Employee Onboarding Vs. Orientation: Why You Need Both
When I landed my first job several years ago at a small tech startup, I was getting introduced to the world of employment, and looking back now, I had a bit of a rough start.
While I had the relevant skillset, I was at a loss on how to navigate the internal communication channels and decision-making processes, and I did not have a very good idea about the implication of my position relative to the rest of the organization.
I was taken through a hurried introduction on the very first day I joined, and by evening my direct supervisor was confident that I was sufficiently oriented to start meaningful work from day two.
They were keen to tell me that I could always ask my colleagues if I needed a hand navigating the platforms they had just introduced me to, and made clear that an open-door policy was in place in case anything beyond my colleagues needed clarification.
This was all well and good, but for a recently graduated college kid very thankful to get employment ahead of his peers, I was too eager to prove my nimbleness and didn’t want to risk being considered too needy and undeserving.
What followed was a series of frustrations, mistakes and long days of ‘figuring things out’ before I got comfortable in my role one month into the job.
This startup lacked what some companies seem to not pay much attention to, or at least fail to fully unpack – an employee onboarding program.
This should begin from when a job offer is extended to a prospective employee until the new team member is established to be a fully-functioning member of staff.
It could take from a few weeks to months, depending on the scale of operations, the role and complexity of the organization.
Onboarding is an ongoing process that should help a new employee understand what is needed of them to succeed in their new role.
It should build on what they were told during the recruitment phase, spur them to become the best employee possible and convince them that they made the correct decision to join your organization.
The ultimate goal is to convert a great starter into a stellar employee. It must spell out what is required of them on a daily basis and paint a picture of what their work contributes to the entire organization.
What my former employer did, however, was just one phase of the onboarding process – orientation.
Typically orientation is done as a session, either one-on-one or as is increasingly being practiced today, an online copy is emailed to the new hire before their first day of work.
It contains information that all new employees ought to know such as company policies, parking options, employee benefits and associated options, dress code, office location and a premises tour, and so on.
It is essentially your college welcome week done in a few hours up to a full day to welcome you to the new company.
As a Human Resources consultant Amy Lewkovich found out from a series client interactions, there’s a startling level of confusion between employee onboarding and orientation among HR professionals in many organizations.
While there is some form of onboarding present in each of the companies consulted for, Lewkovich reports that a majority did not have a distinction between the two and often the word ‘onboarding’ was used together with or in place of the word ‘orientation’.
This problem extends beyond just semantics in that it could mean the difference between fully integrating a new hire into an important role in your organization to become productive team players and just filling a vacant position with a well-qualified person.
The lack of a well-thought-out onboarding process that is tailored to the role in question leaves employers staring at the prospect of lacking full buy-in from their new hire, lackluster performance and possible costs associate with high employee turnover.
It is important that every organization gets the distinction right and sets out to create a bespoke program for every role.
This process which serves as the first phase of employee onboarding inducts new hires to the technologies, policies and procedures relevant to their new workplace.
The goals are typically narrow – It is during this phase that they are formally familiarized with the organization’s mission, values, vision and culture.
It must be conducted within the very first few days after new hires join the organization, if not before their start date.
While it is typically conducted over a very short period of time, it nevertheless has to be comprehensive, providing information that includes expected performance, evaluation parameters, working hours, breaks, benefits, regulations and other important housekeeping matters.
It is a collaborative effort that includes the human resources department, the hiring department as well as other departments throughout the organization due to intersecting roles.
The Pre-Orientation Stage
While some organizations might skip this stage, it is not a good idea as it might increase the time and costs incurred to get newcomers up to speed.
It begins before the scheduled start date of your new hirers where an information package is sent to them mostly via email, the postal service or in person when the new hire signs the job offer.
The pre-orientation package will contain documents such as the organizational chat, mission statement, vision statement, a detailed explanation of employee benefits or even a copy of the company’s annual report as well as a brief of what the actual orientation will entail.
Some organizations such as the BBC even include something resembling pre-orientation in their job adverts just to get their prospective employees in the know way before they are evaluated.
A pre-orientation package will get your new hires more comfortable even before they arrive at work, allowing them to prepare relevant questions in advance of the actual orientation day.
If you want to create a sense of camaraderie from the offing, you could emulate some companies that choose to accompany the package with thoughtful giveaways like a company mug or diary.
Typically the newcomer will start with a meeting with Human resources department on the very first day to fill new employee paperwork, get biometric door access or keys, identification badges and a review of the remuneration and benefits.
The hiring department should sufficiently prepare for the new team member by ensuring everything is order for them to get started.
A new-hire checklist is recommended to smoothen the entire process. The following should ideally happen on the first day once the newcomer gets to his department.
