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Onboarding vs. Orientation: What’s the Difference?

Updated Apr 03, 2023

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Onboarding and orientation are two processes HR departments undertake after hiring an employee. They both provide the new employee with resources and familiarize them with the organization. Many people confuse onboarding and orientation, or use them interchangeably. However, they’re two different – and important – processes.

What is onboarding?

Onboarding is the process of introducing a new employee to your organization through a series of integrated tasks. These tasks allow employees to better understand their new roles and responsibilities within the company. Onboarding can happen over a few days; however, employees will usually continue the onboarding process for at least the first few months they’re employed. Onboarding initiatives may include completing new-hire paperwork, receiving on-the-job training, learning about company policies and reviewing the employee handbook. 

“It is important for leadership to send the message from the moment that new employees are brought on board that their success is the company’s success,” said Stephen Kohler, CEO and founder of Audira Labs. “This means that companies with remote employees need to work hard on finding opportunities to connect with their new colleagues both in the business and personal sense.”

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The end goal of onboarding is empowering the employee in their new role and as part of the company.

What is orientation?

Workplace orientation gives the employee a chance to learn where they’ll be working, what their work environment will be like and how to navigate their workspace. Additionally, they’ll be introduced to their new managers and colleagues. Orientations can be for individual employees, or departments may have several new hires go through the same process together.

Orientation will likely also include a tour of the company’s facilities and a review of any perks, including parking, gym access and dining options. Employees are also given an overview of their role’s responsibilities and have the chance to ask an HR representative questions or meet their manager. Orientation can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days, depending on the company and the employee’s role.

What’s the difference between onboarding and orientation?

Orientation and onboarding may have similar purposes at first glance. However, the main difference between onboarding and orientation is that orientation is a shorter part of the overall onboarding process, which can take months to a year to complete.

Orientation is a time to generally familiarize the new employee with the company’s vision and values. It also serves as a time for them to meet new colleagues and tour their workspace. On the other hand, onboarding has a series of events that provide more detail into things like job training, best practices and company policies.

Onboarding basics

What are the benefits of onboarding?

Here are the benefits of taking the time to onboard a new employee:

  • Positive employee experience: The way you treat a new employee can set the tone for how their work experience will be. Onboarding an employee correctly, including training them to succeed in their new role, advising them on company expectations and checking in regularly, creates a positive experience.
  • Increased engagement: Familiarizing a new employee with the company’s values, ethics and mission can improve their connection to the organization. Throughout onboarding, have the new team member learn the ropes from an existing employee. It may also help to set goals for increased recognition.
  • Higher employee retention rate: For companies, it’s important to pay attention to what keeps employees satisfied in order to reduce turnover. If you start a new employee off with a strong onboarding experience, they’re more likely to stay with the company as they become assimilated with the company’s culture and expectations.
  • Increased recruitment: First impressions are everything when it comes to new hires. If an employee isn’t satisfied with their experience during onboarding, they will make it known to other potential employees. However, a positive onboarding experience may cause them to recommend their connections to your company, attracting top talent.
  • Strong company culture: Company culture centers on hiring people who fit your organization’s values and goals. Investing in onboarding allows employees to transition more seamlessly into the company culture.
  • Rise in productivity: It can take a few months for a new hire to fully understand the company and settle into their new role. Onboarding allows for increased productivity by helping them acclimate to their new environment and letting them know what’s expected of them.

What does the onboarding process include?

Over a certain period of time, the onboarding process will include the following tasks:

  • Explaining, in detail, the new hire’s role and providing any applicable training
  • Familiarizing the employee with their colleagues and managers through icebreaker exercises, a team luncheon or meetings
  • Following up with the employee consistently and frequently about how they’re settling into their new role and what resources you can provide for a smooth transition
  • Walking the employee through benefits, employee handbook training and company policy training
  • Ensuring the employee understands any company devices or software they now have access to and answering any questions about their setup
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Many companies rely on top HR software to create a valuable onboarding program. Learn more about some highly rated options in our Paychex Flex review and our review of Rippling.

Orientation basics

What are the benefits of orientation?

Here are the benefits of providing a proper new-employee orientation:

  • It reduces costs and increases productivity. Employee orientation allows new employees to get up to speed with their new duties, reducing overall expenses without losing additional productivity. Orientation usually takes place in a classroom setting, where HR representatives can welcome and introduce multiple employees at once.
  • It alleviates first-day jitters. A proper orientation helps new employees become familiar with company procedures and operations before they’re expected to perform in their new role.
  • It lowers employee turnover. As with onboarding, a proper first-day orientation shows the new employee how valuable their role is within the company. Having this sense of purpose can increase employee engagement and lead to lower turnover. Additionally, orientations give an overview of the necessary tools and available resources to help new employees properly settle into their new roles, setting them up for success.
  • It saves the company time. Managers and other employees simply may not have the time to provide every new employee with a company overview. Orientation provides a general knowledge of the departments, the company’s expectations and the overall work environment. Supervisors can then build upon these basic teachings instead of starting from scratch.

What does orientation include?

An orientation will usually include the following initiatives:

  • Introducing company values, mission and culture, mainly through a presentation or a virtual overview
  • Providing paperwork for the employee to fill out, including policy overviews, emergency contact forms and new-hire checklists
  • Offering benefits information like life insurance, health insurance and retirement benefit packages
  • Reviewing health and safety policies and procedures, such as the company’s sick policy and any emergency procedures
  • Providing a company login and demonstrating how to use company equipment and devices pertinent to their role

Effective onboarding and orientation in the remote work era

With more companies embracing a virtual hiring process, it’s crucial to ensure these processes are given the same dedication as in-person onboarding and orientation. A Paychex survey shows that managers find video recordings, group conferences and shared documents to be the most effective methods with new employees. Surveyed employees chose their preferences as Wiki links, group video calls and shared documents. [Read related article: Owning Your Onboarding Process Is the Key to Success With New Hires]

The majority of employees found greater satisfaction through in-person onboarding and training. The downsides of virtual processes included tech issues and difficulty engaging with the office culture. While these issues may be difficult to avoid, there are some upsides to remote onboarding. In fact, 46% of survey respondents enjoyed the ability to individually pace themselves, while 42% appreciated the flexibility.

Sean Peek
Contributing Writer at
Sean Peek has written more than 100 B2B-focused articles on various subjects including business technology, marketing and business finance. In addition to researching trends, reviewing products and writing articles that help small business owners, Sean runs a content marketing agency that creates high-quality editorial content for both B2B and B2C businesses.
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