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The Difference Between New Hire Orientation and Onboarding

As an HR Consultant, I frequently get asked questions as to what should be included in a new employee orientation program and/or an onboarding session.  To me, these are two very different questions and often times, it takes more than a minute to explain to the employer why I view these as two different processes.  In this article I will try and communicate the difference, as well as provide the readers with ideas on how they may be able to make improvements to both their organization’s new hire orientation program and onboarding processes.

First of all, onboarding is an all-encompassing term and concept. It starts the day that an employer decides to make an offer to a potential new hire and ends when the employer believes that the employee has all of the information available in order to be successful in their job.  A new employee orientation program may be included as part of the total onboarding process.

Studies have shown that the length of time that it takes from the time that an offer is made to a potential new hire, to the time that they actually start their job, that employers tend to lose that person as a new hire. Candidates tend to feel that everything just took too long and that their time has been disrespected by the organization. (Workspan, February 2018, pg. 54). So, the morale to this story is that the onboarding process should begin with the very first interaction with a potential candidate.

From the minute that a candidate completes an application and/or submits a resume for a job, that person’s impression of the employer is critical.  Employers who do not communicate with candidates who are rejected, who don’t follow-up with those who have been interviewed, or who make an offer and then don’t communicate the next steps in their hiring process to that candidate, risk being portrayed as an employer who does not respect candidates and maybe even their employees.  Setting a good impression with candidates and potential new hires is just as important as the first impression that a business gives to their customers.

Once an offer is made to a potential new hire, the hiring manager, HR professional, or someone else designated to communicate with the new hire should keep in touch with that person, as much as possible.  Every couple of days is recommended and a week or so, is sometimes too long.  Keeping in communication with the potential new hire and explaining the next steps in the hiring process shows that the organization is interested in them as a candidate, and thus will also be interested in them as an employee.

Successful onboarding processes may include the following tasks and/or actions:

  • The terms and conditions of the employee’s offer, e.g. title, pay, start date, benefit options available, etc. and when they will be able to expect that their written offer letter will be forwarded to them, should be communicated on the date that the offer is made. This is also a good time to send a summary of benefits that the new hire will be eligible for to include eligibility dates and costs, so that decisions may be made in advance and so that they are ready to complete the benefit enrollment forms when they complete the rest of their new hire paperwork. The verbal offer and written offer letter should include the statement that the offer is contingent upon the successful completion of a background check and drug screen, if appropriate.
  • If a background check is required it should be communicated when the candidate may expect to receive their background check authorization for release of information consent form. This is also a good time to inform the candidate of what items will be checked, e.g. national criminal history, county courthouse searches, motor vehicle report, credit check (in some states employers may conduct a credit check only if the job requires the handling of money), etc.
  • If a drug test is required, where should the new hire go, and when should they go, to submit for their post-offer drug screen. Again, communications should include the length of time that it will take for the employer to receive the results from the lab, so that the new hire is not wondering when they will hear from the employer. Then when the results are received by the employer they should notify the new hire of the results immediately.
  • While an employer is waiting for either a background check to be completed or for the candidate to submit for a drug screen, this is a good time to check-in frequently with the candidate to make sure that they have received their written offer letter and to ask if they have any additional questions about the background check and/or drug screening process. This is also a good time for hiring managers to send the candidate a “Welcome Aboard” card.
  • Prior to the candidates start date and after the organization has received the background check reports and drug screen results, is a good time to find a time to meet with the new hire to complete their initial paperwork and/or to schedule a time to assist them with this process online. Communicating with the new hire in advance with regards to what information that they will need in order to complete the new hire paperwork in its entirety is a good idea. Example: Provide page three of the Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification form to the new hire so that they may select which documents to present for verification, or let the new hire know that the names, birthdates and social security numbers of dependents for enrollment in benefits will be needed.  Some companies have a new hire employee orientation session on the new hires first day or within their first week of employment where the employee completes their paperwork. However, it is still a good idea to communicate with the employee prior to the new employee orientation session, as to what they will be required to bring to that session.
  • Having an employee’s workstation or office set-up with the appropriate tools necessary for them to complete their job prior to their first day is critical. Employees will feel valued when they are able to walk into their workstation or office and know that their computer, as well as the proper software is installed on that computer, that their connection to the printer works, etc.  All of those tools that are required in order for them to be successful at their job should be ready and available on the new hire’s first day. Having business cards on the employee’s desk, or uniforms and tools available, on their first day, if appropriate, is just as important as having their workstation ready. Again, having everything ready for the new hire shows that the organization cares and values them as a new employee.
  • The new hire orientation session is generally conducted on the employee’s first day of employment with the organization. However, some conduct these sessions on a weekly, monthly or quarterly basis depending upon the frequency of their new hires and the available staff to be involved in the orientation session. The closer that an organization conducts this session to the employee’s start date, the more successful that the employee will tend to be on their job.  Most new hire orientation sessions include a written agenda provided to the new employee in advance of the session and they may include the following:
  • An overview of the history of the organization to include the mission, vision and core values.
  • An overview of the goods or services that the organization provides.
  • Education of the organization’s organizational structure to include departments, department head names, etc.
  • Introductions to “key” management employees.
  • Completion of the new hire paperwork, e.g. tax forms, Form I-9, authorization for direct deposit forms, etc.
  • Explanations of all benefits to include eligibility dates, costs, etc., as well as the completion of all enrollment paperwork.
  • Anti-harassment, discrimination, and retaliation training, etc., as appropriate.
  • Distribution of the appropriate tools needed to be successful in their job, e.g. mobile device, laptop, printer, etc., if this has not already been accomplished.
  • Review of the employee handbook and/or overview of “key” organization-related policies.
  • Distribution of organization identification cards, etc.
  • New hires may also receive personalized and/or customized organization-related gifts as part of their welcome, e.g. pens, notepads, portfolios, shirts, etc.

