3 Steps to Creating an Inclusive Employee Onboarding Experience

A new employee shakes hands with their team members

The onboarding experience is your organization’s opportunity to make a lasting first impression for your new hire. It is not only imperative to provide a great onboarding experience for the success of the new employee, but it is also critical for the business impact on retention, turnover, and overall company brand. So how do you make sure that you are ensuring the same inclusive and positive culture during onboarding that you demonstrated to your candidate during the interview and hiring process?

Pre-boarding: Cultivate meaningful relationships before the first day of work

As people leaders, we know that onboarding begins when the employee accepts the offer. The same positive interactions during recruitment and hiring must be carried out throughout the onboarding process. Pre-boarding in a thoughtful way can help to cultivate meaningful relationships with new hires before their first day of work so they don’t feel overwhelmed taking on their new role.

I have witnessed how the new hire experience can shift when there are multiple stakeholders, especially when paperwork is reshuffled, messaging is dropped, there is a lack of a digital process or, worse yet, there may be no formal strategy. A strategic and thoughtful pre-boarding process should be about making the roles of new hires, managers, and HR easier, especially since today’s new hire experiences are so dynamic. We must ensure that the onboarding system interacts seamlessly, and technology should be leveraged to provide an effective and streamlined process.

Most of the administrative tasks should be done during this time and this includes providing access to logging into your system, setting onboarding expectations, and sharing critical information about the new role. Make sure that forms and systems are accessible and have inclusive language. Eliminating the language barrier with built-in language translators allows new hires to complete tasks in their native language. Systems/dashboards should be intuitive and easy to follow with clear, organized action items for the new hire. It is also important to remember that employees all have different access to technology. Therefore, ensuring your technology is accessible with mobile capabilities will help to build connection. A collaborative onboarding process allows new hires to get step-by-step guidance when needed, which cultivates a positive relationship and builds trust.

Connect during onboarding: What does your organization believe in?

The focus here should not only be on what it means to work at your organization but what your organization believes in. There are numerous studies that show the positive and meaningful connection that is formed when time is taken to introduce a new hire to a company’s culture and provide opportunities to request the special workplace accommodations they may need. This is an opportunity to refine your inclusion strategy.

From my experience, I have seen what happens to organizations when inclusion is missing from the discussion at the beginning of the employee’s journey. We must remember that just how organizations are on different stages of their diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) journey, so are employees. New hires can come from so many different backgrounds, and for some, DEIB may be very new. That is why it is imperative not only to talk about what DEIB means to your organization while you are recruiting, but to demonstrate it throughout the entire employee journey, including onboarding.

One thing that I am constantly discussing with organizations is that employees should be hired for cultural add, not cultural fit. The emphasis should not solely focus on how we bring new hires into the current organizational culture, but rather how we bring and expand the new employee’s skills, approaches, and perspectives of the organization.

Employees should be hired for cultural add, not cultural fit.

You can really foster a new hires’ sense of belonging with connections. Connections can also help them to learn about the organization through interactions. Mentorships and buddy programs are a great way to foster those connections and create a sense of belonging, and they can help new hires create immediate connections within the organization. Even just having a coworker volunteer to help a new hire understand the organizational culture helps to establish working relationships. Many organizations have leveraged Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) in their onboarding process for employees to feel more of a sense of community within the organization right from the start.  

Onboarding beyond orientation: It doesn’t end after the first 90 days

Onboarding is an ongoing process, and orientation is just one singular event that is part of it. Feedback should be collected throughout the employee’s entire journey whether through pulse surveys, regular check-ins, or employee conversations to see the impact of employee engagement. The right insights, analytics, and actions can really help people leaders understand what kinds of changes need to be implemented to onboarding strategies. Real-time analytics should be happening on a regular basis and not at the end of onboarding or when an employee is going through an exit interview. Understanding the sentiment behind what employees are expressing is also critical for tapping into feedback during real time.

Organizations must live by their company values throughout the onboarding process to really foster an environment in which an employee feels included, invested, and accepted. Onboarding is fundamental for all new hires and current employees’ productivity, inclusion, and overall sense of belonging. As we continue to navigate the complexities of the world of work, it is fundamental to have both the right technology and impactful inclusive strategies in your onboarding process that enhance belonging—the connection that allows people and organizations to thrive.