UPDATED DECEMBER 2023
How long does onboarding take? Some approaches suggest employee onboarding is done and dusted after a few short weeks, or even days. Today, with a greater understanding of the modern workforce, we know better.
From our experience, onboarding should last at least seven months — one month before the new hire’s first day at work and at least six months after.
Learn about the phases of an effective onboarding process and the factors influencing how long the onboarding process should last.
4 Phases of the Onboarding Process
An effective onboarding process typically consists of several distinct phases that aim to smoothly integrate new employees into the organization. Check out the four phases of onboarding to help your new hires feel welcomed and excited to get started.
For most employees, engagement and excitement are highest in the days following their acceptance of an offer letter — and it goes downhill from here. Some companies overpromise on their employee experience and underdeliver on their onboarding experience. Others drop the ball by not engaging with their new hire until a few days before they’re due to start.
Either way, many new employees are at risk of becoming disillusioned, dissatisfied, and disengaged very early in their tenure, and that can spell disaster for your engagement and retention rates.
That’s why preboarding is such a key phase of the onboarding process. By building connections early, preboarding engages with and prepares incoming employees, fostering a sense of excitement even before they join your workplace.
Preboarding involves a series of activities, such as sending welcome emails, sharing important new-hire paperwork, providing access to company resources, and introducing new hires to key team members or workplace mentors. By proactively engaging with new employees before they officially join the organization, preboarding sets the stage for a smooth transition and helps alleviate any potential anxieties or uncertainties.
Preboarding should begin with the hiring manager reaching out to the new hire about a month before their start date. Managers should set expectations for the employee onboarding program and provide an onboarding checklist the new hire can use to track their progress.
Employee orientation, also known as onboarding orientation or new hire orientation, is the second phase of the employee onboarding process, during which new hires are introduced to the company and its policies, procedures, and overall work environment. Consider this stage the compass that helps newcomers navigate their way through the organization.
During employee orientation, hiring managers and HR professionals give employees a comprehensive overview of the company's mission, vision, and values. It's a time to familiarize new hires with organizational structure, departmental functions, and key leaders and influencers in each area. Orientation also can include a walkthrough of a company’s policies, code of conduct, and legal or compliance requirements.
But employee orientation isn't just about information overload. It's an opportunity for new employees to start building connections and relationships with their colleagues. They may participate in icebreaker activities, team-building exercises, or social events to help them feel welcomed and integrated into the company culture. The goal is to ensure that new hires feel supported, informed, and ready to hit the ground running in their new roles.
Employee orientation typically lasts two to five days and begins on the employee’s first day.
Employee training is the crash course that equips new hires with the knowledge and skills they need to excel in their roles. It's the time when organizations provide specific job-related training to ensure that employees have a solid foundation to perform their tasks effectively and efficiently.
During employee training, new hires may receive theoretical and practical instruction. They may attend workshops, shadow co-workers, or take online courses to learn about the company's products, services, and processes. They also may receive training on specific tools, software, or equipment they’ll use in their day-to-day work.
But employee training during onboarding goes beyond just technical skills. It's also an opportunity for new employees to develop soft skills, such as communication, teamwork, and problem-solving. They may participate in role-playing exercises, group discussions, or mentorship programs to enhance their interpersonal skills and adapt to the company's work culture.
The goal of employee training during onboarding is to empower new hires to become confident, productive members of the team. By providing them with the necessary knowledge and skills, you can set up new hires for success and contribute to their long-term growth and development within the company.
The length of the training phase may vary depending on the complexity of the role or requirements of the industry, but it usually lasts from a week up to a month or more.
Cultural assimilation is one of our favorite recent onboarding trends, and with good reason: The process of integrating employees into the culture during onboarding is crucial for creating a sense of belonging and alignment. It helps new hires understand the company's unique identity, fosters a positive work environment, and ultimately contributes to their long-term engagement and success within the organization.
To integrate employees into the culture, organizations may provide opportunities for new hires to interact with their colleagues and leaders. This could include team-building activities, social events, or even informal coffee chats. By fostering connections and relationships, new employees can start to feel like they belong and are part of a larger community.
Additionally, organizations may communicate and reinforce the company's values and expectations during the onboarding process. This could be done through training sessions, orientation materials, or even storytelling sessions where employees share their experiences and the values that guide their work. By consistently emphasizing the importance of the company's culture, new hires can understand and embrace the behaviors and attitudes that the organization values.
The integration process should run concurrently with the initial three phases of onboarding and should last after them. Encourage onboarding buddies to have monthly check-ins with new hires to address bigger-picture questions of culture. The integration phase lays the groundwork for a strong community, so leverage those connections to support a better experience.
How Long Should Onboarding Last?
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to how long onboarding should last. By exploring various factors, such as the complexity of the role, industry requirements, and the organization's specific needs, you can set an onboarding timeline that helps new hires begin to master their roles and integrate into the company.
Factors Influencing Employee Onboarding Timelines
The length of the onboarding process can be influenced by several factors, including the complexity of the role, the size of the organization, and the industry in which it operates.
Firstly, the complexity of the role plays a significant role in determining the length of the onboarding process. If the position requires specialized skills or extensive training, it may take longer to fully onboard a new employee. Complex roles often involve a steep learning curve, requiring additional time for the new hire to become proficient in their responsibilities.
Secondly, the size of the organization can impact the length of the onboarding process. Larger organizations with more departments and processes may have a more extensive onboarding program to ensure that new employees understand the various aspects of the company. This can include training on different systems, policies, and procedures, which may take more time to cover thoroughly.
Lastly, the industry in which the organization operates can influence the length of the onboarding process. Certain industries, such as health care or finance, have strict regulations and compliance requirements that new employees must be trained on. This can extend the onboarding process as additional time is needed to ensure that employees are knowledgeable and compliant with industry-specific regulations.
How to Adjust Onboarding Programs to Meet Your Needs
Start by assessing the specific requirements of the role and the industry. Identify the key knowledge, skills, and competencies that new hires need to succeed. Tailor the onboarding program to focus on these critical areas, streamlining the process by making sure that it aligns with the specific needs of the role. This can help reduce the onboarding timeline for positions that don't require extensive training or compliance.
Someone taking on an office job in a healthcare setting, for example, may not need all the training related to patient interactions that staff working on the floor require. A nurse, on the other hand, will require extensive training in compliance and patient safety before completing the onboarding process.
Look at each role on the front end to determine an onboarding and development plan. Say, for example, that you’re tasked with developing the onboarding plan for a large manufacturing company. Take a comprehensive approach by looking at each role individually, such as machine operators, quality control inspectors, and maintenance technicians. Your HR team arranges the specific responsibilities, technical skills, and safety protocols associated with each role within a tailored onboarding program, which includes job-specific training, equipment familiarization, safety procedures, and mentorship opportunities.
By looking at each role individually, and building in time for connections, you can make sure that new hires receive the training and support they need to become high-performing employees in their role and industry.
Leveraging Technology for More Efficient Onboarding
By leveraging technology, you can streamline and automate various aspects of onboarding, such as paperwork, training modules, and communication. This not only saves time and resources but also guarantees consistency and efficiency throughout the onboarding journey.
Onboarding software allows you to build workflows designed to integrate new hires into different aspects of work life, giving them greater opportunities to connect with their peers and colleagues across the business. A well-structured onboarding process ensures that new hires are equipped with the necessary skills, knowledge, and resources to succeed in their roles. It also fosters a sense of belonging and engagement, which leads to higher retention rates and increased productivity.
Ultimately, investing in a robust onboarding strategy not only benefits individual employees but also strengthens the organization, positioning it for success in an ever-changing business landscape.