The length of the new hire orientation session depends upon the amount of information that needs to be communicated. Some employers include lunch onsite and others take the group out to a local restaurant.

  • Introducing employees to those employees with whom they will be working with is essential to the success of any onboarding program. Hiring managers, or HR professionals should make it a point to walk the employee around the building showing them where each department is located and introducing them to as many of the organization’s employees as possible. It is always a good idea to inform current employees when a new employee will be walked through their department, so that they are sure to be available. Having the new employee’s picture posted for all to see in advance of their first day, or on their first day, is always a good idea. So, is having all employees wear name tags on the new hire’s first day.
  • Hiring managers should review the employee’s job description with them during their first couple of days of employment, so that the employee knows and understands what the expectations are for the job. Ideally, the original signed job description by both the manager and the employee should be placed in the employee’s personnel file and a copy provided to the employee for their future reference. The manager should then check-in with the new hire on a weekly basis for the first 30, 60, 90, 120, etc. days to make sure that the employee understands their expectations and to answer any questions that may come up, as needed. The employee should also be informed of the organizations performance evaluation schedule.  Providing a blank copy of the performance evaluation form may also be appropriate.
  • Some companies are starting to assign new hires to a buddy and/or mentor who will be responsible for showing the new hire the “ropes” and who will be available to answer any of their organization-related questions. The employer should make sure that they assign the new hire to a top performer or someone who is committed to the organization, so as not to risk that the employee will have a bad impression from an employee who doesn’t have a good view of the organization.  This buddy or mentoring relationship may last for up to the first six-months of the new hires employment, or for as long as the employer and employee feel the need to have the buddy and/or mentor. Once the buddy or mentoring relationship is concluded, it is always a good idea to have a celebration. A simple lunch on the organization and/or donuts in the morning for the employee and their buddy or mentor, shows that the organization cares about their success and is proud to have them as members of the team.
  • Organizations who truly want to find out how they are doing with regards to their onboarding process should provide all new employees with a survey after the completion of their program, asking them for their honest feedback. The survey should include questions related to each step of the onboarding process as well as any ideas that the employee may have that may be implemented to improve the process. While employers may not want to hear this information, it is critical to the success of future new hires and overall retention rates.

Again, the length of the onboarding session depends upon the desires of the employee and the organization.  However, the longer that an employer is able to keep an employee engaged in their job by making them feel valued, the longer that the employee will tend to stay with that employer.  So, by starting the new hire off on the right foot, the employer’s retention rates should soar.

For additional information related to the onboarding process, please contact us at www.newfocushr.com.

Written by: Kristen Deutsch, M.B.A., CCP






New Focus HR is a human resources consulting and training company that services all organizations. Our expert team collaborates with businesses to attract, motivate, retrain and retain their biggest assets, employees. While engaged with an organization, our focus is to find solutions that improve the company’s internal HR-related practices while increasing results at the same time! Our focus. Your results.