Many companies do not distinguish between onboarding and orientation.  This is a mistake; the words are not synonyms.  They represent two distinctly different sets of activities, goals, audiences and timelines.

To explain it as succinctly as possible – orientation is an event; onboarding is a process.

Orientation focuses on the information that the new hires to know to get started with their job duties – things such as information on the organizational and departmental structure, policies and procedures.  The goal of orientation is to manage this “new hire paperwork” in a way that represents the company’s brand and reaffirms the individual’s decision to accept the job offer.  It does not take the person’s new role within the organization into account; everyone is given the same information.

Onboarding goes well beyond orientation.  It is the process of assimilating a new hire with a company and a department and their distinct cultures.  It takes the new hire’s role and position into account, and involves communication and frequent feedback between the new hire, the manager and other department team members.  The goal of onboarding is to provide a supportive process that provides the new hire with the opportunity to

  • Build relationships
  • Gain knowledge
  • Successfully and quickly integrate into the organization.

Who would not want that in their new place of employment?

So the 4 key differentiators between orientation and onboarding are:

  • Time

Orientation is a single event that takes place (usually) during the first week on the job and only lasts for a few hours WHILE onboarding begins before the new hire starts and lasts anywhere from a full quarter to a full year.

  • Delivery

Orientation follows a more stereotypical classroom-style of information dissemination.  Usually, orientations take place in a classroom or conference room, with a manager at the front of the room broadcasting all the general information.  Onboarding focuses on scalability, feedback, and a 2-way feed of information.

  • Audience

Orientation delivers information that all new hires need to know WHILE onboarding focuses streaming customized information to the new hire based on her function and role within the company.

  • Results

New hires are still considered “new hires” after their orientation experience and usually need more assistance from their manager and cohorts to be able to be productive.

Onboarding takes a longer view and allows the person to learn while “doing” during their first weeks and months on the job.   The process is designed to focus on strengthen the employee’s connection to the company and his co-workers.   When onboarding is complete, the new hire is fully integrated into the organization – they are no longer a new hire – and has begun to contribute to the organizational goals.

It is important to remember that these are not two mutually exclusive processes.  One does not replace the other.  Orientations do have a place within the hiring process, but for the sake of productivity and reduced turnover, companies need to invest in a solid onboarding process.  It is the last stage of the hiring process, but the first step in retaining long-term employees.

Want more information on how to effectively integrate and manage new hires and employees?  Check out the Workplace Best Practices section of Snelling’s Client Resource Hub.  This section of the Snelling website provides our clients’ with best practices on issues ranging from improving departmental communication to understanding co-employment issues.

NOTE:  A full-color, downloadable PDF is available.