Onboarding and orientation – what’s the difference?

Employee handbookWelcoming new employees into your organization marks a very important moment for you as an employer, and especially for the employee. For many employees this will be the first time they see their new place of work since their last interview (and for some the very first time) with you. This is the moment they truly start to get to know their new organization.

When new hires start their careers at a company, there is usually some form of introduction to the organization, the specifics of the job and their team or co-workers.

For the most parts, orientation is similar, or synonymous to introduction. It lasts anywhere from a couple of hours, to a few weeks (at best), and often this is described as the onboarding process. Though I would say that as the introduction is stretched out to a few weeks, it gets closer to onboarding, there is a difference between the two, and both have their place in an organization.

What is the difference between onboarding and orientation?

The main purpose of both onboarding and orientation is to get the new employees up to speed with their new jobs, and get them to the 100% performance level as fast as possible. With orientation, you will most likely only cover the basics of this, depending of course on the complexity of the position. For some jobs, orientation may very well cover everything you need.

Onboarding is a process that lasts several months, and ideally for the first year the new hire is with the organization. On the organizational level the process starts with the recruiting process, and at the individual level as soon as a candidate has accepted a job offer from the organization.

While the main purpose of orientation is to get new hires acquainted with their work tasks and general surroundings of the job, the purpose of onboarding is to retain your best people. Orientation can be part of the new employee’s onboarding plan as part of his or her first weeks in the new job, and it extends to the year one mark. It is a process that should help the new employee understand their own job in relation the rest of the organization, to help them see a natural career path, to become excellent performers and to understand and become a part of the organizational culture, to name a few points.

Make it a point to decide whether you need an orientation program, an onboarding program, or both in your organization. Consider the complexity of the job, the organizational culture and your plan for the new employees.

Adopting well thought out onboarding process can be one of the smartest strategic moves you can make for your organization.

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