- Equipment, supplies and workstations set up as required
- An introduction to co-workers and an exhaustive tour of the premises
- Assigning of a ‘buddy’ to help with the longer-term onboarding activities
- A sit-down with the hiring manager e.g. over lunch
- An overview of department-specific mission, long- and short-term goals, policies and values
This should be scheduled not later than the first week after the new employee joins the organization and typically involves employees hired in batches, although the same should apply even when only one or two roles was being recruited for.
Below is the recommended format of the orientation meeting which can take up to a full day and factored in the employee’s worked hours.
The HR department will lead the meeting by introducing all the new hirers to the organization, its mission, culture and functions.
A review of the organizational chart is necessary to clear up any confusions as well as a review of the employee handbook with pointers to the most important sections that can enable the new hires navigate the new environment.
A discussion of the employee benefits plan follows with a discussion driven by newcomers’ questions after which they are preliminarily enrolled.
The new hires are taken through a comprehensive review of the company’s health and safety policies.
Fire and other emergency evacuation procedures are spelt out as well as the policy on job-specific safety issues e.g. safety in the field and the handling of hostile clients.
Major Administrative Policies
Key policies relating to anti-harassment are reviewed and discussed as new hires are encouraged to ask questions. Information on essential issues such as pay periods, approvals for training requests, use of personal and company vehicles and company-facilitated travel is provided here.
This ends with administrative procedures such as information system security – logins and access control, telephone systems and equipment and facilities use as well as dispute procedures.
There should be a management representative from each department in the company to give an overview of the purpose and functions in their department.
Each departmental representative should then lead a discussion on the FAQs of each department and respond to questions from the new hires as well as make clear the interdepartmental intersections.
When the number of new hires is too few to justify a formal all-day meeting, as could often be the case, the above procedure can be compressed to less formal meetings with the relevant departments followed up by a write-up to wrap up all the expected outcomes.
Importance of Employee Orientation
Employee orientation has a number of benefits, including:
- Reducing new hires’ startup costs and curbing employee turnover – A well planned orientation will get your employees comfortable with their new environment and ready to begin meaningful work as opposed to consuming time second-guessing themselves when in the dark which could be disorienting.
- Reducing newcomer anxiety – starting a new job has associated stresses, orientation helps ease the readjusting process
- Enabling new recruits build realistic job expectations and gather the momentum towards job satisfaction.
Human resources Professor John Sullivan, in a quest to distinguish orientation from onboarding offers valuable insights into the robustness of onboarding in his seminal article From Average to World-class: A Checklist to Transform your Onboarding/Orientation Program.
He observes that onboarding has a broader perspective and a more comprehensive reach than orientation with its fundamental goal being to decrease to as low as possible the period between hiring a new team member and when they reach the minimum expected level of productivity required for the job.
While it is possible for new employees to learn from experience (informal onboarding), more often than not as my experience from my first job shows, several unnecessary mistakes will be made, and in some instances these might be potentially damaging to the organization.
Employees who end up feeling not welcome and not well synced with their job requirements will often leave, as I did several months into the job.
If this happens quite often the cost to the company has been established to be quite high.
Designing a well-thought-out onboarding program will take time, energy and commitment but the benefits to be reaped by the employee, department and the entire organization will be totally worth it.
One class is example is given of North Carolina’s Mecklenburg County 1996 drive to revamp their employee onboarding program as part of their commitment to labor being their greatest resource.
With a conception of employees as part of their customer base they set out to learn from them what they would have wanted to have as part of their onboarding and also want they didn’t like about the process to be factored in the new program.
This included an interrogation of senior managers and supervisors on what they deemed the most important aspects to be included in their department’s onboarding process. Using this valuable employee feedback the HR training staff were able to craft a more useful program.
Some staffing and HR experts say that onboarding newcomers to an organization must be a strategic undertaking that lasts for at least one year.
They observe that how a new employee handles the experience during the formative days and months at the new workplace is very crucial to attaining high retention in the long-run.
During this period, it should not be confused that the employee is exclusively ‘onboarding’ but rather learning and working according to the structure designed by the department and the HR in consultation with the newcomer.
The goal is to ensure a new employee feels that he/she wants to work in your organization. You want the best talent that you just hired to be productive and contended.
Global cosmetic company L’Oreal says that their aim from the very moment a new employee joins the organization is to develop successful, and committed relationships that are beneficial to both the employee and the organization.
It employs a fixed sequence of procedures to enable the new hire adjust to his tasks and get socialized into the company culture in over a period of two years to achieve what they call the “L’Oreal Fit”. Here is what the program includes;
- Meetings with key people within the organization
- Training and roundtable discussions.
- On-the-job learning, with the help and support of line management.
