The startup employee journey guide: From onboarding to offboarding

Published on May 07, 2024

The startup employee journey guide: From onboarding to offboarding

Employee happiness is not the biggest determinant of a company’s success. It’s actually employee engagement, which increases profitability by 23%. Yet 65% of U.S. workers aren’t engaged, leading to higher turnover, lower productivity, and weaker sales.

Some of the best strategies for improving employee engagement are well-managed and inspiring employee onboarding and support programs … and swift offboarding of teammates who withdraw from work. In this guide, we’ll lay out how to enhance the employee journey across their lifecycle, from creating an attractive place to work and getting new hires aligned with your mission, to supporting them with clear feedback and recognition, to helping them advance their career or continue it elsewhere. 

First, what does employee engagement mean? It’s a measure of whether employees know what’s expected of them, are equipped to accomplish it, are praised for doing great work, are supported by their managers and co-workers, are given opportunities to grow, and believe the whole team is committed to success.

Below we’ll outline how to win at each of these steps of the employee journey:

  • Employer brand
  • Recruitment 
  • Onboarding 
  • Employee engagement 
  • Employee feedback 
  • Recognition 
  • Career growth 
  • Offboarding 

What are the benefits of understanding the employee journey? 

Forty-nine percent of employees feel their organization isn’t delivering the promised experience. This is because employers often look at the experience as just another thing to tick off the list. Hiring—check. Onboarding—check. Performance reviews—check. 

From the first time a potential employee learns about your company to the day they leave, they should be left with the impression that they could be or have been a valued part of the organization. An employee journey map involves zooming out and thinking about a team member's holistic experience.

Screenshot of blog about the 9-box talent review

Thinking about the overall journey and designing each component to fit within it improves the employee experience dramatically—just like product teams think about end-to-end user experience vs. building a checklist of features.

An effective employee journey map improves talent retention rates by creating a culture that values its people. Mapping the journey identifies opportunities for employee career progression such as training, mentoring, or extra resources. 

A guide to your startup’s employee journey 

Let’s talk through all the steps in the employee journey and how you can provide a positive employee experience. 

1. Employer brand: Your startup’s brand is a potential hire’s first impression—make it count by telling the story of what it’s like to choose your company as a career destination for top talent and what values you bring to the table in the process.

2. Recruitment: Are you hiring for the right roles at the right times? What does it look like for a candidate when an application is submitted, or a referral is made until the offer is accepted? What about if the candidate is rejected? Integrate your values into your job postings and interviews with candidates to ensure you can effectively evaluate for skills while selling the employer brand in a connected and compendious way.

3. Onboarding: How fast can you help a new hire become effective while also making them feel welcomed at your company? From ensuring they have the tools they need to do the job to meeting leaders and colleagues, the goal is to support them in quickly integrating and becoming productive and reinforce that they made the right choice joining the team.

4. Employee engagement: Disengaged employees cost organizations $8.8 trillion per year. Employees want to feel valued and find meaning and fulfillment in their work, and a lack of engagement can lead to stress. You can address this by providing aligned opportunities, having transparent conversations around growth, and cultivating a collaborative environment. You should also offer benefits that align with both parties’ values and strategic objectives, such as a flexible working policy or training resources to encourage career growth and cultivate a supportive workplace.

Bar chart showing stress as a function of engagement and work location

5. Recognition: Giving employees the recognition they deserve reinforces behavior. Employees want to feel that their hard work and achievements are seen through praise, benefits, and respect. Are you a culture that aligns recognition with rewards, that encourages top-down recognition or peer recognition? Get clear on how this shows up at your organization and how recognition fits into the total strategic picture and that it’s not just something tacked on or reserved for heroics.

6. Feedback: Providing employees with structured and continuous feedback creates a high-performance culture where employees can clearly understand where they’re thriving and where they can improve. Feedback should go both ways, with surveys allowing you to receive anonymous feedback on experiences and understand employee expectations and goals.

7. Career growth: Your organization’s design should be a well-oiled machine that allows you to calibrate talent, execute decisions, and support individual team members on their journey. This means incorporating talent reviews, designing transparent growth opportunities and career ladders so employees clearly understand how to grow within the company, and then enabling managers and teams with resources to grow the skills and experiences needed to get there.

8. Offboarding: No matter if the departure is voluntary or involuntary, the goal is to stabilize the organization in the transition while balancing dignity for the person involved. In parallel, departures are an important way to collect insights to improve the employee experience in the future. A great offboarding experience will spark a sense of alumni pride, resulting in everything from positive Glassdoor or Blind reviews to customer referrals to boomerang employee returns down the road. Provide empathy, support, and a confidential space during the exit interview to leave the employee with a positive experience and allow your company to understand where it’s doing things well and where it can improve.

Screenshot of a blog post about the quarterly sit-down review

While all of these steps are important (and many can re-emerge multiple times in one’s journey), there are two critical milestones that you must get right: onboarding and offboarding. Below you will find checklists to support these two employee journey moments. 

Improve onboarding with our employee onboarding checklist

Companies have around 44 days to influence a new employee’s long-term retention, so onboarding is a key moment in the employee lifecycle.

After briefing them on the company’s structure, mission, objectives, and their role, expose new hires to the various departments and functions so they can fully understand how everything works together and don’t feel isolated. You can even buddy up new hires with current employees to give them a better taste of the company culture and to help them learn to use your tech stack in a real-world setting. 

