Orientation and Onboarding: Best Practices

We have all been in the position of starting something new: a new class, new hobby, new job, etc. Imagine yourself arriving for a new endeavor, entering a vacant room with a set of instructions on the chalkboard to complete some paperwork, signing some forms, and then leaving them in a bin when finished with no additional direction on where to go or what to do next . . . . How would that make you feel? Maybe you have experienced this yourself—a situation where confusion and anxiety are only heightened as you finish and exit the "orientation."

When a new employee accepts a position, a chain of workplace events is set in motion that that can be coordinated in a multitude of ways, two of which are termed orientation and onboarding. Orientation is a mutually beneficial event for the company and the employee, a chance to begin required training and provide signatures that allow for the employee to begin his/her duties and responsibilities. Onboarding is a process that initially benefits employees but, in the long run, benefits the company through the development of a productive workforce, one employee at a time. With onboarding, time is spent upfront to develop and integrate the employee into the culture of the company, beginning before the employee's first day with Human Resources involvement, and continuing with employee resources for success and avenues for the management of questions/issues as they arise.

According to Amy Seegmiller-Renner, an Education Coordinator in Mayo's Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology (DLMP), the creation of an onboarding program begins long before the arrival of an employee with a "needs assessment" to ensure all aspects of new employment are considered.

Once the program is established, a pilot is used to further refine the program into a true onboarding experience where, as Seegmiller-Renner states, the new employee is “assimilated to the culture of the organization and work unit.”

Ideally, the onboarding process for a new employee includes the required details associated with a standard "orientation" program, but it fits the orientation into an overall onboarding process where the new employee is: 1) guided into the culture of the company, and 2) provided the resources to successfully fulfill his or her role and responsibilities.

Orientation, as a part of the onboarding experience, provides an initial event where required education and training are provided prior to the first day on the job.

According to Thomas Huntley, an Education Coordinator within DLMP Education, a good orientation program includes an "ice breaker" and peer-based introduction to begin networking, and it continues with a welcome to the company by senior leadership, outlining and tying each new employee and his/her role to the mission and the values of the organization.

Onboarding at Mayo Clinic is a strategic process designed to:

  • Engage and retain employees.
  • Reaffirm the employment decision.
  • Acclimate new staff to the organization's culture.
  • Prepare new employees to be confident contributors.

Imagine yourself being met at the door of your new employer by an individual whom you have already been in contact with and who will become your onboarding mentor. That individual guides you around your new office area, introduces you to individuals whom you will be working with closely, and escorts you to Human Resources to finalize paperwork, and takes you to an informal gathering of colleagues, a welcome reception for you—the new employee.

With the two scenarios discussed, which one would you prefer as a new employee?

Jeffry Harden

Jeffry Harden is an Assistant Professor at Mayo Clinic. In his current role, Program Manager – Staff Development for Laboratory Medicine and Pathology, his responsibilities include leading educational initiatives, managing projects with his staff, and designing new programs to meet employee needs. Jeff has worked at Mayo Clinic since 1999. Outside of work, you can find Jeff running, camping, or teaching as an Adjunct Instructor at Rochester Technical and Community College.