The Power of First Impressions: Why Onboarding is Crucial to Retaining your Employees

Help us get a session featured at SXSW's 2017 Interactive Conference."Vote for our session on how to build a personal brand with social media." Click here.

Imagine your first day on a new job. You arrive and no one is waiting to greet you; or, your HR representative is running late. When you do get started, you are asked to fill out some forms for taxes and benefits, but you don’t receive guidance on your 401k distributions until you prompt your representative. After this, a two minute “welcome” video is played describing the basics of the company and you are then whisked away to meet your team…only to find out that half of them are at lunch and you have no desk and you can’t login to your laptop. The final icing on the cake is that it is only half past noon.

Simply put, the initial impression of your company to new employees can mean the difference between their long-term commitment and their willingness to leave for the next best offer. Making a good first impression sets the tone for your relationship and it all begins with proper onboarding.


Known by various terms, the concept of onboarding is not particularly new. The classic name for onboarding might be “orientation” which speaks to the original concept: pointing a new employee in the right direction to complete core forms and cover basic company information. Unfortunately, this level of engagement ends up being more about covering the requirements for a new hire than about welcoming a new member of the team/company and it can easily leave employees feeling lost amidst the whirl of their first day on the job.

The ramifications of a poor first day can resonate for years with employees feeling that “from Day 1” they weren’t taken seriously, or that the company wasn’t concerned about their wellbeing. These attitudes left unaltered can turn into poor performance, potentially negative views expressed inside and outside of the workplace, and disloyalty. Combatting empathy is something I alluded to in my previous post and it all starts on Day 1 (realistically, employees start to form opinions about their prospective employer from the time of their first contact with the organization; but, we will save that for another post).

Let’s review some of the basics that successful onboarding processes cover and then discuss how you can tailor your options to fit your organization’s needs and culture.

The Basics

When onboarding a new hire, you should always have a structured plan that outlines the first day in conjunction with the new hire’s manager. For most companies, the HR professional will use the first portion of the day to discuss corporate policies, benefits, and the basics of the environment after which the manager will take over.

At a minimum, you should consider the following elements for your new hire to help the first day go smoothly:

  • Welcome Email/Call – as the HR representative, be sure to include the following in your “welcome” outreach: location details, where to park, which entrance to use, and where/when you will meet them. Don’t forget to talk about dress code for the first day so that the new hire will know what to wear to feel at home.
  • Agenda – include the time, location, and names/titles of the people who are going to be meeting with the new hire throughout the day.
  • Forms, Benefits – tax information, 401k distribution/matching, benefits/bonuses and a new hire’s eligibility for such, beneficiary forms, and healthcare policies will need to be reviewed. Call out places for signatures to make it easier for the employee and provide key points up front for each section to act as a thought starter.
  • Handbook, HR Documentation, Corporate Information – the level of detail you will need here is up to you and your company policy, but if the amount of information is lengthy, consider dividing this information into easily understandable groups with breaks built in allowing the employee to digest what is being learned. Always cover how employees can access this information in the future at their own leisure.
  • Technology, Access – work with IT to ensure that hardware (computer, desk or mobile phone, tablet, etc.) is available from the moment the employee arrives and that a first time login/walk-through is scheduled. Access to email, team folders, and intranet sites on their first day will also give options for employee training in the first few weeks as they begin to transition into their roles. Building/parking access, ID photos, and employee profiles should also be covered.
  • Seating Arrangements – work with your organization or facility management to make sure that the employee will have their permanent location available. While most new hires will travel light on their first day, acclimation to their location (including directing them how to get to and from their desk) helps transition them to feeling like they are a part of the company.
  • Manager/Team Introduction – this should be a soft handoff with you remaining for a little while through introductions and making sure that the employee is comfortable. Since you will have spent the most time with them so far in the onboarding, you will be a familiar face that they may not want to suddenly be without. Consider planning an activity, such as lunch, where you can be included while the employee gets to know the other team members.

At CTCA®, for example, we have a 3-day new employee orientation called Hope, Joy, Pride, that provides onboarding for all new hires within the same time period. This is a mandatory orientation process that all new hires must complete before their “official” first day on the job. During these three days, department leaders present key information about their roles within the organization. We provide all benefits and retirement information during this time as well. All new hires receive a “buddy” who works in a different department than the new hire and with whom they meet for the first time during Hope Joy Pride. At the end of Hope Joy Pride, the new hires’ managers and other team members are invited to join us to celebrate together – usually with refreshments. These are little details that make a big difference.

The Personal Touches

To add even more value to the onboarding experience, think about the personal touches that you would want to see if you were being onboarded today:

  • Something as simple as including your picture in the “Welcome Email” will go a long way to let the new employee know you want them to know with whom they are going to be interacting when they arrive.
  • Having coffee and/or tea with light pastries and fruit during your morning session can be a nice surprise.
  • Providing a tour of the location including how to get in and out of the building.
  • Recommending good places to get lunch in the area if an employee had to relocate or has a long commute.
  • Circling back at the end of the day to either check in with the employee or walk out with them can be a great way to bookend the onboarding experience.

Just the Beginning

The ability to tailor an onboarding for a specific employee can seem time consuming, but with a little practice it can become routine and make a world of difference to someone who is joining your company. Don’t hesitate to solicit feedback in company surveys, as this can be an invaluable guide for what your employees did or did not like. And remember, this is just the beginning: succession planning and a well thought out career path will go a long way to continue the good work that starts with a great first impression.

What would you add to your company’s onboarding process?

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...


  1. Hi Eric, its an interesting article. I run a specialist Real Estate recruitment agency in Warsaw in Poland and whats really key for me before a new starter joins is to make sure the technology side is sorted.

    There is nothing more annoying than not having functioining email as soon as you start. The other thing i like to do is make sure that we have the latest industry publications in house for reading and research purposes. Its also a good way of finding potential partners and biz ops.

    Thanks for the article

    • Hi Mark,

      Thank you for taking the time to read my post and for sharing your thoughts. I agree that having all the right technology in place for new hires is important for making a great impression during their first few days on board. Great note on having the latest industry publications in house as a resource, as well. At CTCA, we also keep relevant journals, magazines, newspapers, etc., on hand for both our employees and patients!

      Eric Magnussen

Leave a Comment