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What is onboarding?


What is Onboarding (Definition)?

12 Oct


Many small businesses can’t answer the question “what is onboarding?” and aren’t familiar with how it can help improve employee productivity and retention.

In this article we’ll break it down the definition of onboarding and provide links to resources that can help you improve your company’s onboarding process.

Uncovering an Onboarding Definition (With the Help of the Experts)

According to Wikipedia, onboarding is defined as the system or process that employers use to ensure their new employees gain the knowledge and skills they need to effectively contribute to their organization.

Think: employee integration into a company, its systems, and its culture, with the end goals of greater productivity and retention.

SHRM logo

The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) provides the following onboarding definition: “new employee onboarding is the process of integrating a new employee with a company and its culture, as well as getting a new hire the tools and information needed to become a productive member of the team.”

SHRM emphasizes that the onboarding process should be strategic, lasting the entire first year of employment, with the goals of engaging employees faster, and retaining them longer.

Harvard Business Review logo

Taking it one step further, a recent Harvard Business Review article helps to define onboarding across three distinct areas: 

  • Organizational onboarding, which helps teach employees how things work at your company, in addition to helping them to assimilate to your organization’s values, behaviors, and norms. 
  • Technical onboarding, where you help an employee understand what excellence means at your company and define clear goals that will help them get there. 
  • Social onboarding, which helps new employees build relationships at your company, and feel that they are part of a larger community working together toward common goals.

Connecting the Dots to Fully Define Onboarding

The meaning of onboarding is a comprehensive, strategic, staged process by which you introduce and integrate a new employee into all key parts of your organization.

While exact language may vary in describing what onboarding is, an authoritative onboarding definition includes the following: a comprehensive, strategic, staged process by which you introduce and integrate a new employee into all key parts of your organization. 

Onboarding unfolds over days, weeks, and months within the first year of employment. It includes completion of paperwork, introductions, as well as ongoing, job-specific training and development. It also includes the setting and meeting of specific goals. 

Your process to onboard new employees should effectively communicate your company’s mission, policies, values, and culture so your employee may assimilate and ultimately, succeed within their work environment.

The end goal is to engage your new hire and provide them with the skills, knowledge, and tools they need to contribute and succeed for the long-term within your organization. Simply put, investing in employee onboarding helps your company reduce turnover and grow faster. 

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Tips for Onboarding Success

  • Onboarding at your organization will take on deeper, more specific meaning when you define and customize the process further for your own employees. 
  • Taking time to outline a distinct onboarding process at your organization including utilizing an onboarding checklist will help you stay organized, think strategically, and keep consistent with each new hire. 
  • Partnering with a professional Human Resources provider like a Professional Employer Organization (PEO) can help take the guesswork out of managing hiring, onboarding, training, and managing employee performance. A PEO can provide expert advice and that saves time and helps lower costs across your business. Learn more about how a PEO works. 


Do smaller companies handle onboarding differently than larger organizations?

There are many ways that companies manage onboarding for new employees. While the goal of fully integrating employees into a company and its culture to achieve greater productivity faster may be consistent across all organizations, the means and methods by which organizations achieve that will vary.

Clearly defining your process and following an onboarding checklist will help your company create a strategy and system that works best for you. 

What are the primary steps in the process?

Onboarding steps should be personalized for new hires within a larger plan. This includes the assignment of a designated onboarding team, employee orientation, completion of required new hire paperwork, ongoing individualized training and development, fostering of key relationships, and regular opportunities for review and feedback. 

You can read more about essential onboarding process steps here.

Are there other ways that employers refer to onboarding?

Many small businesses in the U.S. don’t use the word onboarding, referring to it as “training” or something similar.

But nearly all of these companies have some sort of onboarding steps in place. By looking at new hire onboarding as a formal process, the desired result of improved employee engagement, productivity, and reduced turnover.

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