Onboarding Checklist: How to Onboard Your Employees the Right Way

Does your onboarding checklist consist of introducing yourself to the new employee, showing them their desk, and then telling them someone will be around shortly to get them started? If that sounds familiar, you’ve got a lot of room for improvement.

That’s what we’re here to do: help you improve. In this article, the experts at Sling will show you how to onboard your employees the right way so they feel comfortable and confident. We’ll also provide an onboarding checklist to make the process even easier.

Table of contents

The importance of the onboarding checklist

onboarding checklist

The onboarding process is one of the most important parts of both recruiting top talent and keeping them on the job longer. Unfortunately, this process can also be the one with the most moving parts — all of which need to be there for things to run smoothly.

Without an onboarding checklist to guide you, it’s easy to miss, forget, or ignore a detail until it’s too late.

If it’s something small like forgetting to have an employee fill out the emergency contact form, it’s not a big deal and likely won’t detract from the first-day experience. They probably won’t know you missed it, and you can have them complete the form on their second or third day.

But if it’s something big, like a new hire arriving when or where no one was expecting them, not having a workspace ready on their first day, or training scheduled for a time when the trainer is unavailable, the employee is going to notice.

And, worse yet, it’s going to make an impression — probably a bad one — that can’t be changed very easily.

An onboarding checklist can prevent things like this from happening and may go a long way toward ensuring that your business makes a good impression and that the employee feels welcome on their first day.

It’s all in the details

onboarding checklist planning

Every business is different, so the onboarding checklist that works for one won’t necessarily work for another. This fact highlights the importance of taking the time to create your own unique, detailed checklist.

Don’t just write “First day” and leave it at that. Go on to list all the events, activities, introductions, training, and other elements you want the employee to experience in that time.

Similarly, don’t just write “Fill out forms” — list each form the new hire needs to complete and when (if you’re splitting up all the paperwork into separate sessions).

This may sound like a lot of work — and it is — but the rewards are often well worth the effort.

If you’re having trouble getting started, first make a comprehensive list of everything you and the new employee need to do throughout the entire onboarding process. You don’t have to divide it in any way, shape, or form yet. Just write down all the activities.

Next, decide how much time you want to dedicate to each activity. Finally, using this time constraint as a guide, order the activities into a logical progression and then divide them into multiple days if necessary.

15 steps to onboard your employees the right way

shaking hands

1) Prepare the new employee and your existing team

It’s important to begin the onboarding process well before the first day your new employee arrives. The best way to do this is to stay in communication with your new hire.

The week before they are scheduled to arrive, send them an email that includes essential information, such as:

  • Start date, time, and location
  • Driving directions
  • Parking instructions
  • Tentative first-day schedule
  • Name of contact person
  • Documents to bring
  • Suggestions for appropriate dress

It’s also good practice to keep your current employees informed as well. Soon after sending the new employee a welcome email, send an informational email to your existing team. Be sure to include information such as:

  • New employee’s department
  • New employee’s team
  • New employee’s job title
  • Start date, time, and location
  • New employee’s work experience, education, skills, and interests

By preparing your team members for the arrival of a new employee, you can make the transition easier for all involved.

2) Set up the new employee’s personal space and equipment

It’s also critical to give yourself enough time to prepare your new employee’s personal space and equipment before they arrive.

If you manage a restaurant, you may only need a few hours the day before to clean out a locker, assemble the pieces of their uniform, and set up a new POS or time clock account.

But if you manage an office, you may need several days, or even a week, to prepare everything your new employee needs. Where relevant, be sure to include items such as:

  • Computer
  • Phone
  • Other necessary IT equipment
  • New business cards
  • Relevant human resources documents
  • Office key or ID card
  • Access to team calendars, mailing lists, and other online information

When you prepare everything ahead of time, your new employee can hit the ground running and won’t be delayed waiting for critical tools.

3) Greet the new employee and make them feel welcome

There’s nothing like greeting your new employee personally to make them feel welcome. Don’t delegate this responsibility to someone else. If you have been their main contact so far, you should be the person to guide them through their first day on the job.

It can also be beneficial to organize some type of welcome event when the new employee arrives. A morning coffee or other “get-to-know-you” event for the new hire and your existing team members is an easy and effective way to get everyone on a first-name basis right from the start.

And if you have the means, include a small welcome package in their locker or at their desk to let them know you’re glad they’re joining the team.

This gift doesn’t have to be expensive or elaborate. Even simple items like office supplies that will help them get started (e.g., notepad, pens, and other essential items) go a long way toward making the new employee feel at home in your business.

This may seem like too much to pack into an already busy day, but remember, you only get one chance to make a first impression. Even if the new employee only works a half or a quarter of the day after all is said and done, that’s OK. The welcome activities will set them off on the path to being a valued member of the team.

4) Divide your onboarding into small components

Restaurant worker setting a table

The first day of a new job is a daunting experience. That’s why it’s important not to overwhelm the new employee with too much information and paperwork all at once.

