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Employee onboarding: What it is, steps, and 6 free checklists

An employee onboarding process helps new hires get acquainted with the company and sets them up for success. Improve your onboarding with these checklists.

By Hannah Wren, Staff writer

Last updated June 10, 2024

What is an onboarding process?

An employee onboarding process refers to the steps that integrate new employees into an organization. It is a comprehensive and strategic approach to introducing new hires into the company culture, helping them acclimate to their new roles and providing them with the necessary information to succeed.

Dealing with high employee turnover rates brings several challenges to a business. The constant flow of departing and incoming talent can dampen productivity, disrupt team dynamics, and lead to higher costs. One way to reduce employee churn is to implement an employee onboarding process that sets recruits up for success in their new roles.

Beyond being a mere administrative formality, onboarding is a strategic solution capable of reshaping the employee experience from the outset. By crafting a comprehensive onboarding journey, organizations can retain top talent and create a workplace culture that values and nurtures its members.

Learn about the benefits of effective onboarding and how it can be a catalyst for employee engagement and organizational success.

More in this guide:

The basics of employee onboarding

Employee onboarding serves as the foundational bridge between a new hire’s acceptance of a position and their successful integration into the company culture. Effective onboarding helps employees gain the necessary skills and knowledge for their roles and cultivates a sense of belonging.

A well-structured onboarding program communicates organizational values, clarifies expectations, and provides opportunities for social integration—all of which contribute to higher employee satisfaction and a deeper connection to the company. By investing in a comprehensive onboarding process, companies can create a positive first impression, set the stage for lasting employee success, and ultimately strengthen their workforce.

The employee onboarding process timeline

Tailor employee onboarding to the unique needs of your organization and role responsibilities. While the duration and specifics of onboarding processes vary from company to company, it can help break down the timeline into four distinct phases to promote better employee experiences.

The timeline of the employee onboarding process begins one to five days before the employee’s start date and can continue for a few months until the employee transitions into the full responsibilities of their role.


The preboarding phase of employee onboarding often occurs between one and five days before their official start date. During this phase, your organization will lay the groundwork for a seamless transition by preparing new hires for their upcoming roles. Preboarding involves administrative tasks such as:

  • Completing a W-4 form

  • Setting up employee profiles

  • Ensuring workspaces and equipment are ready

Additionally, the preboarding phase includes proactive communication with the incoming employee and providing them with information about the company’s expectations, such as when they start, who they should contact, and how to dress. Early engagement helps new hires feel welcomed, informed, and excited about joining the organization, setting a positive tone for their onboarding journey.


The orientation phase of employee onboarding occurs during the first day or week that new hires formally enter the workplace. During this period, organizations provide a comprehensive introduction to the company, including its values, mission, and culture.

Share essential information regarding company policies, procedures, and compliance requirements so new hires clearly understand the work environment.

It’s also common to introduce new employees to key personnel, tour the facilities, and provide insights into the team and individual roles. The orientation phase aims to acclimate individuals to the organizational structure, instill a sense of belonging, and foster connections with colleagues. By offering a structured and informative initiation, businesses contribute to employee morale and confidence.


During the training phase of employee onboarding, new hires acquire the specific skills, knowledge, and competencies necessary for their roles within the organization. Employees engage in targeted training sessions that typically last one week to two months and may encompass a range of topics, from job-specific tasks to broader organizational processes.

The goal throughout this phase is to equip new employees with the tools they need to excel in their positions, fostering a deeper understanding of performance standards. The training phase enhances the professional development of individuals. It aligns their skills with organizational objectives so they can make meaningful contributions.

New hire transition to full responsibilities

The transition phase of the employee onboarding process gradually occurs at the end of the training period after new hires have fully immersed themselves in their responsibilities. As they integrate into their roles, employees gain hands-on experience, collaborate with team members, and contribute directly to the organization’s objectives.

This phase is characterized by a shift from a more structured learning environment to active participation in daily tasks, projects, and team dynamics. Ongoing support and feedback during this period further contribute to a seamless transition, which ensures that new hires perform their duties effectively, feel fully integrated into the workplace culture, and contribute to the team’s success.

