Understanding the Difference Between Orientation and Onboarding

Does your organization have a thorough understanding of orientation and onboarding? Not just the HR Department but all other partnering departments. Both onboarding and orientation are essential but knowing the difference between both activities is fundamental. Some managers tend to use onboarding and orientation interchangeably, which should never be the case. They are different activities; however, orientation is a small component of the onboarding process. "Thank you, HR, for onboarding the new employees last week!" Yikes! Onboarding takes more than a week. That manager meant to thank HR for orientating the new employees.

What is Orientation?

Orientation is the process of introducing new hires to the workplace with activities that usually lasts two to five days. Employee orientation includes a brief overview of their new company and department, completing mandatory paperwork, answering general questions, and a quick meet and greet with key internal stakeholders.

What is Onboarding?

Onboarding is the process of integrating new hires into the organization. Onboarding goes beyond the brief introduction and ensures that new hires are fully assimilated in their new environment by exploring the organization’s culture, mission, vision, values, and strategies.

What are the Advantages of an Effective Onboarding Program?

Four advantages of effective formal onboarding programs include:

  1. Employee Engagement – an onboarding program is a real effort to keep new employees engaged. Their onboarding plan guides the series of events in which new employees will participate. It is the opportunity for them to connect with their respective teams and external departmental vital players. Some of the events on an onboarding plan include employee engagement activities like information about employee resource groups (ERGs) within the organization. ERGs are voluntary employee led internal workplace networks that employees join based on shared interests, characteristics, or life experiences. What better way to engage employees than to have them network with groups that share their interests? Experts recommend that effective onboarding be at least a 12-month process. During these 12 months, it is the perfect moment to engage new employees as they assimilate to their new work environment. Employees will undoubtedly need to remain engaged after the onboarding period ends. One way to achieve this goal is for employees to become active participants in the organization's onboarding program by assigning them supporting roles.
  2. Employee Retention – engaged employees are less likely to leave their organizations. Therefore, if formal onboarding programs help engage employees, they are just as beneficial in employee retention. The employee's experience at the organization determines their willingness to stay with the employer. No one likes chaos and disfunction! When organizations invest the time to create a detailed plan for new employees that outlines their path to development at the beginning of their onboarding journey. It indicates that they value their employees and are striving to build a workplace culture where valuing employees is embedded. A common misapprehension about employee retention is that efforts to retain them begin after they are hired or onboarded. Retention efforts begin from the recruiting process starts, making the best impression to applicants will determine their engagement with their potential employer. Therefore, retention efforts must not be delayed until employees are onboarded because retention begins even before hiring.
  3. Increased Productivity – with the retention of engaged employees by organizations and a positive employer brand attracting top talents, there are no doubts that productivity will increase. Implementing a structured onboarding program is incomparable, as it helps companies be more organized, which is an excellent way of improving efficiency. Setting the tone of efficiency for new hires creates a sense of urgency and establishes a culture of productivity for the rest of the team. It's a chain reaction; creating an engaging onboarding program keeps new hires, peers, and managers engaged, which leads to their retention, followed by their positive reviews to their professional networks, which attracts top talents to the organization. With fewer disruptions in the organization's workforce, there is an automatic increase in productivity.

How HR Can Implement a Successful Onboarding Program

HR professionals have a responsibility to ensure that employees are correctly onboarded. They should also train managers and leaders to have a comprehensive understanding of the meaning of onboarding. In addition, HR must partner with hiring managers to monitor the onboarding process. Remember, for onboarding programs to be effective, they must be at least 12 months. Therefore, other departments must contribute as the new hires are generally transitioned from HR within two days (orientation). There are a few steps that HR can take to have a successful onboarding process:

Step 1: Creating a Formal Onboarding Process

HR partners should implement onboarding programs in their organizations. First, communicate the organizational benefits of these programs to senior leadership to gain their buy-in. Then review and monitor the process and train hiring managers accordingly.

Step 2: Identify Key Partners

The responsibilities of successful onboarding programs aren't just solely for HR and senior leadership but for the organization's entire management. Other departments will play significant roles; for example, IT is responsible for ensuring that new hires' devices are ready for the first day after their orientation. Imagine the frustration of a new employee who's prepared to work on their first day and can't access files or applications to get started. Their experience with the organization will already be off to a poor start. Other departments also have a role they play for the best onboarding experience; they just won't be explored individually.

Step 3: Assign Mentors to New Hires

Supervisors or managers should not be mentors for new employees. They are responsible for developing them within their respective departments. A mentor should be a peer and doesn't have to be in the same department as the new hire. The purpose of a mentor is to provide assimilation into the organization's culture, structure, mission, vision, and values. Therefore, choosing the right mentor is essential; this employee should exemplify the organization's purpose.

Step 4: Conduct Frequent Check-ins

Follow up with new hires monthly to determine how they assimilate to the organization. Never wait for new hires to reach out! HR partners should remind supervisors to check in with their new hires and share their feedback. Use the feedback received to improve the onboarding process if needed. Remember to thank the respondents for their honesty and encourage them to reach out before the subsequent scheduled follow-up if required.

Does your current employer have a formal onboarding program for new hires? If not, it's never too late to get started. It doesn't matter which department you represent; you are a part of the organization, and its external brand is important when trying to attract key talents. Partner with your HR team and make it happen! The benefits of an onboarding program are limitless and could solve some of the present organizational challenges. Reflect on your onboarding experience at your current employer. How did it influence your perception of the company? Based on your onboarding experience alone, would you recommend a friend to your employer?

The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

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