Download or copy our employee onboarding checklist to make sure you don’t miss any important steps.

Employee onboarding checklist

Employee facing

[ ] Introduced to the company by manager

[ ] Reviewed job description with manager and 30/60/90 day plan

[ ] Met their immediate team

[ ] Finished any remaining onboarding paperwork

Internal facing

[ ] Manager notified of new hire and start date

[ ] New hire onboarding package sent with all documents to review and sign 

[ ] Manager created a 30/60/90 day onboarding plan

[ ] Signed offer letter (accurate start date, equity grant, cash compensation) saved in HRIS

[ ] I-9 employment eligibility verification form saved in payroll system 

[ ] W-4 (federal tax withholdings) form saved in payroll system

[ ] State tax withholdings form saved in payroll system

[ ] Direct deposit form saved in payroll system

[ ] Signed U.S. employee handbook saved in HRIS

[ ] Signed Proprietary Information & Inventions Agreement (PIIA) saved in HRIS

[ ] Signed Harassment, Sexual Harassment, Discrimination, and Retaliation Prevention Policy saved in HRIS

[ ] Employee resume and job posting/description saved in HRIS

Screenshot of a blog post on the remote hiring guide

Streamline employee offboarding with our checklist 

Employee offboarding is the last stage of the employee journey. The departing employee will go through several steps with their manager and/or HR to carry out an efficient transition and end the relationship on a good note. 

According to research, 76% of IT leaders say offboarding is a significant security threat. Employees often don’t receive appropriate offboarding, leaving them with access to confidential and sensitive information. For a startup, a security breach can lead to devastating consequences.

Employee shaking hands with new employer

Exit interviews should be kind and compassionate. Plan questions to ask that will help your organization improve and provide the departing employee a gateway to provide honest feedback.

Once you’ve notified the employee and you’ve carried out the exit interview, a range of administrative tasks need to be handled, such as terminating benefits and notifying payroll to the last paycheck, and, in some cases, severance pay. Access to email accounts or other relevant accounts needs to be terminated on time. Any other access to computers or phones needs to be terminated on the last working day, and they need to hand in any company devices. 

Download or copy our employee offboarding checklist to streamline your offboarding process.

Employee offboarding checklist

Employee facing

[ ] Provided employee with a change in status form
[ ] Received acknowledgement and updated personal contact information

[ ] Provided employee with severance agreement (if applicable; 2022 report of severance by role can be found here). Note: templates update often and are specific to protected classes (e.g., over 40 years old vs. under 40 years old)—consult with legal.

[ ] Received and processed signed severance agreement

[ ] Provided employee with an exit questionnaire / exit interview 

[ ] Conducted interview / reviewed questionnaire responses

[ ] Provided employee with PIIA termination notice for review and signature (if applicable)

[ ] Received signed notice

[ ] Provided employee with a separation summary document outlining all benefits, final pay, obligation reminders, contacts post-termination, etc.

[ ] Provided employee with general COBRA notice

[ ] Provided employee with any required state unemployment brochures/details

[ ] Provided employee with WARN/OWBPA notices (if applicable for layoffs of 50+ impacted)

Internal facing


[ ] Processed benefits termination 

[ ] Checked PTO balance to be processed at termination of employment


[ ] Checked for any outstanding balances for money owed to the company: educational loans / pay advances, relocation/immigration fees, sign-on bonus, etc.

[ ] Notified Payroll/Accounting department to process final paycheck/ACH

[ ] Informed Payroll of any unused but earned PTO amounts due to employee (if you provide accruals) 

[ ] Notified Payroll to process severance pay and whether lump sum or salary continuation (if applicable and after agreement is signed / past revocation period)

[ ] Determined the amount of equity vested and notify the company stock administrator (if applicable)

Immigration (if applicable):

[ ] Notified company immigration attorney of termination if employee is on temporary work visa

Records management:

[ ] Processed termination in HRIS/Payroll and ensure files are still accessible (e.g., I-9, payroll records, etc.)

Information technology:

[ ] Disabled email account and other relevant accounts (determine if email should be closed or forwarded)

[ ] Removed employee’s name from email group distribution lists; internal directories, website or building directories

[ ] Disabled computer access

[ ] Disabled phone/voicemail

[ ] Coordinated the return of company equipment (laptop, hard drives, company cell phone, etc.)

Facilities / physical office:

[ ] Notified building management (if applicable) 

[ ] Disabled security codes, if applicable

[ ] Removed mailbox

[ ] Cleaned out work area and removed/organized to return personal belongings

[ ] Collected any applicable items (e.g., key fobs, parking pass, building access cards, ID card, name plate)

The strategic impact of employee journey mapping 

Building a startup organization takes a lot of piecing together. Having clear People functions, a well-structured organizational design, and providing a positive employee experience requires a lot of strategic decisions. At SignalFire, we have a plethora of in-house experts with extensive experience in employee engagement, including former Netflix Chief Talent Officer Tawni Cranz, who helped write Netflix’s lauded Culture Handbook, and former Webflow VP of People Heather Doshay who has guided zero-to-one org build-outs for dozens of our portfolio companies.

With the right strategy, you can make your mission feel like a part of your employees’ identities, and their own success a part of yours.

*Portfolio company founders listed above have not received any compensation for this feedback and did not invest in a SignalFire fund. Please refer to our disclosures page for additional disclosures.

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