Onboarding overview

The onboarding process introduces new employees to the organization and their new roles. Beyond providing information about the organization’s policies and procedures, an effective onboarding process should make new employee's feel comfortable and help them learn about their role and the organization’s culture and values.

Developing and facilitating employee onboarding takes time. Too often, organizations rush through onboarding hoping that new hires will learn as they get to work.

However, by taking the time to onboard new hires properly, employers can increase employees’ chances of success, engagement, and retention — saving the organization time and money in the long run.

A good onboarding process will enable a new employee to be successful by:

  • Reducing anxiety related to starting a new job.
  • Teaching them the organization’s mission, vision, and values and their work duties.
  • Helping them build relationships with their colleagues.

There are extra nuances to virtual onboarding to pay attention to, such as proactive communication and scheduled social interactions to better understand the organizational culture and develop strong working relationships. Visit MaRS Virtual Onboarding to learn more.

Preparing for onboarding

To ensure a smooth onboarding process, your organization should prepare in advance of a new employee starting work. This may include:

  • Communication
  • Technology and resources
  • People and team


  • If your organization does not have an HR department, the hiring manager should reach out to the employee ahead of time with a welcoming message.
  • Prepare documents for the new employee, such as benefits information, an organizational chart, annual reports, strategic plans, a contact list and a schedule of training sessions, if appropriate.
  • Ensure your employee handbook is up-to-date and the new employee reviews and signs off on it in a timely fashion.
  • Share the onboarding schedule with the new employee, including what will happen on the first day, week, and month.
  • Schedule one-on-one meetings with the employee's direct supervisor to discuss the projects assigned and review documentation.
  • Create a structured calendar ahead of time and schedule regular check-ins and touchpoints so the new employee knows what to expect when they start.

Technology and resources

  • If the new employee is working on-site, arrange for and equip a workspace with the necessary furniture, equipment, and supplies and ensure that all equipment is clean and working.
  • Set up an email address, phone extension and/or cell phone, prepare business cards if needed, and arrange an office access card/fob.
  • Ship equipment to remote workers before their start date.
  • Ensure IT is available to help new hires on their first day.

People and team

  • Advise board members and staff of the new employee’s name, position, and start date.
  • Add the employee to organizational lists, including telephone, email, and website directories.
  • Contact the new employee to confirm details about their first day, including their start time, office location and the name and contact information of their manager.
  • Set up the onboarding team – confirm who will be doing what in the onboarding process.
  • Organize a lunch or after hours get together with the team to get to know everyone in a more casual setting.
  • Ask teammates to schedule meet-and-greet with new hires.
  • Select an onboarding buddy for new hires to share advice and help them navigate the organization.

Onboarding best practices

Many organizations have the basics of an employee onboarding process in place, meaning the information is already available. However, it is essential to consider how to share information about onboarding elements and create an engaging process.

Design a process, not an event

Onboarding is a process that will unfold over time, not just in one day. Therefore, it is important to share enough information for employees to feel equipped and prepared to do their work. Employers should avoid overwhelming new employees with too much information on the first day.

An onboarding period supports the intense learning curve that a new employee will experience. Don’t expect an employee to learn and retain everything at once. Instead, ensure they can get answers to questions as their needs change. This will let new employees know there is ongoing support for their successful integration into the organization and that questions are welcome.

When planning the process, consider how and when you will schedule activities with the new employee and pace it in a way that allows employees to get access to information as they need it to fulfil their duties.

Make a good first impression

Many new employees will carry their first-day experiences with them throughout their time with the organization. Consider the experience from the employee’s perspective and try to make it as engaging and simple as possible. By instilling positive emotions from the beginning, the new employee will be inspired to do great work and add value to your organization.

Don’t overwhelm a new employee with paperwork

Often, the best way to learn about a new workplace is to meet and talk with the people who work there. Rather than asking a new employee to read every policy, procedure, handbook, and report produced in the past five years, consider making the first few days of work as much about meeting people as getting information.

