Orientation vs. Onboarding: What Are the Differences and How to Do Both Well
After putting in the hours and effort to hire a new employee, retaining them is a top priority. The first few weeks of a new hire’s tenure are crucial to their perception of your company.
In People Operations, it’s key to understand the difference in orientation vs. onboarding and maximize both to prepare new hires for success.
🆚 What is the difference between orientation vs. onboarding?
Orientation is a general welcome for new hires. It is a one-time event and occurs at the beginning of an employee’s time at a company. Employee orientation often involves
- an office tour
- a catered lunch,
- information on company history, mission, culture,...
- speeches from leadership welcoming all new hires regardless of role.
Onboarding is a long-term process designed to set up an employee for success in their specific role and department. It can involve
- 1-on-1s with their direct supervisor,
- Role-specific tool training,
- and a 6-month plan.
On top of that, the word "onboarding" is commonly used for the overall process.
Why both orientation and onboarding are critical
There is only one chance to make a first impression. Yes, you brought new hires into your company. But the glance they got during the interview process pales in comparison to their first days as an employee.
This is the moment they decide if their preconceived notions about a job line up with reality, and that can make or break their experience. Orientation and onboarding are key moments that determine if a new hire will stay on your team, or move on to another opportunity.
How long should orientation and onboarding last?
Onboarding can last up to a year, but orientation typically lasts a day few days to a week. The key aspects of orientation, such as company presentations and opportunities for new hires to ask questions about their new job, can be covered in a relatively short time frame.
Onboarding, on the other hand, is an ongoing process that occurs as new hires are actively working in their role. During their onboarding experience, new hires take on projects, participate in their own presentations, and are already adding their expertise to the team.
Because orientation and onboarding must be tailored to your company and new hires’ specific roles, their lengths will vary from firm to firm.
Goals: Create a welcoming experience, convey values, answer questions, give a sense of security
Orientation typically includes:
- General introduction to the company’s mission and culture
- Overview of the team structure
- Product intro
- Employee handbook or playbook
- IT onboarding (tool access, hardware setup,...)
- Health and safety policies where relevant
- Compliance training including IT security, privacy, DEI...
- vacation time, sick leave, hybrid work policy, and pay periods
- Administrative policies, including security, computer systems, and logins
Any general information that new hires need to know as they start their tenure at a company belongs in orientation. If it’s more specific to their role and would be irrelevant to another new hire, hold off on it until later in the onboarding process.
📅 For a full overview of all orientation meetings you should hold, go here
Here are some orientation best practices:
- Pay employees for orientation (yes, sadly this still needs to be said)
- Create a checklist to ensure nothing important is forgotten
- Tell new hires the orientation schedule a week ahead of time
- Use interactive elements instead of traditional videos to keep attendees engaged
- Assign new hires a work buddy to make their first day easier
- Firmly embed 1:1 meetings with immediate supervisors for questions and expectations in to the week
The ideal orientation day is an energetic intro that has new hires excited for their future on the job. Once your team has brought in the candidates you won over, it’s time for job-specific preliminary training via onboarding.
Goal: Enable new hires to be productive, successfully integrate them
Onboarding is an in-depth, personalized, long-term process at the beginning of an employee’s tenure at a company. Because it is more specialized than orientation and induction, team managers take a more active role in onboarding new hires.
While new hires complete onboarding, they are participating actively in team meetings, presentations, and even taking ownership for projects.
Part of the onboarding process is a space to grow and get preliminary feedback on the skills a new hire brings to their team. Encourage new hires to show where they shine as they complete the onboarding process, giving actionable feedback when needed.
What are the 4 phases of onboarding?
Many companies prefer to break down their onboarding process into 4 distinct phases.
- Phase 0: Preboarding
- Phase 1: Orientation
- Phase 2: Role training
- Phase 3: Role transition
- Phase 4: Ongoing development
Preboarding - Preboarding begins with the signing of the employment contract. This is a delicate period because candidates can still revise their decision to work at your company. It is important to use this time to get the new employee excited about their first day in the office and make sure their decision was the right one.
Orientation – The first days in a company. This is were expectations meet reality. Biggest room for disappointment.
Role training – Role-specific training is one of the most important phases of onboarding. Its purpose is to fill any gaps between what a new hire already knows and what they need to be effective at their new job.
Without a formal training process involving supervisors, team members, and new hires together, a new employee can feel lost and insignificant in the broader organization. To avoid new hire dissatisfaction and encourage healthy productivity, show them you care about them and are glad they’re here.
Role transition – Phase 3 of the onboarding process segues a new hire to a role they feel secure and confident in, with tasks they are equipped to do after training.
Ongoing development – The final phase of onboarding is a long-term plan for employees to flourish in their new role.
A lack of career development is one of the main reasons employees leave one workplace for another. A clear development plan can make all the difference between a productive employee and a disgruntled one.
What do new hires want from onboarding?
When designing an effective onboarding program, the opinions of new hires are the most valuable information to know.
According to a LinkedIn study, Inside the Mind of Today’s Candidate, 72% of respondents said 1-on-1 time with a direct manager was most useful to their onboarding process.
Although many companies spend good money on welcome gifts, only 17% of respondents considered them “very useful.”
Survey respondents instead ranked five factors consistently as the most useful in onboarding:
- 1-on-1 time with a direct manager
- Outline of performance goals
- Plan for their first few weeks on the job
- Intro to company culture and values
- List of people to meet
New hires want actionable information, a realistic picture of their place on a team, and an idea of who you are as a company. This allows them to determine where they fit and how they can be successful in the long-run as an employee.
Doing onboarding well means juggling a ton of tasks.
Zavvy’s onboarding software allows you to set up an unforgettable onboarding experience with ease. Automate the busy work so you can do what’s important.
Find out how to run awesome onboarding in minutes with Zavvy or book a free live demo today.