How to Welcome New Employees with Effective Onboarding

Written by
Brian Anderson
Brian Anderson

What does it mean to feel welcome? While everyone has a different answer to this question, feeling welcome boils down to feeling understood—that others recognize you, empower you, and accept your place in the group.

When your organization helps employees feel welcome during the onboarding process, you’re creating conditions that can lead to deep emotional connections. These connections help form a foundation of trust that can improve employee engagement levels, remove barriers to collaboration, and lead employees to a long and productive tenure with your company.

Download the free Onboarding Template 

The importance of first impressions

One of the biggest barriers to a mutual understanding is how our brains are wired to form first impressions. Research from Princeton University psychologist Alex Todorov found that we form first impressions about trustworthiness, likeability, and even competence mere milliseconds after seeing someone’s face for the first time. He explained this phenomenon by noting that the brain treats first impressions like a fear response, processing it in the amygdala (threat center) instead of the frontal lobe (rational thought).


In other words, the same impression mechanisms that helped our ancestors avoid leopards now lead us to avoid job candidates in leopard print.

Of course, the same mechanics determine the impressions employees form during the recruitment process. They decide whether your workplace environment is welcoming, indifferent, or hostile. These first impressions are one of the reasons that hiring is the first step to effective onboarding.

Completing the new employee welcome

Thankfully, first impressions aren’t the only impression. The first few days and weeks send a powerful message about what new employees will experience with your company—not only through the messaging of the official welcome meeting, but what they see, hear, and do during working hours. These experiences either confirm or undermine the impressions new hires form during the hiring process, and can determine the strength of your employee welcome.

This pattern becomes evident in a list of the reasons new employees quit their jobs within the first six months as found in an onboarding report from Zippia:

  • They didn't get enough training
  • The work wasn't clear
  • They felt underappreciated
  • They felt neglected
  • They felt overwhelmed

These employees accepted a job that gave them the right impression—a workplace that offered fulfilling work they were qualified to do with competent management, complete training processes, and the chance for recognition and advancement. When the onboarding process didn’t confirm these impressions, they left.

How do you avoid this outcome in your onboarding process? The first step is to understand the two types of impressions your new hires want to confirm during their first days and weeks with your company.

Two important impressions for your new employee welcome

Harvard Psychologist Amy Cuddy studied first impressions for more than 15 years. She found that people judge you on spectrums that she labeled warmth and competence:

Warmth: This impression determines how much new employees feel they can trust the people in your company, including their manager, co-workers, and company leadership.

Competence: This impression determines how much new employees respect the capabilities of their new company and the people in it.


Cuddy’s findings show that while both of these impressions are important, they also need to happen in order. An impression of warmth leads to an impression of confidence. As she put it in an interview with Business Insider:

If someone you're trying to influence doesn't trust you, you're not going to get very far; in fact, you might even elicit suspicion because you come across as manipulative. A warm, trustworthy person who is also strong elicits admiration, but only after you've established trust does your strength become a gift rather than a threat.

Put simply, the welcome comes first. Any company can say that they’re competent. But for employees to believe that your company is competent, their experience needs match expectations. A powerful impression of warmth opens the door for your organization to continue demonstrating your competence and meet these expectations.

Employees may never have all the information on the company’s strategy, and even the best-connected company can’t fully understand all the nuances of each employee’s daily experience. However, when the company recognizes new employees’ potential and provides them with the support they need to become completely competent in their new role, it paves the way for mutual trust, improved engagement, and better results.

Here are a few strategies for creating these two key impressions in your new employee welcome:

 Download the free Onboarding Template 

Providing a warm employee welcome

Remember what it’s like

When you’ve been with a company for years, it can be hard to remember what new employees go through on their first day. There are several pieces of information your current employees take for granted that are essential to transmit to new employees to keep them from feeling like outsiders.

