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Orientation/Onboarding Intervention Strategies

Recruitment and Retention Toolkit   Orientation/Onboarding Intervention Strategies   Employee Orientation and Onboarding [2.4.0]

Employee Orientation and Onboarding [2.4.0]


An effective, carefully planned orientation can assist new employees in adjusting to their job and work environment while instilling a positive attitude and increasing motivation. In addition to allowing the opportunity to complete the necessary paperwork for an employee to begin his/her duties, it orients new employees to job responsibilities and functions, educates them about the organization’s history and values, and imparts valuable information about "who’s who" in the organization. When employers take the time and effort to deliver an effective orientation, the message is conveyed that the organization is committed to employee development and is providing the training and resources necessary to do a great job. Other potential benefits of an effective orientation program include:
  • Reducing startup costs and employee turnover;
  • Reducing new employee anxiety; and
  • Developing realistic job expectations and job satisfaction.[1]
Recently, primarily in the private sector, the concept and process of orientation has been extended well beyond the traditional first few days after the employee starts, and continues for as long as 6 months to a year. This extended process has been termed “onboarding” and is increasing in use. By stretching out the orientation process, management helps to ensure that new hires are not overwhelmed with information in one initial session, and that frustrations and questions that arise weeks or months after the start date can be addressed.

There is some disagreement in the field of human resources about whether and how the two processes differ. According to Dr. John Sullivan, a well known thought leader in human resources, the terms are distinguished as follows:[2]

Orientation generally means…

The goals of traditional orientation are relatively narrow. They are to get you on the payroll, signed up for benefits, and to give you a brief overview of the company’s culture, products, and values.

Onboarding generally means…

The broader term onboarding has a more comprehensive reach and a broader perspective. The primary difference between onboarding and orientation is that onboarding has as its goal decreasing the time it takes for a new hire to reach the minimum expected productivity level on the job.

Additional information is available in Dr. Sullivan’s article From Average to World-class: A Checklist to Transform your Onboarding/Orientation Program, Part 1 describes the first 24 essential orientation program components, Part 2 describes components 25 – 38.

John Viktorin and Lee Downs, consultants in the area of human resources communications, explain that:[3]
Onboarding is an ongoing process of building engagement from the first contact until the employee becomes established within the organization. Orientation, on the other hand, is a stage of onboarding where new employees learn about the company and their job responsibilities. The goal of onboarding is to make the potential employee feel that they want to work here; the goal of orientation is to integrate new employees into the organization as seamlessly as possible.

The full article on Onboarding and Orientation is available.

Orientation versus Onboarding: What is the Difference?
at provides an analysis of the two terms.

Regardless of these discussions about terminology, behavioral health organizations can benefit from the lessons learned to date about onboarding, which build on standard orientation techniques. The most valuable outcomes are improved retention and increased employee satisfaction.

[1] Brown, J. (n.d.). Employee Orientation: Keeping New Employees on Board. Retrieved from
[2] Sullivan, J. (2006). From average to world-class: Your onboarding/orientation program, part 2. Retrieved from http://
[3] Viktorin, J., & Downs, L. (n.d.). Onboarding and orientation. Retrieved from

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