Onboarding vs. Orientation: What’s the Difference?

When it comes to employee onboarding vs. orientation, the two are not the same. Understanding the key differences can set everyone up for long-term success.

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When it comes to onboarding vs. orientation, many employers use the terms interchangeably. The assumption is risky because the terms represent different processes involved in bringing new employees into the company. Not understanding the key differences between onboarding and orientation can lead to overlooking critical elements of each.

Ideally, the onboarding process and new employee orientation will have complementary but different plans and goals. Understanding how they differ enables employers to create a positive experience for new hires and best support their long-term success.

This article outlines key differences between the onboarding program and orientation program, and what human resources specialists should incorporate for each.

Onboarding and orientation: Which comes first?

The new hire orientation process and employee onboarding both happen at the beginning of an employee’s tenure with a company. But they don’t occur simultaneously. New hires go through orientation first and onboarding next.

What is employee orientation?

Employee orientation is the initial welcoming of the new hire. It’s typically a one-time event, the purposes of which are to:

  • Introduce the new hire to broad company highlights like the company culture, core values, and the company’s mission.
  • Complete the required new employee paperwork.
  • Meet their new coworkers.
  • Receive the employee handbook.

Why is employee orientation important?

A well-executed employee orientation process offers several advantages to the new employee and the company. These include:

  • Avoiding new employee isolation. Orientation can help the new hire start forming relationships.
  • Ensuring the employee understands and follows company policies. Drug, anti-bullying, and other policies mentioned on the 1st day are more likely to stick in a new hire’s mind.
  • Promoting the new hire’s long-term success. Orientation starts a new employee off on the right foot and helps them feel valued from the beginning.

What is employee onboarding?

Unlike orientation, onboarding is more than a single event. It has phases in which the new employee must participate. While onboarding can vary across companies and industries, it usually includes:

  • Training on their job responsibilities.
  • Attending department meetings to start soaking in the lay of the land.
  • Embarking on starter projects.
  • Working with coworkers and direct managers.

Why is employee onboarding important?

Onboarding, just like orientation, offers numerous advantages. Onboarding:

  • Provides new employees with insight into their job role and team dynamics.
  • Integrates the new employee into the company.
  • Provides the knowledge and skills development to help the new hire become a valuable member of the company.
  • Increases employee engagement and decreases turnover, setting the employee and company up for long-term success.

What to include in employee orientation and onboarding

The HR department must be fully involved in both the orientation and onboarding processes. Procedures typically include creating timelines, identifying participants, and reviewing and measuring results upon completion.

There are different components to a successful orientation process and an effective onboarding program.

Components of effective employee orientation

Orientations may be in-person or virtual. Certain “ingredients” should go into building a positive employee orientation process that returns meaningful results. These include:

  • An agenda of the location, duration, and details of the orientation process. This should be shared within the 1st week of the new team member’s employment.
  • The paperwork required for the new job.
  • A broad overview of the company’s mission and values.
  • An explanation of workplace policies and safety and security protocols.
  • The assignment of company equipment (cell phone, parking pass, tablet, laptop, etc).
  • Workplace tour and coworker introductions.
  • List of contacts within HR, IT, and other relevant departments.

Components of employee onboarding

Onboarding programs may last from a few weeks to several months, depending on the company, individual employee, and specific role. HR professionals usually do a “deeper dive” into the company and position during onboarding than they do during orientation. These elements make up an onboarding process that promotes both employee satisfaction and high productivity:

  • Encouragement to embrace and execute on the company mission and values they were introduced to during orientation.
  • Training on their daily job responsibilities and expectations.
  • Training on the necessary tools and platforms to reach success.
  • Settling in to their new work environment.
  • Bonding and relationship building with team members and managers.
  • Participation in check-ins. Managers and HR should check in with recent hires regularly. Be sure they’re becoming acclimated to their roles and the organizational culture. Doing so can head off frustration or dissatisfaction before it spirals.

Leveraging the nuance of onboarding vs. orientation

Understanding the many facets of employee orientation and onboarding is vital. While they seem similar, they focus on and achieve different goals. Take time to forge both processes well so they’ll work together to increase new hires’ job satisfaction and goal achievement.

For more on the HR and business management journey, count on tips, tools, and useful resources from Workest by Zenefits.

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