These include:

  • Team vocabulary terms—names of regular meetings, software programs, employee groups, conference rooms, etc.
  • Your company’s neighborhood—as you put together your welcome packet, be sure to include a guide to the local area with suggestions on nearby restaurants, cafĂ©s, banks, and gas stations.
  • An outline of the first day—guide new hires through what they’ll learn, who they’ll meet, and what they should expect to accomplish.


Connect with culture

Leaving a new employee with empty hours after an impressive welcome presentation is a little like creating a Potemkin Village: a good show with nothing behind it. While work can’t stop every time a new employee comes onboard, it’s important to provide time and resources for their new team to introduce your culture in full—demonstrating how you work, interact, succeed, and celebrate.

Consider the following ideas for connecting new employees with your culture:

  • Introduce your company values—reemphasize how your company lives its values during day to day operations.
  • Auto-enroll in recognition software—including a bonus from a peer-to-peer recognition program (like Bonusly) on the first day can provide a first-hand demonstration of how important recognition is to your organization.
  • Go to lunch—facilitating a team lunch with a new employee gives them time to break the ice without worrying about interrupting important work.
  • Celebrate on the company level—recognizing all new employees during a company-wide meeting, happy hour, or initiation helps broaden new employees’ connections.


Providing a competent employee welcome

Do the prep work

A new employee won’t be enjoying the new culture or diving into new responsibilities if they’re standing at an empty desk waiting for IT to come with their computer and chair. Creating and following through on a new employee checklist removes distractions from the important trust-building activities of a new employee’s first day.

Here are some important entries on this checklist:

  • Compliance pre-boarding
    • e-Signatures collected before first day
    • Provide new hires with start time and directions
  • Workstation prep
    • Desk
    • Chair
    • Internet connection
    • Computer/computer accessories
    • Software and permissions
  • Auto-enroll in recognition software
  • HRIS information
    • Confirm correct personal information
    • Provide self-service benefits information
  • Guide to financial/health benefits—invite your providers to monthly (or quarterly) meetings to give new employees expert advice on these often-complicated benefits.
  • Guide to social media—in a connected world, teaching your new employees how to represent your company on social media sets clear expectations and provides further development for your employer brand.
  • Company culture follow-up—after your new employees have experienced your culture, give them a chance to ask for any clarifications on your values or their processes

Take your time

Completing the onboarding process will take more than an employee welcome meeting on first day. New employees will need additional context to fully understand how things work in your organization, and that context comes after their first few days on the job. One software company recently expanded their onboarding process from a single meeting to four weekly meetings held throughout the first month, based on employee feedback.


Consider including these in-depth topics in your long-term onboarding process:

  • Guide to financial/health benefits—invite your providers to monthly (or quarterly) meetings to give new employees expert advice on these often-complicated benefits.
  • Guide to social media—in a connected world, teaching your new employees how to represent your company on social media sets clear expectations and provides further development for your employer brand.
  • Company culture follow-up—after your new employees have experienced your culture, give them a chance to ask for any clarifications on your values or their processes

Managerial support

Throughout the onboarding process, managers need to have the time and support to provide new employees with regular one-on-one meetings. Developing open communication during this process gives employees a psychologically safe space to ask questions without feeling incompetent or that their job is at risk. Managers can also establish a pattern of performance management and verbal recognition as they continue these conversations.

 Download the free Onboarding Template 

Make your company a welcoming place

Welcoming new employees with effective, extended onboarding processes shows them that your organization trusts and respects them. When you give new employees the knowledge, training, and recognition they need to do their best work, you confirm their positive impression of your organization, paving the way for employee engagement and success.

How do you welcome your new employees?

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Originally published on January 03, 2023 → Last updated January 9, 2023

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Brian Anderson

Brian Anderson is an HR copywriter, with work exploring the intersection between employee engagement, total rewards, and HR software. He’s lucky enough to write about people topics in his day job with BambooHR, a full-service, cloud-based HR management software. You can find more from Brian at BambooHR's blog.


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