Employers get one chance at a first impression and onboarding is the single most impactful opportunity to lay the groundwork for a new employee’s sense of belonging. A successful and inclusive onboarding experience enables employees to achieve these three things: high performance, psychological safety and belonging.

It’s important for organizations to establish alignment during onboarding by clearly defining company mission and values. Let’s examine these six tips to aligning onboarding and inclusion efforts to help new hires feel like they belong from day one.

6 Tips for Inclusive Onboarding

1.      Show Your Best

Encourage leaders to participate during onboarding. According to a study by Gallup, when managers are actively involved in onboarding, employees are 2.6 times as likely to strongly agree their onboarding experience was exceptional. Prior to onboarding, many new employees have a fear of what their expectations will be and whether they will fit into the culture of a new organization. To ease these fears, it’s important to bring diverse leaders into the onboarding process to show commitment to inclusion and diversity.

If you have a thin bench of diverse leaders, speak to the programs and initiatives that support women, people of color and individuals with disabilities to offset what could seem like a gender or racially homogenous organization at first glance. Furthermore, leaders can explain the values of the organization and what culture feels like on a day to day basis for employees. Having leaders set the cultural standard during onboarding can help new employees feel a sense of belonging when their values align with the organization, the culture and the leaders.

2.      Keep the End in Mind

Onboarding should include all the training and preparation needed for a new employee to roll into a new position with trust that they will be paid on time, benefits will be intact and they will have a baseline understanding of the organization, values and mission. To be successful, learning professionals should think critically about what knowledge, skills or aptitude they are hoping new employees possess upon completion of onboarding. Many onboarding programs are one to two days of filling out human resources (HR) forms, learning about pay systems and receiving employee handbooks.

This layout is a failure to keep the end in mind. Onboarding teams should recognize that not only is it the first impression to the organization but an opportunity to instill knowledge, build enthusiasm and encourage culture. At the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (DCSA), its premier onboarding program, New Employee Experience (NEX), is a two week-long, interactive program built around networking, learning culture and feeling prepared to enter the agency. While the NEX program covers all the prerequisite HR forms and benefits, it raises the stakes with down to earth executive leadership mentoring, networking sessions, game show style quizzes and other activities that ensure employees feel like they are coming to an organization they can be excited about.

3.      Create an One-stop Shop

Onboarding can feel disjointed for new employees. One day they’re signing HR forms and assigning beneficiaries and the next, they are doing mandatory training alone in a cubicle all day. Poor onboarding programs leave the process to busy supervisors and “sponsors” instead of building a program using a cohort mentality. Cohort mentality is a successful tactic when a group is learning similar or the same information.

With DCSA’s NEX program, onboarding cohorts are able to network and chat throughout their expert-led mandatory courses to build relationships and camaraderie before even meeting their office colleagues. This encourages inclusion and belonging early in their career at the organization while also ensuring everyone in the cohort gets the same information at the same time. Additionally, by completing all mandatory courses during onboarding as a group, it allows employees to learn from others experiences, ask questions of subject matter experts (SMEs) and feel comfortable contacting an expert when they officially start working.

4.      Keep Them Warm

Often, the time between when an offer is accepted and the first day on the job can feel like an eternity. During that period, it can be very easy for a new employee to grow anxious. Also, while waiting to onboard, their old organization can counteroffer or they may receive another offer from a competitor. This could cause the organization to lose the candidate. Therefore, it’s wise to stay in contact and “keep them warm” by providing new hires a sponsor to turn to whenever they have a question. The sponsor can share all the exciting elements of the organization and assuage any fears or anxiety. Organizations should use this time to get candidates excited about joining the team.


5.      New Hire Buddy

When starting at a new organization, employees often feel alone or on an island. Assigning a “new hire buddy” can make their transition into the enterprise feel safe and seamless. Their new buddy should greet them the first day, walk them through receiving equipment, traversing the building and give them helpful tips on how to integrate into the organization. Their buddy should be available their first 90 days. Employee experience is critical to retention, inclusion and belonging. While the relationship between employee and buddy should be organic, it’s strategic as well. The buddy should be a brand ambassador that’s equipped with resources to drive home the company culture!


6.      Employee Resource Groups (ERGs)

Employees are the heartbeat and pulse of the organization, and in 2022 they know that! Organizations must have a culture that promotes safe spaces where employees can bring their true and authentic selves to work every day. Every organization should establish employee resource groups (ERGs). ERGs are a great way to show off how inclusive the enterprise is and highlight support for diverse communities within your company.

Creating an attractive and informative one pager on available ERGs to be included with onboarding packets is an easy win. At Centuri Group, a strategic infrastructure services company, the goal of “building better” while creating sustainable ERG programs ensures employee experience is the priority. Through onboarding and aligning ERG participation, the organization is positioned to funnel enthusiastic employees toward resources that can increase inclusion, retention and belonging.

Moving Forward

In today’s business world, people are realizing just how valuable their work and skills are. Make a good first impression with an inclusive onboarding experience that makes new hires feel welcomed and a part of the culture from the start. Following these six tips to integrate inclusion into employee onboarding can help boost employee retention efforts, instill belonging in new employees and represent the organization’s inclusive and empowering culture.