Consider who to involve in the process, meetings with colleagues, volunteers, board members, and even clients can tell a new employee a lot about the organization, including important cultural elements that aren’t well documented or articulated in the paperwork.

Make onboarding personal and meaningful

It is important to adapt the onboarding process as much as possible to the individual employee’s particular needs. It is a collaborative process to ensure employees feel welcomed and valued. By having open, effective communication, new employees are able to share their preferences and needs. It gives them the opportunity to discuss issues related to inclusion and accommodation.

You can work together to overcome employment barriers and respond effectively to find reasonable accommodation in the workplace. Remember to check-in with new employees to see if the agreed-upon solution is working or adjustments are needed.

While there is basic information that all employees need to access, individuals will have different expectations from the onboarding process. Some more experienced employees would appreciate more autonomy while those who are new to the labour market are likely to require more guidance.

Those new to the nonprofit sector may require more information than someone with extensive sector experience. Similarly, those who are new to the Canadian workforce may require onboarding regarding workplace practices or norms that you may take for granted.

Help new employees understand and build their internal network

To become a fully functioning member of your organization, new employees need to figure out your people, their roles, and how to interact with them. You can encourage this by building formal and informal interaction into the onboarding process, giving new employees multiple opportunities to engage with their new colleagues.

An organizational chart that depicts names, titles, and relationships will help new employees understand their network. To build their network, consider matching new employees with a peer who can help them navigate your company’s work environment and teams and introduce them to team members they’ll collaborate with in the future.

Offer insight on workplace culture and informal practices

An onboarding process that only covers policies and procedures only tells a small part of the organization’s story. Onboarding is supposed to answer questions such as:

  • What is this organization all about?
  • What is it like to work here?
  • How are things organized?
  • How does my work contribute to the strategy, mission and/or vision of your organization?
  • What are the organization's strategic objectives?

Think of the formal and informal rules at your workplace. For example:

  • What is the office dress code?
  • Do you observe a casual Friday?
  • How often are "all staff" meetings scheduled?
  • How often do teams meet?
  • How would I make a suggestion for an agenda item in a team meeting or town hall meeting?

Make onboarding information accessible

New employees should receive an employee handbook that covers the information discussed during the onboarding process, along with additional key information such as:

  • New employee onboarding schedules.
  • Health and safety documents.
  • Benefits forms.
  • Payroll information, such as pay schedules and applicable forms.
  • Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs).
  • Policies and procedures.

This information can also be hosted on your organization's intranet so that it’s readily available as a reference point. Once new employees have settled into their roles, you can remind them key resources are accessible. This information is also valuable for existing employees.


An online resource that you regularly update is the best practice for information sharing. If your organization uses any instant messaging tools, like Slack or Teams, you can invite your new hire to relevant channels, as well as introduce them to team members there.

Assign allies, buddies, and mentors from the start

Once settled in, a new employee may naturally connect with a senior employee or proactively seek a mentor in the workplace. However, it’s beneficial to assign a welcome mentor to each new hire to help them navigate the first weeks on the job and get to know the organization’s culture.

Similarly, it is helpful to assign a "buddy" to each new employee. This is a good way to involve a co-worker in the process. This person could interact with the new hire on a more informal basis, filling them in on company norms and values, all the unwritten expectations that are part of the culture, and facilitating introductions around the workplace.

A common practice is to establish Employee Resource Groups (ERG), where employees with shared identities and/or experiences build a sense of belonging and community in the workplace.

By providing support and contributing to both personal and professional development, employees can voice concerns, solve problems, gain organizational support and access to decision makers. These groups seek to offer resources and advance a respectful and inclusive organizational culture. These groups are more common in larger organizations but they can exist in smaller organizations as well.

When introducing Employee Resource Groups to your organization, please ensure they are led and operated by individuals from that community and/or with that lived experience. Also, ensure that other groups who identify the need for a similar group for their community are also honoured and given the same sort of space and resources as the first group.

Another recommendation is to consider creating a third group that brings all of the groups together. This will allow for groups to have a space to speak on their own and to still feel connected to the larger organization and its diverse members as a whole.

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