the end of this phase of employee onboarding, managers should meet with new hires to discuss performance, KPIs, and longer term goals. Reviewing progress and goal setting will help employees visualize success, feel challenged and supported.

This is also a great time for managers to ask new employees if their desired growth trajectory has changed, and see where they need any help getting on the right path.

Stage 5: The first year (and beyond) – empower 

With 3 months under their belt, the rest of the first year is all about empowering new employees to make an impact. This particular stage of onboarding arguably never stops, and your company should be aiming to continuously grow and nurture employees throughout their tenure, but the first year is especially vital in determining whether an employee will see a long-term future at your organization. Here’s a few things you can do to make that happen.


New employees come with all sorts of fresh ideas, so make sure they have an easy way to provide feedback on how company operations can be improved. Then show them how their ideas are being integrated so they know their opinions are valued.

Encourage managers to regularly ask new employees what they need to do their job (e.g. equipment, software, flexible schedule). At the end of the day, the manager's job is really about creating the space for employees to do their best work.


When a new employee reaches that one-year milestone, it's time to recognize all their efforts and contributions. Make this a public affair, by notifying the employee's supervisors and colleagues in advance, and make sure to include a monetary reward so they really feel appreciated. And if you feel like your work anniversary program could do with a facelift, check out this post on 5 Steps to Modernize Your Milestone Program.

Build the right culture from day one

Want to create a culture that employees will love through the 5 stages of onboarding and beyond. In Culture is the Ultimate Advantage, we detail how you can use employee recognition to align your teams, encourage collaboration, and empower your employees to drive real bottom-line results. Fill out the form below to get your copy.

***Editor's note: This blog was originally published in May 2020, but has been updated and expanded with additional information and insights.

Culture is the Ultimate Advantage

Set yourself apart using the power of company culture. Stand out to new applicants and motivate your team to do their best work.

Abbas Kherodawala

Written by Abbas Kherodawala

Abbas is a Customer Acquisition Specialist at Guusto and loves helping HR leaders find new ways to engage and interact with the modern workforce.

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