What’s the Real Difference Between Onboarding and Orientation?

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You may be asking: What’s the difference between onboarding and orientation? While the terms “employee orientation” and “employee onboarding” are often used interchangeably, there are some important distinctions to be made between the two. In fact, both initiatives are critical in creating a positive candidate experience with a new hire. Here’s the difference between the two and why it’s important to have a process in place for each one!

Employee Orientation

Employee “orientation” lives under the umbrella of “onboarding”. The objective is to welcome your new hire to the team and further familiarize them with your company. This part of the onboarding process is usually completed within a couple of days to weeks. However, unlike employee onboarding, the orientation is only completed once within a few days of a new hire’s start date. For instance, you might consider separate meetings to review the following types of topics: 

  • New-hire paperwork 
  • Company’s values and mission statement 
  • Benefits and enrollment instructions 
  • Employee handbook 
  • Processes and procedures 
  • Safety, security, and health policies 
  • Company-issued equipment 
  • Code of conduct 

Consistency is key. Create a standard checklist of the materials you’ll be reviewing in your formal employee orientation. Consider sharing the checklist with the new employee so you can both initial alongside each item. This allows everyone on the team to acknowledge that all the necessary information has been covered. However, it also eliminates any potential confusion surrounding when the orientation process has concluded.

Employee Onboarding

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) helps to explain employee onboarding as the overarching process “in which new hires are integrated into the organization”. Depending on your organization, the onboarding process can range anywhere from a few days to 12 months in length. While there are many ways to structure an onboarding program, the process generally consists of the following primary phases:

  1. Preboarding: The steps you will take to engage a new hire before their start date.
  2. Employee Orientation: The formal series of scheduled events used to familiarize a new hire with your company immediately once they’ve started.
  3. Foundation Building: The plan for consistently conveying, learning, and applying your company’s unique culture, mission, values, and goals.
  4. Mentorship/Buddy Systems: The pairing of a new hire with a colleague who can be relied upon to act in a mentorship capacity.   
  5. Reboarding: The steps that will be taken toward deeper team integration, long-term professional career growth, and increased job satisfaction.

Here are several examples of what you might include as part of a formal employee onboarding program:

  • Live team introduction meetings
  • Recorded introductions from executives 
  • Regularly scheduled team-building exercises 
  • Virtual department, team, or 1:1 lunches
  • Professional development and training sessions
  • Invitations to join employee engagement communities (e.g., Engagedly)
  • Dedicated times for checking in (e.g., 30, 60, 90 days)
  • Channel for providing onboarding feedback

The Real Difference Between Onboarding and Orientation

Orientation is an important part of onboarding a new employee. However, it doesn’t replace the need to be intentional with your onboarding process. The long-term goal of employee onboarding is to help new hires become socialized and embrace your organization’s purpose and core values (i.e., why you do what you do). New employees are almost three times as likely to report job satisfaction when they feel their employer has created a positive onboarding experience. There is simply no substitute for a comprehensive onboarding program. 

Nailing those first few weeks with a new hire could ultimately set the tone for long-term employee performance. And nowadays, it all starts with the remote onboarding process. Be sure to read the 4 Ways To Improve Remote Onboarding Processes for a few additional tips on how to create a positive onboarding experience!

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