Instead, divide your onboarding process into small components of 30-60 minutes. If you fill out forms for an hour, follow that with a 30-minute tour of the office space in which they’ll be working.

5) Provide an employee handbook

You can do much of the onboarding work beforehand by creating an employee handbook and supplying it to the new employee when they first arrive. This reference will answer many of the employee’s initial questions and provide information on such things as:

When you cover the most frequently asked questions in your employee handbook, you don’t have to spend valuable time verbally communicating that information to the new hire.

6) Make sure the job description is up to date

Your new employee will (obviously) have a general idea about the job you hired them to do. But during their first day, give them a more detailed look at what they’ll be doing by going over their specific job description.

That, of course, means you should update all of the company job descriptions periodically to incorporate new responsibilities and new aspects that weren’t included before.

7) Set aside time for paperwork

Filling out paperwork is a big part of the onboarding process. Employees will likely need to complete some or all of the following:

  • Employment eligibility verification (IRS form I-9)
  • Employee withholding allowance certificate (IRS form W-4)
  • State withholding forms
  • Local withholding forms
  • Direct deposit authorization
  • Emergency contacts
  • Employee handbook receipt
  • Employee health benefits (1094-C)
  • Harassment and discrimination policy acknowledgment
  • Equal employment opportunity report (EEO-1)

It’s essential to set aside plenty of time for your new team member to complete all the necessary forms and paperwork so you can stay compliant with federal, state, local, and business requirements.

Without this paperwork on record in their personnel file, you can both face difficulties when it comes time to pay taxes, complete payroll, make an insurance claim, or deal with workplace issues.

8) Meet with a CEO

Schedule a few minutes sometime during the employee’s first day to have a short meeting with the chief executive officer (CEO), chief financial officer (CFO), chief information officer (CIO), or someone else in the C-suite.

To make things more meaningful, try to arrange the meeting with an executive in the area in which the new employee will be working (e.g., the new junior accountant would meet with the CFO).

If a one-on-one meeting isn’t possible, invite owners or C-suite executives to any group events you have planned (e.g., mixers, meals, meetings, etc.).

While this step works well for smaller businesses where owners and executives have more interaction with entry-level employees, it might not work at all for larger businesses where there are many layers of oversight between the new hire and the chief of the department.

As such, you can opt to skip this step if it doesn’t feel necessary.

9) Meet with the new employee’s manager

new employee’s manager

While meeting with someone from the C-suite is entirely optional, setting up a meeting with the new employee’s manager shouldn’t be.

Set aside time in the onboarding process for introductions and a bit of light conversation so that both the manager and the new hire understand what the other one does and where they fall in the hierarchy of responsibilities.

If a one-on-one doesn’t fit into the schedule, arrange for introductions during a group event on the first day. This type of informal meeting can work just as well as a more formal meeting in the manager’s office.

10) Review your company’s organizational chart

An organizational chart is a diagram that represents the reporting and relationship hierarchy within an organization. For new employees, it’s essential for helping them understand where they fit into the established order and how their position relates to other positions.

Scheduling time in the onboarding checklist to review the org chart also helps new employees:

  • Gain insight into the structure of ownership and upper management
  • Figure out their (and other’s) work responsibilities
  • Understand reporting relationships
  • Maintain effective communication
  • Understand how their work fits into the organizational, corporate, business, and functional-level strategies
  • See the track for advancement

Your business’s organizational chart can also serve as a company directory of sorts that helps new employees see who their close coworkers are and where other people they meet fit into the chain of command.

11) Set goals

Representation of goal-setting as part of an onboarding checklist

When they’re new, your employees need something to work toward. That’s why setting goals is an essential part of the onboarding process and should be on everyone’s onboarding checklist.

The goals you set for your new team members should be in harmony with the other strategies you’ve set for your company (corporate level strategy, business level strategy, and functional level strategy).

12) Get the team involved

Your new employee’s success depends largely on the support of the people around them. So get the team involved right at the start of the onboarding checklist.

Not only will this ensure the smooth integration of the new employee, but it will also improve the work performance of your existing team members. Don’t wait until the end of the onboarding process to introduce your team — do it first thing.

13) Reveal “a day in the life” of your customers

One of the best ways to help a new employee understand their job is to show them what a day in the life of a customer looks like. It will give them context for what they learn during the onboarding process and help them connect their work with the value your company creates.

14) Schedule periodic performance reviews

Coworkers discussing their onboarding checklist

Onboarding a new employee isn’t simply giving them a few brief instructions and then turning them loose. For your employee to be successful in their transition into your business, they need guidance on a regular basis.

That’s why it’s vital to schedule periodic performance reviews. In these meetings, be honest with your employee about their performance and ask for honesty in return. Tell them what they’re doing well and what they can improve.

Lastly, if they’ve met the goals you set for them during their first few days on the job, come up with new goals to keep them focused and engaged.

