Which Employee Onboarding Process is Best: Informal vs. Formal


When it comes to onboarding your employees, there are two basic approaches that you can take; formal or informal. Both approaches are still used by companies across the globe, but we believe that one approach is vastly superior to the other, especially after factoring in what your onboarding goals should be.

Effective Onboarding Goals

Determining if your onboarding process is effective or not can essentially be done by gauging the actions of your new employee. Are they becoming a contributing member of your staff in a short amount of time? Goals of your onboarding process for new employees should:

  • Create engagement opportunities - Your onboarding plan should provide opportunities for your employee to engage with their coworkers and management team. This reinforces the idea that your business is committed to your employees’ professional growth.
  • Engrain them in the culture - Your new hires should be able to get a strong sense of your company culture right off the bat. They should have an early understanding of workplace norms and the kind of leadership they can expect from supervisors.
  • Acclimate them to their job duties - Your new employees need to know what specific role they’ll play in achieving company and team goals, as well as what’s expected of them overall.
  • Retention - Overall, you want your new employees to become long-time employees. Your onboarding process can make or break your employees’ morale and their confidence that their role is important to your company’s plans and goals. Unhappy employees often move on to other companies and can be costly for you.

Formal vs. Informal Onboarding

With onboarding goals in mind, your company has the choice to have a formal or informal employee onboarding process.

Informal onboarding

An informal onboarding process typically puts new hires in a ‘sink or swim’ situation. They show up for their first day and find a chaotic atmosphere, are given little assistance, and don’t speak much to their supervisor. There’s nothing specific set aside for them and they have to learn the spoken and unspoken rules of the workplace on their own.

This type of onboarding process typically causes new employees to become frustrated and develop low morale in the workplace.

Formal Onboarding

A formal onboarding process involves a step-by-step program for new employees that teaches them their roles, the company’s goals and expectations, along with workplace norms. This process is put in place to acclimate new employees to your workplace without unnecessary stress.

With your formal onboarding process, your company should have these questions answered before your new employee ever shows up for their first day of work:

  • What tools and software do they require?
  • Have your IT folks set up an email address, log-in information, and other necessary software items? Is the new employee included in internal email distribution groups?
  • Do they have a desk, and is it clean and ready for them to use?
  • Is their computer, if not new, wiped clean of the previous owner’s materials and is it loaded with the software they’ll need?
  • Are office and desk keys and access cards ready for their use? Will they need a security badge to access certain rooms and areas of the business?
  • Are the appropriate office supplies available and put in their work area?
  • Is there a working phone (and voicemail) at their desk (if applicable)?
  • Have optional items, such as a company cell phone, printer, laptop, or another mobile device been ordered if the new hire needs them to perform their job?
  • Have business cards been ordered?
  • Is an informal organizational chart available to the employee to help him or her understand who is responsible for what departments and roles? Information like this will help the new person learn names and jobs more quickly.

When comparing the formal vs. informal onboarding processes in relation to your onboarding goals, it should be pretty easy to see that we highly recommend a formal onboarding process. It alleviates pressure, removes unnecessary stress, and allows new employees to adjust to their new job effectively.

Are you unsure if your onboarding process for new employees is effective? Download our free HR onboarding checklist below.

The HR Onboarding Checklist for Hiring New Employees | Download Free Checklist

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