How To Design an Effective, Inclusive Onboarding Program

Cat DiStasio

HR Expert (& Huge Geek)

22 Feb 2024

inclusive onboarding.

With a more distributed workforce than ever before, Cat DiStasio highlights why a truly inclusive onboarding program is key – and how to build one.


Effective onboarding sets new employees up for a positive employee experience, including better performance and higher retention. As the workforce has become more dispersed – with some folks working fully in-office, some working remotely, and still others dividing their time – the moving target of a truly inclusive and successful onboarding process has challenged people leaders to become more strategic and conscientious about what that process looks (and feels) like.

Poor onboarding is one of the top causes of early attrition and it’s a factor that’s well within reach for organizations to improve. A Paychex survey found that 52% of employees feel undertrained after completing their employer’s onboarding program. And not surprisingly, the rates are highest among remote workers (63%). Certainly, this is an opportunity for companies to create and execute better onboarding programs to help employees feel supported and retain that talent.  

Let’s explore what it takes to design an inclusive, effective onboarding process for all your new in-office, remote, and hybrid employees.

What is onboarding?

Traditionally, onboarding refers to the beginning phase of a new hire’s employment. It’s the first days and weeks when they do all the paperwork (physically or digitally) to complete the hiring process, meet their coworkers and colleagues, and generally get acquainted with their new role.

In many cases, the onboarding period includes an orientation of sorts – to the company’s mission and values, code of conduct, benefits and perks, as well as to any tools or resources a new employee will need to be successful in their role. In some organizations, onboarding is a two-hour meeting. In others, it’s a weeks-long process that involves more in-depth training, mentoring check-ins, and two-way evaluations.

One common aspect of onboarding, no matter what it looks like in your organization, is that managers tend to ask some variation on the same question: When does onboarding end?

While there may be a finite date that a new hire completes all the necessary forms, training, and checklists associated with onboarding, the reality is that onboarding doesn’t just abruptly stop. Employees don’t graduate from onboarding – it’s just the early stage of the employee experience. Thinking of onboarding this way – like an entrance ramp to the highway of workplace culture – is helpful in understanding why it’s so important to ensure that the process is inclusive and effective for everyone you hire.  

Why is onboarding so important?

The quality of the onboarding experience, for better or worse, sets new hires up for their employee experience. This is crucial because many new hires are still deciding, perhaps on a daily basis, whether they made the right decision.

Work Institute’s 2023 Retention Report revealed that 35% of employees quit within their first year on the job, and 37% of those quits happened in the first 90 days of employment. Those figures are down just slightly from the 2022 report but are pretty much aligned with pre-pandemic figures, suggesting this challenge is not a new one.

That said, it’s not too late to make positive changes to your onboarding program to give new hires a stronger sense of purpose and community.

Essential components of inclusive, effective onboarding programs

HR professionals understand that culture is the living, breathing representation of the people who make up a company. The onboarding period is when new hires go from hearing about the culture to experiencing it firsthand and in action. How the company approaches each aspect of onboarding gives new hires more clues about what the work culture is really like, from what is celebrated to what is overlooked.

As you make decisions about your onboarding program, channel the new hire’s point of view and try to imagine what each component says about your culture.


As Indeed points out, creating a personalized onboarding experience can help set new employees up for success. This approach also speaks to the need for inclusion. By taking each person’s individual skills, background, and personality into account in the onboarding process, it shows them that the company values them as a unique human being. This, in turn, fosters trust and can lead to higher levels of engagement and productivity.


This is where many onboarding programs stop short. Employers typically cover what they expect from a new hire’s behavior and job performance, but they don’t always follow through with the support and resources new employees need to be successful in their new roles. Normalize new hires asking for help by proactively communicating about what they should expect from their new employer.

Mentoring programs

Matching new hires up with a mentor right from the start sends a strong signal that your company is invested in their individual success. Many companies assign a peer mentor or ‘buddy’ to help new hires navigate everything from how to get paid and who to contact about equipment or access problems, to where to find procedural documentation and other internal resources they need to navigate the day-to-day work they do. Making this an official partnership takes the pressure off new hires who may inadvertently feel they are annoying or distracting their team members with all their questions.

Location-independent benefits and perks

During an on-site onboarding program, new hires are traditionally treated to a variety of perks, such as provided meals and snacks, company swag, and even fun social outings. Don’t let remote employees miss out on a similar experience. For remote employees – or hybrid employees who will participate in onboarding remotely – send a welcome package to their home ahead of their start date. Include the same sorts of goodies that on-site employees might get during onboarding, from office supplies and meal delivery vouchers to company swag. These things aren’t likely to make anyone jump up and down with joy but thoughtful gestures like this can help demonstrate that every employee, regardless of work location, is valued and appreciated. 

Inclusive onboarding: ramping up employee engagement

Crafting an inclusive and effective onboarding process is essential for HR leaders to cultivate a positive employee experience and foster long-term retention. As the workforce landscape continues to evolve and increasingly encompasses in-office, remote, and hybrid work arrangements, the need for strategic onboarding practices becomes ever more apparent.

Poor onboarding not only contributes to early attrition but also undermines employee confidence and productivity. By personalizing the onboarding experience, setting clear expectations, implementing mentoring programs, and extending location-independent benefits and perks, organizations can create a welcoming environment that supports the success of all new hires, regardless of their work arrangement.

Investing in a comprehensive inclusive onboarding program is not just a task to check off but a vital step in nurturing a thriving workplace culture and retaining top talent.


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