New hire onboarding roles and responsibilities

Onboarding employees is a team effort that requires employee collaboration across the organization. Some key roles that contribute to effective new hire onboarding include:

  • Human resources (HR): HR professionals typically oversee the onboarding process. This includes coordinating paperwork, facilitating orientation sessions, and relaying information about benefits, compensation, and administrative details. They also act as a point of contact for new employees, addressing any initial queries and providing ongoing support.
  • Managers: Managers are directly responsible for guiding new employees in their roles. This involves assigning job-specific training, clarifying expectations, and setting performance goals. Managers also help new hires navigate their responsibilities, foster a positive working relationship, and ensure employees feel supported in their professional development.
  • Mentors/buddies: Mentors are seasoned employees assigned to support and guide new hires. They provide insights into company culture, offer advice on navigating workplace dynamics, and assist with day-to-day questions. Mentees can ask mentors questions new hires don’t necessarily feel comfortable asking their manager.
  • Coworkers: Coworkers socialize new employees by introducing them to team dynamics and providing practical insights into daily work life. Managers may assign new hires to shadow coworkers to learn specific tasks and processes that the manager doesn’t have time to teach.

Each role brings unique perspectives and inputs, collectively ensuring that new employees receive the support and guidance needed for successful integration into the team.

Common onboarding challenges and solutions

Navigating the onboarding landscape comes with its share of hurdles, from streamlining administrative procedures to ensuring effective team assimilation. Below are some common challenges that employees encounter, plus solutions businesses can use to resolve them once and for all.

HR and IT support isn’t easy to reach

Delays in addressing queries or resolving technical issues can impede the onboarding process and frustrate employees. To tackle this challenge, organizations can implement a multichannel communication approach.

Providing your new hires with resources like Slack, Microsoft Teams, email, and chat allows them to reach HR and IT support and increases their chances of receiving timely responses.

Additionally, establishing service level agreements (SLAs) can clarify response times based on the nature of the issue, ensuring that support teams prioritize and promptly address inquiries. This solution fosters a more responsive and accessible support system during onboarding and sets a foundation for ongoing communication between employees.

Tip: Omnichannel communication software can improve internal support response times by centralizing all conversations across channels.

Inaccurate roles and responsibilities

A contributing factor to high employee turnover is when the job description doesn’t align with the actual responsibilities of the position. If applicants enter their first day expecting one thing but are tasked with miscellaneous duties, they might feel deceived and confused about where they fit in the organization.

Temper a new hire’s role expectations by having HR personnel and department managers collaborate on writing the job description. Managers can share insights that may not be common knowledge, helping HR managers screen candidates before making job offers.

Tip: Department managers should periodically review job descriptions to ensure they accurately represent the duties and responsibilities.

Internal support agents are overwhelmed

The sheer volume of details, ranging from product knowledge to support procedures, can create a steep learning curve for new support staff. Information overload can overwhelm new hires and impact the overall efficiency of IT and HR support teams. Agents may struggle to absorb critical information, leading to an influx of internal support requests.

One way to lessen the workload of internal parties involves leveraging AI and automation to streamline and optimize onboarding processes. The right HR help desk software can provide targeted information to new hires through automated training modules and chatbots that intelligently field their questions. Additionally, automation can assist the IT and HR support teams by tracking and organizing employee requests.

Tip: Employee experience journey mapping can help you identify when new hires encounter specific onboarding issues so you can proactively provide learning resources before your internal teams get overwhelmed with support requests.

Company documents are inaccessible

Businesses create an unnecessary hurdle for new employees when essential documents are scattered across various platforms or stored in different locations. This challenge can lead to delays in the onboarding process, hinder the understanding of company policies and procedures, and frustrate new hires.

You can eliminate this issue by centralizing information in an internal knowledge base integrated into the employee portal. By consolidating relevant documents, policies, and guidelines in a single, easily accessible location, you provide new employees with a user-friendly repository of essential information. It also enhances the onboarding process and increases efficiency and overall employee satisfaction.

Tip: Designate employees from different departments to manage the knowledge base and contribute content to help break down information silos in the organization.

6 employee onboarding checklists

Employee onboarding checklists help teams stay organized so a new hire’s experience is as seamless as possible. You can download our complete set of checklists and customize them to match your company’s unique onboarding processes.

Pre-onboarding checklist

An example of a pre-onboarding checklist displays key fields to include, such as sending a company-wide announcement and opening IT support tickets.

