Your employee just strutted through the front door and the air is dripping with excitement. They plunk themselves down in a chair and wait for someone to tell them where to go. Ten minutes pass, then 20. Finally, someone comes over to whisk them away.
Unfortunately, the experience is already soured.
Whether it’s the first day or the first week, not welcoming folks with open arms can shatter an otherwise promising initial experience. Luckily, there are many things you can do to ensure the first day is a success even before your new hire arrives.
In this article, we’ll show you how to set up an onboarding program that makes day one truly one of a kind.
Why is the first day so important?
A person’s first impression of your company sets the stage for what the future will look like. If they feel comfortable, getting acclimated will feel as easy as pie. And this important feeling all starts with something called onboarding. No, onboarding isn’t a nautical term — it’s an HR word that means the time it takes for folks to get familiar with your company. Done well, it can have a huge impact on retention, and ultimately, how successful people are in their roles.
Your list of first day to-dos
Everything you need, boiled down into a quick checklist:
- Arrive early
- Make non-stop introductions
- Give an office tour and explain how to use relevant equipment. Point out bathrooms, conference rooms, the kitchen, and other key areas.
- Take your new hire out to lunch
- Give them building keys and access cards
- Walk them through any new hire paperwork
- Make a copy of documentation needed for your records: Driver’s license, passport, Social Security card, etc.
- Have them sign the employee handbook
- Set them up on payroll
Now, let’s dive into each one of these items below.
Be the first one to welcome them
Imagine arriving at a party before the host. You stall, shuffle your feet, and text them — it’s awkward. Knowing this, you should arrive extra early so you can be there way before your new employee gets there. Plus, it will also give you an opportunity to add any last-minute touches to their desk or field any questions they have about what the day will entail.
Introduce them to others
Before they get sucked into the non-stop party that is orientation, take an hour to walk around with your new employee and introduce them to team members. Show them their desk, have them get comfortable and hang up their coat, and then skate around the office with them.
If you send an email announcing who they are before they start, teammates will already be armed with enough information to welcome them more warmly to the team. Additionally, at the next company all-hands meeting (or lunch), make them stand and introduce themselves to the team with some fun facts.
To keep the connections going, also remember to add your new employee to relevant meeting invites, mailing lists, and communication channels.
Give them an onboarding agenda
Before day one, make sure you send over a schedule of what your new hire can expect. Tell them where to go, and show them exactly where each room is located. Provide times the team will stick to, and conclude with a “go home” time so they aren’t sitting there wondering when they should leave.
This will also help them feel more in control as they go through all the new experiences on the first day. It will alleviate any fears about what they should be doing, since most likely, no day-to-day work will be accomplished on that first day. In fact, most HR folks agree that new employees should be barred from completing any work on the first day. Give them space to soak up everything they’ve just learned so they can have a moment to pause and get used to this new phase of their life.
Help them feel comfortable
Onboarding in a single room all day? Make sure the temperature feels good, the room is stocked with snacks and drinks, there are plenty of breaks scheduled in, and presenters and participants have all the supplies they’ll need to go through the day. If they need to bring materials on the first day, send them an email beforehand so they’ll be sure to pack it.
Also help them get comfortable with their new workspace. Show the new hire where people sit, where supplies are kept, and perhaps a quiet space to take a breather. Make sure they know the basics, like where the emergency exits are, how to lock up at night, or how to use the coffee machine.
Take care of business
Don’t just dump a pile of packets on their desk and walk away. Ideally, you can do most of the paperwork with your employee before the first day. If your HR software doesn’t help you handle these documents, walk through all of these to-dos with them so there aren’t any outstanding questions, and, so they don’t spend all night writing their names on a bajillion forms.
Generally, here’s what you and your teammate should secure before or on the first day so they can legally work in your company:
- Copies of their driver’s license, passport, or Social Security card
- Signed copy of the company handbook (This should be given to them on their first day, not before. After sharing the handbook, talk about the key topics and answer your new hire’s questions.)
- Bank information so they can get set up on payroll
The list is not exhaustive, so definitely confirm with your local state agency before your new hire begins.
Go out for lunch
One of the biggest fears new employees have is not knowing who to sit with at lunch. Wipe this worry away by giving your new hire a clear plan on what will happen when it’s time to chow down. Ask them before the first day about their favorite kinds of food so you can book some time at a local restaurant. Invite the people they’ll work the closest with so they can hightail the getting-to-know-them part.
Pro tip: Share your favorite local lunch spots with your new hire so they have places to try even after their welcome lunch.
Check in at the end of the day
Carve out some time to talk about how the day went. What did they enjoy? What didn’t they like? It will leave them feeling good knowing they have someone to talk to (wonderful you!) on day one and beyond. Plus, it’s a great time to tell them when to go home, since they’re probably overly exhausted by all the excitement.
Make process a priority
By developing a true onboarding process (and an internal checklist you can rely on), you won’t have to reinvent the wheel each time you hire someone new.
If you use Gusto, you have access to our customizable onboarding checklist, with a list of suggested tasks to help you get started.
Ideas for creating a memorable first day
Remember, the first day is a great opportunity to make your new hire feel special and motivated. The employee’s family and close friends are probably going to ask about their first day, so make it a memorable experience.
- Throw a welcome party: Have the new hire come in 30 minutes after everyone else. Then, when the employee comes to the office, surprise them with a small welcome party. It’s time for some balloons, confetti, and stuffed animals!
- Prepare a desk gift: Decorate their desk with balloons, some company-branded swag, or a handwritten note. You could also provide books related to their role, a grocery gift card, or other ways to make the first few weeks a little easier.
- Have dinner together: It’s important to show the employee and their family how important they are to your organization. This small gesture shows that you value their contribution and the time they choose to spend away from their loved ones.
- Pull some office pranks: Tell them about the office’s lucky pet piglet, have everyone come overdressed, or explain the no-coffee-after-9am rule. So many options!
When every first day is a good one, everything just gets better from there. With your expert advice, your new employees will have an easier time learning all the ins and outs of your company and the new role they’re about to jump into. Use the points above as general guidelines, but be sure to mix in your company’s own secret sauce so people can feel like they’re incorporated into your team. Mix it all together, and you’ll be able to create a first day that is comfortable, rewarding, and that your employees will never forget.
Want a simpler way of looking at all this? Check out our interactive employee onboarding checklist.