Onboarding checklist template

Below, we have prepared a general employee onboarding checklist. You may use it as is or alter it to better fit your onboarding process.

We’ve divided the checklist into four sections:

  • Before the first day
  • First day
  • First week
  • First month

That way, you can spread out all the activity so it doesn’t make the employee feel overwhelmed with information and paperwork.

We’ve also included a section that discusses the mid-year review — which can occur several months after they start — so you can start the new hire on the road to improvement and success.

Prior to employee’s first day

  1. Prepare their paperwork.
  2. Appoint a supervisor or mentor.
  3. Discuss new employee’s role, goals, and projects with the mentor.
  4. Prepare employee’s desk or workstation.
  5. Arrange for access to computers, shared drives, servers, software, and any other tools they may need.
  6. Supply required reading materials (if any) in enough time that the employee can read them before their first day.
  7. Arrange their benefits package.
  8. Create (or update) a detailed job description with specific responsibilities.

Employee’s first day (Day 1)

  1. Welcome them to the team.
  2. Lead them on a tour of the office.
  3. Provide them with introductory training material.
  4. Outline and explain your performance expectations.
  5. Have Human Resources explain basic work processes, such as:
    • Company dress code
    • How to access the building
    • Parking arrangements
    • How to clock in
    • When work starts and ends
  6. Introduce the new employee to a CEO.
  7. Introduce the new employee to their supervisor, manager, or mentor.
  8. Take employee (and mentor) out to lunch.
  9. Fill out paperwork.
  10. Schedule training.

Employee’s First Week (Days 2-7)

  1. Give employee their first project.
  2. Review expectations for the first project (and the month to come).
  3. Have Human Resources meet with the employee and complete necessary forms (e.g., W-2).
  4. Continue training the new employee to operate software and in other necessary aspects of the job.
  5. Organize social activities, ice breakers, and other team gatherings

Employee’s first month (Days 8-30)

  1. Schedule a meeting to discuss any issues or concerns the employee has. Use this time to offer constructive criticism and advice on their performance so far.
  2. Explain long-term corporate strategy and how it applies to the new employee.
  3. Suggest reading material for professional growth.
  4. Organize extracurricular activities to ensure that the new employee socializes with the team.
  5. Toward the end of the month, review your onboarding process to see what does and does not work. Ask the new employee for their opinion.

Mid-year review

Mid-year review

After three, six, or even nine months (depending on the established schedule you have for your existing team members), arrange for the new employee to go through the mid-year review process.

This gives you the opportunity to provide feedback on the work they’ve done so far and allows them to get started on the road to improvement within your business.

During this first performance review, focus on the fundamental components of the job, including:

  • Communication
  • Collaboration and teamwork
  • Integration into company culture
  • Problem-solving
  • Quality and accuracy of work
  • Attendance and dependability
  • Ability to accomplish goals and meet deadlines

Establish a grading (A, B, C, D, F) or scoring (1 to 5 or 1 to 10) system to communicate the level of proficiency, and then explain why you rated the employee as you did.

Before you sit down for the first review, set aside time to collect feedback from coworkers and have the new employee fill out a self-appraisal form so you can get other perspectives on the work they’re doing.

Then, on the day of, take steps to conduct the performance review in the best manner possible, including such things as:

  • Make the environment where you hold the review as comfortable as possible
  • Minimize distractions
  • Lead and end with positivity
  • Review the job description and the employee’s success at satisfying it
  • Weigh each aspect of the employee’s performance based on the importance of the task
  • Be open and honest
  • Use professional language at all times
  • Set goals for the next review

When you provide an honest evaluation of their performance — both good and bad — you give the new employee the information they need to grow and be successful within their position and the business as a whole.

Your onboarding checklist: A path to success

Manager going over onboarding checklist with new hire

Don’t view your onboarding checklist as something you need to get through before you can get back to your “real” work. Instead, view it as a path to success — for your employees and, ultimately, your business.

When you put the same importance on your onboarding process as you do on your strategy implementation plan or your project plan, you’ll start to see improvements in the way your employees work. That will translate into the improvement of your business overall.

Software can help

Software can help with onboarding checklist

A lot goes into onboarding your employees the right way so creating and using an onboarding checklist is vital for success. But, how do you translate that checklist into real-world activity?

With the help of scheduling software like Sling.

The Sling suite of tools can help you keep your onboarding process running smoothly and the lines of communication open and strong (with both new hires and existing employees).

We built the Sling to:

Experience the myriad ways the Sling app can make your onboarding process — and, indeed, all your workforce management efforts — easier and better by signing up for a free trial today.

For more free resources to help you manage your business better, organize and schedule your team, and track and calculate labor costs, visit GetSling.com today.

Last updated: January 2023

This content is for informational purposes and is not intended as legal, tax, HR or any other professional advice. Please contact an attorney or other professional for specific advice.

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