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Don’t Treat Onboarding Like a Chore

Published Thursday Nov 3, 2022

Author By Amy Cann

Don’t Treat Onboarding Like a Chore

Onboarding a new employee has always been a low-priority, unpleasant task. From the busy HR person checking off items on their list, the distracted manager trying to find time to plan, and the newly hired individual who just wants to jump in and get started, onboarding is viewed as a task to finish as quickly as possible. But when you treat a process like a chore, you miss its potential.

1. Automate the actual administrative part of the onboarding process. While accuracy and compliance are critical, completing a W-4 and a direct deposit form is not making magic for anyone.

Good onboarding software enhances the process by creating an efficient, streamlined experience for you and your new hires. Most payroll software providers have onboarding options where you only need to enter the person’s name and personal email address, and the software takes it from there. Our company uses Gusto, which even integrates with Gmail to set up work email addresses. Talk to your payroll provider or do some research.

The only process you cannot wholly automate is the physical documentation review for I-9s, particularly for remote workplaces. This subject is a bit nuanced because of the COVID remote verification process through Oct. 31, and those employers are required to use E-Verify, like government contractors. An effort is underway to modernize the I-9 employment verification process, but it is not there yet. If you are unsure of current requirements, consult an expert.

2. Remember your goal is to integrate a real person into your organization to become a valuable member and stay. Staying in communication is essential. Many candidates are still getting interviews and offers from employers. Don’t be radio silent during the weeks leading up to their start date. 

You need an onboarding practice that starts before the person’s official hire date and extends through at least their first month to three months. The hiring manager should take the lead here, not HR. Check in and see if the person has any questions before the big day. Make sure their workstation is set up before they start. Stay top of mind and show your continued enthusiasm about them joining your team. An organized, efficient, energized approach leaves a powerful impression and sets your company apart from the competition.
3. Focus on relationship building  from the beginning. Your leadership role is to be a good listener, vocalize appreciation, show empathy and mentor your team. Provide the time and resources to set them up for success. Practice transparency and clear communication to build trust and avoid misunderstandings. Follow up with an email summarizing important and complex conversations, particularly performance-related matters, in case they arise later. And remember, no one is perfect. When you make a mistake—or your team member does—just address it and move on. Life is ongoing learning for everyone.

4. Integrate your new hire with your culture, policies and expectations. Your policies are an extension of your culture and provide guidance around individual employee rights and obligations. Please do not send a newly hired person your handbook, safety manual and other policies with a note to read and sign the acknowledgment form. You can use this time to connect and learn more about each other. It’s time consuming, but sit down (in-person or via Zoom) and review the most critical sections of your policies with your new employee, particularly timekeeping requirements (avoid DOL violations), conduct expectations and safety topics like emergency evacuation and workplace violence procedures. Everyone must know what to do in an emergency on Day One.

If applicable, ensure any required safety training is completed before the employee starts their duties and schedule additional job training for the first week. For many people, the first 30 days of a new job are make-or-break days, especially when job interview requests may still be filtering in.

5. Setting goals and expectations between newly hired folks and their supervisor is critical. Please do not assume the person knows what you want and what to do to satisfy your performance expectations. An initial meeting should be scheduled for the first week of work. This meeting is a great time to talk about communication methods and expectations.

Do you, as a manager, prefer a brief weekly email update? Do you like a text over a phone call in some or all cases? What’s an emergency, and what can wait 24 hours? Does your organization use Slack or other instant messaging instead of email? Some people are energized by face-to-face communication, while others prefer email; what does your new team member prefer? How soon do you expect your team to respond to your emails? What hours must virtual or hybrid team members be available? If you choose a two-hour or less response time, let them know. The list goes on.

Establish the ground rules immediately. Poor communication and misunderstanding are two of the major factors that generate conflict. 

Finally, remember this 2,000 year-old wisdom from Epictetus: We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.

Amy Cann, JD, is managing partner of HR ROI Consulting in Portsmouth. For more information, visit

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