Fun onboarding ideas that’ll make a good first impression

Nerves, tax forms, benefit enrollment decisions, mastering people’s names, understanding company policies… the start of a new job is not exactly synonymous with the word “fun.” In fact, being a newbie can feel downright overwhelming at times.

Smart organizations realize this situation and do what they can to make life easier. Before day one, they might pass along the employee handbook to read and paperwork to fill in at one’s leisure. They might employ a buddy system in which a seasoned team member is assigned to answer questions and serve as a friendly guide to company culture. They might construct an onboarding checklist so that nothing slips through the cracks.

The best onboarding programs, though, go the extra mile. They include activities that help new team members relax, connect with the new work environment and its people, and, well, actually have fun.

Why is enjoyment so important? You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. The employee experience on that critical first day leaves a lasting memory. New employees continue to think about whether or not they made a good decision in accepting this job throughout the first month. Getting through the first 90 days is critical, as turnover rates hover around 33% during that time period. A solid onboarding process improves retention.

Here are some employee onboarding ideas for welcoming new hires and showing them your company is a great place to work:

Hiring for Attitude D

Construct interesting introductions

Get your entire team in on helping with the new person’s onboarding experience by creating a welcome video. Each staff member can offer some insight into company culture as well as provide a bit of information about themselves. Sending the video prior to the new hire’s first day builds excitement. The new person arrives with a better understanding of the work environment and the individuals in it.

Flipping the process also has merit. Co-workers want to know more about their new colleague. Consider asking the new hire to make a presentation.

At the financial wellness company PennyPlan, new employees design a “Getting to Know Me” PowerPoint during training and present it in a group video call. The one stipulation – no talking about work.

“Because we’re a fully remote business, the idea behind this is it breaks the ice early with their peers, who enjoy the chance to ask questions and learn more about their new colleague,” says PennyPlan director John Almond. “We have found this eradicates any awkwardness and leaves us with a team who often state by the time they meet up at social events, they feel like they’ve known each other for a long time.”

Use icebreaker questions

Speaking of breaking the ice… co-workers and new team members are eager to get to know one another. Both sides, however, can feel uneasy during early conversations. Finding fun ways to share information gets the ball rolling.

Consider gathering everyone in person or over Zoom for a few rounds of icebreaking questions. Put questions on individual slips of paper inside of a bowl. Team members, including the new hire, take turns drawing and answering. Comments and conversations flow as people reveal their strangest hidden talent, the movie they’ve seen the most times, or perhaps their most coveted superpower. (This game also can be led by a human resources rep when onboarding a group of new hires together.)

“At our company, we believe that incorporating fun and engaging questions into the onboarding process can assist with breaking the ice, assist with team bonding, and foster a positive working environment,” says Bobby Lawson, tech editor at EarthWeb. “My favorite question to ask is ‘If programming languages were characters in a movie, comic book, or a series, which programming language do you think would be the hero, the villain, and why?’ This question is a lot of fun and can make for a lot of laughs. However, it does reveal a lot about a person’s familiarity with programming languages and gives you valuable information about their perceived strengths and weaknesses when it comes to these languages.”

Michael Sawyer, operations director at Ultimate Kilimanjaro, shares similar sentiments.

“Seeing as we are a hybrid company, hiring and getting to know new employees is challenging, especially if we are hiring guides remotely,” Sawyer says. “After we have hired a new employee and before we meet them in person, we ask them open-ended fun questions such as ‘What’s the most adventurous or daring thing that you’ve done?’ or ‘What’s your favorite way to unwind after a long day?’ They are relatively topical to the company, but they are also still upbeat and fun, encouraging conversation and engagement, and setting the in-person meeting up for success. To us, it’s all about making a connection before meeting in person. If you have a bond among new employees, when everyone sees each other, conversation will flow naturally, and everyone will – ideally – be on the same page with each other. Teamwork is of utmost importance when climbing the mountain, so we have to get to know each other very well beforehand.”

