Guide to Onboarding vs. Orientation

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Maddy Osman
Maddy Osman

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If you want to take your venture to the next level, you need a team of dedicated employees that can help you grow. That said, bringing on a new team member involves much more than a job acceptance letter and a signed contract.

Onboarding vs. orientation

Making the right first impression is crucial to building a company where people stick around, are engaged and devoted to their work, and strive to make a positive impact — instead of one where employees have one foot out the door

As an entrepreneur, you need to learn how to use tools like orientation and onboarding — they are key to setting your team (and your company) up for success. 

Is onboarding the same as orientation?

While the terms may sound similar, onboarding and orientation are not the same thing. Both of them are important parts of engaging new hires, but they have different methods and goals.

The difference between onboarding and orientation

Employee orientation is a one-time event that welcomes new individuals to your company. In contrast, onboarding refers to all the events, training, and resources you use to get new hires up to speed on your company and their positions. 

As such, orientation is often considered a part of onboarding. HR experts recommend at least three months for onboarding, but they state that the process can encompass an employee’s entire first year. In contrast, orientation events are usually completed within two to five days.

Here’s an overview of the key differences between onboarding and orientation.

 

Onboarding

Orientation

Purpose

Give each new employee the knowledge, training, and resources they need to succeed in their roles

Welcome new hires and introduce them to your company, culture, and workspace

Duration

Three months to one year

Two to five days

Focus

Specifically tailored to the new hire’s job responsibilities

Provides more general information about the company. The same orientation presentations can be given to several employees even if they have different roles

What to know about employee onboarding

Employee onboarding is the process of giving new hires the tools they need to become knowledgeable and effective members of your company. During this time, new hires will learn about the company, its culture, and the expectations for their specific roles. 

Onboarding events and activities can include:

  • Orientation
  • Setting up the employee’s email and other accounts
  • Any training specific to the role
  • Compliance and safety training
  • Starter projects
  • Participation in departmental meetings
  • 1:1 meeting with the new hire’s direct manager
  • Goal-setting exercises

The importance of employee onboarding

Onboarding is a crucial part of bringing on new employees because it gives them the tools they need to succeed in their roles, acclimate to the organizational culture, and help your business grow. Good onboarding programs provide clear expectations while also showing employees where to go for support as they adjust to their new roles.

What to know about employee orientation

Employee orientation introduces new hires to your company, the workplace, and their co-workers. Compared to onboarding, orientation is more general and can look the same for people with different job titles. 

Orientation activities can include: 

  • Office tour
  • Meeting co-workers 
  • New-hire paperwork
  • Overview of company policies

The importance of employee orientation

A great first day at work helps new hires adjust to your workforce and can help them feel more connected to your company’s mission and vision. Orientation allows you to engage employees from Day 1, which can help improve job performance and increase employee retention in the future.

Why your first impression matters

A 2023 Gallup study found that 71% of US employees would prefer a hybrid or remote job, which means that many employers face the challenge of engaging a workforce that’s becoming more spread out. As a result, it’s crucial for business owners to know how to make their employees feel connected and motivated from Day 1.

As flexible work arrangements become more popular, employee engagement has declined. A Gallup study found that only 32% of employees were engaged at work in 2022, down from 36% in 2020.

The study also found that this decline coincided with:

  • Less clarity in expectations at work
  • Lack of connection to the company mission
  • Decrease in feeling cared about at work
  • Fewer chances to learn and grow

By targeting these issues in your employee onboarding and orientation programs, you can make new hires feel motivated and appreciated from the start. 

Best practices for your employee onboarding process

If you want to create a more effective onboarding program, here are a few strategies you can implement.

Leverage structure and preboarding

Define your onboarding program well before your new hire arrives for their first day. This shows that you’re committed to supporting them, and it gives you enough time to handle preboarding activities. 

Preboarding activities are tasks you complete before the employee’s start date. They can include:

  • Sending a welcome email 
  • Sending a Day 1 itinerary
  • Preparing new-hire documents 
  • Printing ID cards and arranging for building access
  • Creating company email accounts

Using a new-hire onboarding checklist ensures you cover all your bases during this critical time. Not to mention, structuring your onboarding process ensures consistency when welcoming and training employees.

Clarify expectations

There’s nothing more frustrating than starting a new job and having no idea what you’re supposed to do. To avoid this, Keenan Beavis, founder of marketing agency Longhouse Media, tells employers to “clearly communicate performance goals, timelines, and evaluation criteria” so employees have a well-defined outline of what is expected of them.

Frameworks like the 30-60-90 day onboarding plan can help you create milestones and pace the employee learning process. Creating a timeline of expectations also gives managers a tool to measure an employee’s onboarding progress. Managers can also refer to this timeline when providing feedback.

Create mentorship programs

Mentorship programs give employees access to institutional knowledge that’s not always passed down in formal training programs. Through mentors, new hires can learn from past experiences and contribute to organizational growth.

A 2022 study by Harvard Business Review found that new sales reps with mentors generated 19% more daily revenue in their first two months than those without mentors. Mentorship programs also had a positive impact on employee retention. 

To create a mentorship program, assign a mentor to all new hires and set meeting requirements to ensure follow-through. For example, you can let mentors know that they need to meet with their mentees once a month for the first three months of work.

Leverage check-ins

Neil Colvin, CEO and founder of the mental health company Thera-Fi, highlights the importance of feedback loops in new employee onboarding. He recommends that companies “regularly touch base with new employees to see how they’re doing, address any concerns, and provide constructive feedback.”

Proactively setting up a feedback loop can help you address employee concerns, ultimately improving motivation and reducing turnover. 

While it’s helpful for new hires to have more frequent meetings with their direct managers, check-ins from higher-level employees or HR demonstrate that the company cares about them. It also gives you a chance to evaluate the effectiveness of your onboarding process and make improvements where necessary.

Best practices for your employee orientation program

Employee orientation is an essential part of the onboarding process, as it’s your opportunity to give new team members a warm welcome to the company. Here are some tips to help you put your best foot forward during orientation.

Incorporate fun elements

An employee’s first day of work should include enjoyable activities that show off your company’s culture and provide opportunities for them to connect with co-workers. For instance, you can incorporate icebreaker games that help new employees get to know your team members as people, not just job titles.

Here are 70 fun icebreaker activities you can choose from that accommodate both in-person and remote orientation settings.

Highlight your mission

Raissa Venti, COO of the advertising agency Adency, explains how her company uses its mission to welcome new hires: “We schedule a meeting with the founders to introduce the company’s mission, vision, and values. We align the employee’s responsibilities and objectives with these core principles.” 

Involving your company’s mission and leadership is an excellent way to show new hires that they’re cared about and help them feel connected to your company’s larger purpose. 

As a founder, you should remember that your first impressions with employees are just as important as the ones with clients and investors. Ultimately, when you prioritize the employee experience from the start, you have a better chance of creating a culture where people are engaged, motivated, and productive. 

Both the onboarding and orientation processes are crucial for building healthy relationships with your employees, which can increase job satisfaction, reduce turnover, and boost your bottom line. 

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Topics: Human Resources

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