- Individual mentoring and HR support.
- Field and product experiences such as site visits and shadowing programs.
A formal onboarding process is proven to be more successful as compare to the ‘sink or swim’ approach that my first employer adopted.
It provides a fixed sequence of activities that are carefully timed to allow for periodic evaluation with measurable results.
The Four C’s Of Onboarding
Taylor Bauer, a Cameron Professor of Management at the Portland State University in Oregon offers the following four distinct components as the most important facets of a successful onboarding plan.
As the lowest level, compliance involves ensuring employees learn the basic legal and policy issues and regulations guarding their professional practice
This involves making sure the new employee(s) understands the requirements of their jobs, the associated expectations and key deliverables including the procedure for performance review.
This is probably the broadest category which involves equipping employees with the established organizational norms that includes both the formal and informal routines that characterize the organization.
It is a vital ingredient of the onboarding process that primes the critical interpersonal relationships as well as information networks that new employees must establish if they are to thrive in their new roles.
Maximizing Onboarding Success
Research has zeroed-down on four pedals that organizations should use to stand a better chance of reaping the benefits of onboarding.
This is ensuring the program contains measures that works towards providing the employee with the necessary self-confidence to perform the requirements of their role.
The extent to which an employee feels confident that can do the job well will determine how motivated they will be and their level of success as compared to their co-workers.
Their sense of self efficacy has been shown to impact their commitment to the organization and job satisfaction.
This relates to how well a newcomer understands their role and what is expected of them. This might seems like a pretty unlikely scenario but a 2008 study commissioned by Cognisco found that UK and US businesses are losing an astounding $37 billion every year due to employees not understanding their jobs.
The study found that performance is greatly hindered if the role is ambiguous to the job holder.
Poor performance will lead to negative job attitudes and possible exit.
As such a successful onboarding plan must encompass tools of measuring role clarity to ascertain that employees clearly understand the roles they occupy with positive results indicating a well-adjusted employee and a successful onboarding program.
If you have at one point been the new employee in a fairly established organization, you might be aware that one of the sources of new employee stress is being ‘accepted’ by your new colleagues and superiors.
It is probably the most important route to learning about the organization. Gaining the acceptance of your co-workers has been identified as an indicator of successful adjustment.
In fact, researchers estimate that more than half of managers who fail to successful onboard failed to establish meaningful social relationships with their teams.
High quality relationships with superiors and teammates indicates successful onboarding and as such your onboarding plan must incorporate this aspect.
Knowledge of Culture
Successful companies take their organizational culture very seriously and consider it of utmost importance in the pursuit of strategic goals.
Successful onboarding will be deemed to have occurred not only when the employee proves they are knowledgeable of the organization’s goals, values and politics but also when it is established that they fit and thrive within it.
The onboarding program must ensure the new hire is aided in navigating the unique environment that every organization prides itself in and that they find their place in it.
Importance of Employee Onboarding
If successful, onboarding will bring forth several benefits to the organization, the department and the new employees in the longer-term.
Research has ascertained the following possible benefits of a robust onboarding process.
- Higher job satisfaction.
- Organizational commitment.
- Lower employee turnover.
- Higher performance levels.
- Bolstered career effectiveness.
- Reduced stress.
On the flipside, the ultimate failure of onboarding is the loss of potentially excellent employees.
Of course, if the employees in question are lost because of poor performance or failing to fit into the organizational culture and values it is a plus.
The loss associated with disorientation occasioned by confusion or role ambiguity, alienation and low confidence due to inadequate onboarding are regrettable and underscore the importance of a robust program.
ORIENTATION VS ONBOARDING: WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE?
|Employees role at the company.||GENERAL FOCUS||The employees specific role in their department.|
|A one-time event||DURATION||Ongoing (from a few months to a year or more)|
|Classroom-style or online||SETUP||On-the-job|
|General overview||CONTENT||Specific to each new hire|
|Getting new hires ready to start working and also to undertake bespoke job-related training.||OUTCOMES||Make sure new employees are ready to be productive team members.|
We have established that there is a clear distinction between these oft-confused terms.
The biggest implication of this realization is that they cannot be used as synonyms but rather organizations have to proactively design a robust onboarding program, a series of events that encapsulates orientation as the initial phase of a longer term process aimed at getting the best from your high quality recruits.
It should not be a question of whether they are different or which is more important than the other but a shift towards acknowledging the importance of supporting new employee readjustment in impacting the future success of your organization.
Employers should refrain from a retrogressive notion that onboarding is a sort-of favor to their new employees and adopt a strategic view of capitalizing on the great talent hired as the single most important resource to achieve their mission, one whose effectiveness can be greatly influenced by internal process right from the first day a new employee joins.
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