Download the pre-onboarding checklist

A comprehensive pre-onboarding guide contributes to a smooth, organized transition for new hires. In this checklist, the HR representative is responsible for coordinating with the new employee, their manager, and the IT department to ensure everything is ready on day one.

Tip: Including status updates on the checklist can help all internal support personnel stay informed on the onboarding progress.

First-day onboarding checklist

An example of a first-day onboarding checklist displays key fields to include, such as touring the workplace and introducing the new hire to their coworkers.

Download the free first-day onboarding checklist

An employee’s first day can be a whirlwind of activity, and a checklist can help keep things manageable. This checklist starts by reminding the HR representative to greet the new employee at the front office and conduct a guided tour of the premises. Incorporating orientation courses or self-guided learning modules on the first day ensures that new employees gain a foundational understanding of company culture, policies, and essential procedures.

Tip: The workplace tour is a great way to introduce the new employee to other departments to foster a stronger sense of belonging.

30-day onboarding checklist

An example of a 30-day onboarding displays key fields to include, such as completing orientation courses and conducting a meeting with the new employee.

Download the free 30-day onboarding checklist

A 30-day onboarding checklist guides new employees through their initial weeks, ensuring a smooth integration into the organization. It should confirm the completion of any remaining orientation courses so new hires can stay on track and gain a solid understanding of company policies and procedures.

Conducting one-on-one check-in meetings with the new hire and their manager allows the HR representative to address any questions, provide guidance, and gauge employee engagement. Additionally, sending an onboarding survey at the end of the first month allows organizations to gather valuable feedback, enabling continuous onboarding process improvements.

Tip: Track survey results using analytics software to reduce the manual effort required to identify trends in your recruitment process and onboarding program.

60-day onboarding checklist

A 60-day onboarding checklist displays key fields to include, such as meeting with the new employee’s manager and assigning tasks with minimal supervision.

Download the free 60-day onboarding checklist

A well-structured 60-day onboarding checklist fosters the continued success and integration of new hires. The checklist encourages HR reps and managers to assign the new employee tasks that require minimal supervision, providing opportunities for independence and growth. At this stage, making the new hire feel like a valued team member and building camaraderie remain a priority.

Reviewing performance metrics progress at the 60-day mark also allows for constructive feedback sessions, ensuring alignment with organizational expectations and offering insights into the individual’s contributions. The 60-day checklist contributes to a successful onboarding transition and supports long-term employee engagement.

Tip: Gradually increase the complexity of tasks assigned to new hires, allowing them to build confidence and understanding throughout their first two months with the company. This progressive learning approach helps ensure employees are not overwhelmed at the outset.

Customer service onboarding checklist

An example customer service onboarding checklist displays key fields to include, such as assigning training modules and explaining KPIs.

In contrast to 30-day and 60-day onboarding checklists that can be applied to any position, a customer service onboarding checklist provides a targeted approach to employee onboarding. These checklists outline the essential steps, tasks, and training modules that new customer service agents need to complete to become proficient and effective in their roles.

It typically includes action items like detailed training on products or services, communication and conflict resolution skills development, and an overview of customer service tools and systems.

Tip: Conduct role-playing exercises with new hires to prepare them for real-world interactions with customers.

Internal support software checklist

An example internal support software checklist displays key fields to include, such as internal ticketing system and messaging software.

Internal support software checklists are systematic guides that help organizations inventory their various software solutions. Regular audits help teams identify the systems they currently have, those they need, and those that need replacing. By conducting systematic audits, organizations can enhance the onboarding experience and operational efficiency by filling technological gaps in their software.

Tip: Identify the integrations of each software to understand the interconnectedness and overall practicality of your solutions.

Download the employee onboarding checklist templates

Get a head start on crafting your onboarding checklists with pre-built templates you can download and customize to fit your processes.

Frequently asked questions

Reduce churn with your onboarding process

Your employee onboarding process can shape the success and longevity of a team member’s journey within your organization. As companies seek to enhance their onboarding experiences, leveraging technology becomes imperative.

Zendesk offers comprehensive employee experience software to streamline communication, centralize information, and provide efficient internal support channels. All this to say, Zendesk helps improve the employee experience. Incorporate our software into your onboarding process to deliver a great new hire experience and improve employee retention.

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