User Onboarding

Employee Onboarding vs Employee Orientation: What's the difference?

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    Home / User Onboarding / Employee Onboarding vs Employee Orientation: What's the difference?

    A study about new employees found that:

    • During the first days on the job, employees are anxious and disturbed
    • Employee initiation practices by peers intensify anxiety
    • Anxiety affects the training process
    • New employees are reluctant about discussing problems with their supervisors
    • The high turnover rate of new employees is a result of anxiety

    This means the faster they acclimatize to the new job and environment, the quicker they can begin contributing to the firm’s mission. However, this largely depends on how well the new employee is received in the company. The orientation and onboarding concepts play a critical role.

    Many people use these terms interchangeably, but they have different objectives. Onboarding primarily focuses on improving employee engagement, while orientation helps new employees familiarize themselves with their colleagues, understand organizational policies, and navigate the office space. Here’s more about their differences.

    What is Onboarding?

    Employee onboarding is an ongoing process of building engagement after making the first contact until the employee is established within the organization. It has a broader, more extensive reach than orientation. Its primary objective is to reduce the time a new hire needs to reach the maximum expected productivity level.

    Onboarding also aligns new employee’s needs and expectations to those of the organization. It is more strategic and begins the minute an employee verbally accepts a company’s offer. It means getting them up to speed on the tools they can use to do their job effectively by:

    • Introducing them to people they’ll interact with regularly
    • Acquainting them with the company’s policies and procedures
    • Making time for clear expectations exchanges with the supervisor
    • This means onboarding isn't a one-time event but lasts several months to a year.
    what is employee onboarding

    Benefits of Employee Onboarding

    Increased Employees Engagement

    Employee onboarding helps employees understand the company’s point of view, which increases engagement. Engaged employees are committed to their organization’s operations because they know their role.

    They give 100% in their work and genuinely care about the company. A study performed by Gallup found a strong correlation between the number of employees and outcomes. Companies that had more engaged employees enjoyed better results than those with less engaged employees. Examples of positive outcomes include:

    • Higher profits
    • Lower employee turnover
    • Better customer evaluations
    • Reduced employee absenteeism
    • Increased Employee Retention

    Once the new employee is acclimated and engaged in the company’s operations, they are more likely to stick around. Employee retention is important because it reduces hiring costs and enhances productivity. A study by the Center for American Progress found that it costs 16% of a low-wage worker’s annual salary to hire a new employee.

    New Hires Get Acclimated to a Company’s Operations

    An employee onboarding program also helps the new employees become acclimated to the company. This is a critical role even for a new remote worker. Acclimation goes above and beyond pointing out where the offices, bathrooms, and cafes are.

    It involves providing the new employee with a detailed overview of the company’s goals. More specifically, the employee is informed about what the company can do for them. For example, the supervisor explains if the company has a mentorship program, career development opportunities, monthly dinners, and more.

    Facilitates Transition

    Some companies barely perform employee onboarding on new employees. Instead, they are assigned complex tasks as soon as they report to work which can be demoralizing for the new employee. Employee onboarding prepares the new employee for the new role.

    What is Orientation?

    Employee Orientation is the induction process designed to furnish new employees with the information they need to function effectively. It is a planned introduction to their jobs, colleagues, and the company.

    what is employee orientation

    Orientation conveys three types of information:

    • General information about the company’s daily routine
    • The company’s history including its founders, products, and services, as well as how the employee’s role will contribute to the organization’s needs
    • A detailed representation of the organization’s work rules, policies, and employee benefits

    When employers spend time to provide an effective orientation, they convey the message that they are committed to employee development. Other benefits of employee orientation include:

    • Reducing employee anxiety
    • Developing realistic job satisfaction and expectations

    More recently, employee orientation has extended beyond the traditional first few days after an employee starts to as long as six months. This long process is what is called onboarding, and more companies are adopting it. Stretching out the orientation process ensures the new employees aren’t overwhelmed with information in one session and that frustrations and questions arising after the start date are addressed.

    Differences between Employee Onboarding and Orientation

    Their differences are pretty slim, but none can substitute the other. Say Company X has spent weeks looking for new employees for the role of an accountant. The HR Manager has successfully negotiated offers, and the leadership is excited about the new employees.

    If your orientation process is a one-day event consisting of completing government forms and perusing benefits brochures, the positive momentum may come at a screeching halt. Many such companies experience high employee turnover rates within the first 18 months.

    Statistics show 50% of new employees leave the companies within this period, and a poor onboarding experience is one of the contributors to high turnover rates. The company needs to extend the orientation process for weeks or months hence the need for employee onboarding. Here are the main differences between the two terms:

    1- Objective

    The primary goal of onboarding is to define and align new employees’ needs with the company’s culture and reinforcing its vision and strategic priorities. It is a proactive process that improves the new employee’s ability to contribute to the team, understand leadership, and develop meaningful relationships causing them to perform at their best.

    Onboarding enables the new employees to assess the company’s strategy and culture and identify gaps or conflicts when done right.

    Orientation, on the other hand, helps employees feel at home in the new environment. Any new employee can attest to feeling anxious in a new company. They worry about how they’ll perform in their new roles and feel inadequate when comparing themselves to experienced folks.