Explore the work environment

Get new hires out of their seats! While many onboarding activities are sedentary by nature, incorporating things that involve movement offers a welcome change and boost energy levels. An office tour, for instance, acquaints them with their new surroundings and allows first-hand observation.

A scavenger hunt across different departments is a highlight of the onboarding experience at Nako Cosmetics. As founder Sophia Tang explains, “New hires are given a list of clues that lead them to various team members who each hold a puzzle piece – a piece of information about their role or department. By the end of the activity, not only do newcomers have a better understanding of how the company functions, but they’ve also met everyone, helping to break the ice. It encourages collaboration and offers a fun, less formal introduction to the team. It’s more than just a fun game — we hope to foster a sense of belonging and understanding of our company’s interconnectedness right from the start.”

Get their hands dirty

Onboarding can seem like an endless stream of forms and policies. Generate employee engagement through activities that actually employ the skills for which they were hired. Consider a manageable individual project that builds confidence or a team project to which the newcomer can contribute.

During a new hire’s first week at the online publication Let’s Learn Slang, he or she researches and then presents to the team an unusual slang phrase from any culture or language. “The aim of the ‘Slang-Off’ is multifaceted,” says lead editor Gabriel Cruz. “Firstly, it encourages new hires to delve into the essence of our publication – the exploration of languages and cultures. It also provides an informal and enjoyable platform for them to interact with their new colleagues, thereby facilitating quick integration into our team dynamic. Moreover, it’s an opportunity for us to emphasize the value of continuous learning, a trait we strongly uphold in our organization.”

Conduct 1:1 sessions

At first glance, spending dedicated time with one’s new manager may not exactly sound fun. However, such meetings provide an opportunity for newcomers to ask questions and learn things specifically important to them. These chats also are a great setting to talk about career paths, professional development, motivations, and outside interests. Managers can help connect individual roles to the company’s greater mission, and they can boost confidence through pep talks. All that personalized, positive attention IS fun!

*As part of our onboarding process, each new employee gets a one-hour 1-1 meeting with their manager,” says Cynthia Davies, founder and CEO of Cindy’s New Mexico LLC. “This helps to build the relationship from day one and is equally helpful for the manager and the employee. For managers, this hour helps them get to know the new employee on a personal level. They learn a bit more about their professional background and start to gain insight into their communication and working styles. For employees, it gives them a chance to get to know how their manager approaches leadership and helps them build a more personal connection. For both, it’s a good time to set expectations and start the new job off on the right foot.”

Host social events

Mark out time for new employees to enjoy the company of others. Interacting builds connections and feelings of belonging. Plus, the casual atmosphere provides a welcome respite from the pressures of learning their new roles.

Treat the new hire and the rest of the team to a complimentary welcome lunch. Or, try this onboarding idea courtesy of Talia Knowles, HR specialist at “Throw an end-of-week mixer. End work an hour or two early, provide refreshments, and encourage employees to mingle with new hires. You could even facilitate a funny employee talent show with performances about life at your company to demonstrate culture, make new hires feel at home, and release any stress left over from the week. Not only does this event make new hires feel welcomed and at ease, but your other employees will enjoy the chance to unwind at the end of the week and have a chance to build relationships with new additions to the team.”

Distribute company swag

Finally, remember this simple sentiment: Everyone (including remote employees) likes free stuff! Mugs, mouse pads, magnets . . . anything with the company logo on it promotes a sense of being part of the team. If distributing t-shirts, ask the person’s preferred size beforehand in order to show that you care about their comfort.

Perhaps even go the extra mile to give a unique gift. At the online publication Foliage Friend, new employees receive a potted plant on their first day and are tasked with nurturing it.

“The Green Thumb Challenge is not just about caring for a plant; it symbolizes our commitment to growth, both personal and professional,” says chief marketing officer Juan Palacio. “As the new employees watch their plants flourish, we hope they’re reminded of their own growth within the organization. It’s a tangible representation of their journey with us, reinforcing the nurturing and supportive environment we strive to create.”