5 Ways Onboarding is a Better Approach Than Orientation


By Jason Richmond, CEO and Chief Culture Officer at Ideal Outcomes, Inc.

Let’s say you’re doing a lot of things right when it comes to culture. However, whenever a new employee joins your company, the way they are welcomed may undermine all your efforts. If you’re like most employers, your onboarding processes may not reflect the culture you’re trying to build.

Many employers lack a formal process to help new employees become a part of the team. The hope seems to be that—over time—employees will simply acclimate. Unfortunately, this approach doesn’t work. New employees decide very quickly whether to stay with or leave a company.

This early decision-making is one reason why a formal onboarding process to engage employees with culture over time can reduce turnover and help increase engagement.  HR's New hire orientation is simply not going to “cut the mustard” anymore.


Many people think orientation is the same as onboarding. It’s not. Onboarding is an ongoing process designed to help a new employee engage with the organization’s culture and become a contributing part of it. Unlike orientation, it begins long before the employee is hired, with the establishment and management of the company’s culture.

Over time, onboarding communicates your company’s purposeculture, and organizational goals, all the while helping to establish relationships with supervisors, mentors and others that will be key to success. Says Hope Engelmann, a project manager who recently joined matter management software maker Legal Files, “My new firm focuses on education during onboarding. On day one they welcomed me with an orientation. But it didn’t end there. The company enrolled me in a comprehensive training program where I regularly meet with other team members for training. They even have me shadow daily customer meetings so I can learn how our team manages those relationships.”

Onboarding lasts for as long as the employee needs support. Orientation, on the other hand, rarely lasts longer than a week. It’s less about establishing connections and relationships within the new culture than it is about conveying rules, roles, and responsibilities. Orientation can actually be a part of the onboarding process, but onboarding goes far beyond the simple parameters of an orientation session.

New hires notice the difference between orientation and onboarding in terms of the investment the company makes in its new hires. Says Engelmann, “Everyone seems invested in my success, which is reassuring when you’re the new person with everything to learn.”

Unfortunately, not every onboarding program deserves the name; most are little more than in-depth orientations. Only about 10% of onboarding programs last for three months or longer. But a good onboarding program (that includes the elements above) can go a long way towards helping employees internalize the culture you’ve worked so hard to build.


Onboarding and orientation serve different masters. Orientation serves the company by communicating expectations and defining an employee’s role, rather than inviting the employee to become part of the organization and its culture.

Onboarding, on the other hand, exists to serve the employee by helping them engage with the organization’s culture, connect with others who can help them succeed, and ease their adjustment into their new role. Onboarding supports the employee’s journey to become a successful contributor within the organization.


Orientation typically lasts a day or two and involves going through paperwork, signing up for benefits, walking through the company’s rules, and being assigned a desk/workstation and the tools to do the job. There might even be some videos to watch and some tests to take. However, once that’s done, so is orientation. 

By contrast, onboarding encompasses orientation and then takes it to another level. And this is a crucial difference, given that employee turnover is highest within the first few months of taking a new job. First impressions of your company are critical to retention; an employee-centered onboarding approach helps to ensure that those early experiences are positive.


Onboarding takes a more complete approach to helping an employee succeed in a new job, including helping them establish relationships - such as mentorships – that will help them be more successful. Formal mentor programs help combat high rates of new employee turnover. 

Mentoring relationships work because they support employees’ fundamental need to feel cared about at work. This need is so important that it is related to no less than one third of the questions on Gallup’s Q12 employee engagement survey.  

An onboarding program that fail long-term mentoring for new hires can help to ensure that the answer to these questions is yes, strengthening engagement with your company culture.


These four questions from the Gallup Q12 seem to figure particularly large in the minds of many millennials. This group typically has a higher need for communication from their employers than other generations, up to 54% higher according to some studies. They also tend, as a generation, to see work as a chance to develop their skillsets: 87 percent of millennials in a recent Gallup survey said that development was important in a job, compared to only 69 percent of non-millennials. Millennials also desire, but don’t routinely receive, feedback about their performance.

A thorough onboarding program can address these needs in the early months of their tenure so that millennials can become better acclimated with the workplace culture.

Your employees will begin evaluating whether your culture lives up to your organization’s claims during the interview process, and they will look for evidence to confirm or refute that impression from the moment they step through your door as a new employee. With a thorough and structured onboarding process, you can ensure that those first impressions—as well as those that come after — will be positive.