    An effective employee orientation program reduces anxiety by providing information about the job environment and their supervisors. The program also introduces them to co-workers and encourages them to ask questions.

    The ease with which employees adjust to the new role and the work environment is a function of their expectations about the job. Realistic expectations make it easy for the employee to adapt to the environment, but if they’re unreasonable, vice versa is true.

    In the latter scenario, employee orientation is pivotal to identifying employee expectations and helping them adjust. It also exposes them to all the company areas, preventing them from overspecializing in one area.

    2- The Process

    An employee orientation process is pretty short consisting of:

    • Completing the required paperwork, including benefits enrollment, direct payroll deposit, and tax withholding forms
    • Requesting the new employee to read the employee handbook and walking them through important organization policies
    • Creating an email account for the new employee
    • Giving the employee a tour of the workplace and explaining health and safety procedures that apply
    • Enrolling the new employee in training programs relevant to the role
    • Teaching the new employee how to use their equipment and other tools required for the job
    • Setting up the employee’s workspace with the equipment and tools required for the job

    Employee onboarding is more detailed but is easier to implement. It entails:

    • Sending the new employee an introduction email a few days before the start date telling them you’re anticipating their arrival. The email may include a schedule for their first-day instructions. The premise is to keep the excitement going during and after the hiring process
    • Having the new employee’s manager schedule a meeting with them to discuss their objectives in relation to the broader team goal. The idea is to ensure the new employee learns the goals they need to strive for and how their success impacts the team and the whole organization
    • Taking the new employee to lunch helps the new employee bond with people they’re working closely with within a casual setting.
    • Scheduling a meeting after 2-3 months to evaluate progress. This is an opportunity for the new employee to ask questions and contribute ideas based on what they’ve learned.
    • Schedule a meeting with the hire’s manager to discuss their objectives with regard to the company’s broader term goals. The meeting helps identify the goals they need to achieve and how their success impacts the team and the company.
    • Asking the new employee to fill an engagement survey based on their experience after joining the organization. This feedback helps the company improve its onboarding process as it hires more employees.
    employee orientation onboarding

    3- Methodology

    Since onboarding is more comprehensive, it spans between three and six months, but it could be longer depending on the new employee’s needs and progress. It involves meeting with the supervisor on one on one scheduled meeting to discuss:

    • Organizational culture
    • The vision and direction of leadership
    • Team communication, dynamics, and conflict
    • Specified goals and ongoing expectations
    • Business process, systems, and performance deliverables

    The employee orientation process, on the other hand, can be informal or formal. New employees must report to the HR department to get insight into the company policies before getting referred to their immediate supervisor during informal orientation. They often last an hour or less.

    Formal orientation is more elaborate and spreads over a couple of weeks or months. It consists of three stages:

    • A general introduction to the company
    • The employee’s supervisor usually gives specific introduction to the department and the job
    • A follow-up meeting to ensure critical issues are addressed and employees’ questions are answered

    The choice between formal and informal orientation depends on the management’s goals. Companies use formal orientation when they want the new employee to acquire a known set of standards. However, informal orientation is more desirable when you want to maintain individual differences.

    4- Tools Used

    The tools used in both types of training are somewhat similar, but HR managers must use long-term and continuous solutions for employee onboarding. Here are examples of some the tools:

    Employee Onboarding Tools

    • Develop programs that build trust: The senior management can work with lower-level managers and team leaders to design trust-building systems. For example, when a new employee is assigned to a department, the supervisor can educate them about the best organizational practices. Such sensitization helps build trust.
    • Develop clear communication: When new employees feel intimidated, they hardly voice their concerns to the management. Part of an organization’s onboarding process should involve creating clear communication channels to encourage them to speak their minds.
    • Develop channels for continuous feedback: New employees should feel comfortable and appreciated in the new roles. This is possible if managers provide regular feedback. For example, if the employee performs well, they should be recognized. Also, if the individual has mediocre performance, the manager should offer positive criticism.

    Employee Orientation Tools

    Since employee orientation is a relatively short procedure, HR managers may opt for solutions that make the entire process easier. They include:

    • Checklists: They are straightforward and come in handy when the orientation process involves many employees. The recruitment manager should also consider creating an onboarding email list to ensure they have all the information about the employees
    • Specialized tools: These tools streamline, fasten, and automate the orientation process.
    • Free tools: This kind has greater flexibility than checklists. They also organize and streamline the orientation process.
    • Integrated tools: The tools are more comprehensive allowing HR managers to schedule employee attendance, benefits, and time easily. Also, if the recruitment process involves training new employees working at home, remote tools like ProofHub come in handy

    Why Both are Important

    Employee orientation is a subset of employee onboarding.

    However, a company can’t choose one approach and ignore the other. You don't want to waste a month’s efforts to avoid spending a few more bucks on employee onboarding.

    Keep in mind the first 90 days of employment are critical for a new employee. As such, you should spend this time ‘selling’ your company especially when hunting for top-notch talent.


    Employee orientation and employee onboarding are critical processes in the recruitment process. However, the difference between the two concepts redefines how recruitment is performed in any organization. While the orientation process lasts a day, or two or at most a week, onboarding takes months to complete.

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