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Updated Feb 08, 2024

Onboarding vs. Orientation: What’s the Difference?

Onboarding and orientation are two HR processes that occur after hiring an employee. Here's what both entail.

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Written By: Sean PeekSenior Analyst & Expert on Business Ownership
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Though often used interchangeably, orientation and onboarding are two entirely different – and crucial – processes HR departments undertake after hiring an employee. While both processes provide new employees with resources and familiarize them with the organization, each offers unique benefits and tools critical for success. From introducing team members to explaining the office layout, these processes are foundational for new employees. We’ll explain both processors and how they differ.  

What is onboarding?

The onboarding process introduces 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 like employment contracts, receiving on-the-job employee 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,” explained 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.”

Bottom LineBottom line
A successful onboarding process empowers employees in their new roles and helps cement their place in the company.

What is orientation?

Workplace orientation gives employees 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 undergo the same process together.

Orientation will likely also include a tour of the company’s facilities and a review of any company perks, including parking, gym access and dining options. Employees are also given an overview of their roles and responsibilities and have a 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 primary 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. In contrast, onboarding includes a series of events that provide more details about job training, best practices and company policies, including PTO policies and attendance policies.

Onboarding basics

Ensuring a comprehensive onboarding process keeps employees motivated to work. However, businesses should be willing to invest a significant amount of time and attention to create it. 

What does the onboarding process include?

Over a specific period, the onboarding process will include the following tasks:

  • You’ll explain, in detail, the new hire’s role and provide any applicable training.
  • You’ll familiarize the employee with their colleagues and managers through icebreaker exercises, a team luncheon or meetings.
  • You’ll follow 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.
  • You’ll walk the employee through available employee benefits, review the employee handbook and train them on company policy.
FYIDid you know
The HR people who handle onboarding must ensure new employees understand the devices and software they'll work with, including CRM software and accounting software.

What are the benefits of onboarding?

An excellent new-hire onboarding process brings the following benefits to an organization and its new employees:

  • Onboarding creates a positive employee experience. How you treat a new employee can set the tone for their work experience. 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 and fosters an employee-centric culture.
  • Onboarding can increase employee engagement. Familiarizing a new employee with the company’s values, ethics and mission can improve employee engagement. Throughout onboarding, have the new team member learn the ropes from an existing employee. It may also help to set goals for increased recognition.
  • Onboarding can boost employee retention. Businesses must pay attention to employee happiness to reduce turnover and increase employee retention. If you start a new employee with a strong onboarding experience, they’re more likely to stay with the company as they assimilate with its culture and expectations.
  • Onboarding can help future recruitment. First impressions are everything when it comes to new hires. If an employee isn’t satisfied with their onboarding experience, they will make it known to other potential employees. However, a positive onboarding experience may prompt them to recommend your company, helping you attract top talent.
  • Onboarding helps create a strong company culture. Onboarding helps you get employees on the same page with company values. And when new hires fit the company culture, they’ll transition more seamlessly into the workplace environment.
  • Onboarding can boost 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.
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Onboarding best practices include starting the process as soon as an employee is hired, announcing your new hire to current employees, setting up workstations ahead of time and sharing your company vision.

Orientation basics

Creating a warm and welcoming environment for newcomers begins with a thorough orientation program. Your orientation process introduces new employees to the company’s culture and values and familiarizes them with its operational policies and staff.

What does orientation include?

An orientation will usually include the following initiatives:

  • You’ll introduce the company’s values, mission and culture, primarily through a presentation or a virtual overview.
  • You’ll provide paperwork for the employee to fill out, including policy overviews, emergency contact forms and new-hire checklists.
  • You’ll provide information about employee benefits, including life insurance, health insurance and retirement packages.
  • You’ll review health and safety policies and procedures, such as the company’s sick policy and emergency procedures.
  • You’ll provide a company login and demonstrate how to use company equipment and devices pertinent to their role.

What are the benefits of orientation?

A proper new-employee orientation brings the following benefits:

  • Orientation can reduce costs and increase productivity. Employee orientation helps new employees 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.
  • Orientation 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 roles.
  • Orientation helps lower employee turnover. As with onboarding, a proper first-day orientation shows new employees how valuable their roles are within the company. This sense of purpose can increase employee engagement and lower turnover. Additionally, orientations give an overview of the necessary tools and available resources to help employees properly settle into their new roles, setting them up for success.
  • Orientation saves the company time. Managers and other employees may not have the time to provide every new employee with a company overview. Orientation provides a general knowledge of various departments, the company’s expectations and the overall work environment. Supervisors can then build upon these basic teachings instead of starting from scratch.

Effective onboarding and orientation in the remote work era

As more companies shift to virtual hiring practices, it’s essential to focus on strategies that ensure these processes are given the same attention as in-person onboarding and orientation. Here are a few ways to ensure successful onboarding and orientation if you have a remote work plan

  • Develop clear channels of communication. Establish clear lines of communication to ensure new employees can easily ask questions, get feedback, and consistently engage with and receive support from essential team members, such as managers and colleagues. A Paychex survey revealed that managers find video recordings, group conferences and shared documents to be the most effective methods of onboarding new remote employees. Surveyed employees found wiki links, group video calls and shared documents helpful.
  • Utilize technology with remote teams. Businesses can leverage technology to make their onboarding processes more interactive and flexible by incorporating elements like quizzes and incentives, essentially gamifying the experience. In fact, according to the Paychex survey, 46 percent of respondents enjoyed the ability to individually pace themselves, while 42 percent appreciated the flexibility of these tools.
  • Measure remote employee performance. To ensure new employee progress, set measurable goals to track everything from productivity to job satisfaction. Seek employee feedback to pinpoint areas of concern, and use this information to adjust your processes accordingly.

The best HR software for managing onboarding and orientation

Managing employees across varying stages of the onboarding process can be challenging without the right tools. Fortunately, the best human resources software simplifies the process and ensures your employees stay on track. Here are a few top options to consider.

Paychex Flex 

Paychex Flex streamlines the onboarding and orientation process to help you save time while reducing the potential for mistakes. Our review of Paychex Flex details the platform’s tools for filing new-hire paperwork online, ensuring a smooth and secure onboarding experience for remote employees.


Whether you employ 10 or 1,000 employees, businesses can utilize Rippling’s HR management services to quickly onboard new hires. Read our in-depth Rippling review to learn about this platform’s user-friendly interface and workflow automation capabilities, which facilitate seamless onboarding and ensure all essential steps are efficiently managed.


BambooHR improves a business’s orientation and onboarding processes by making them manageable for employers and new hires. The platform’s onboarding features help employees complete electronic paperwork quickly while tailoring individual experiences to establish connections between co-workers and senior staff – even when team members are remote. Check out our comprehensive review of BambooHR to learn how its employee benefits management and administration services help new hires navigate the open enrollment process.

author image
Written By: Sean PeekSenior Analyst & Expert on Business Ownership
Sean Peek co-founded and self-funded a small business that's grown to include more than a dozen dedicated team members. Over the years, he's become adept at navigating the intricacies of bootstrapping a new business, overseeing day-to-day operations, utilizing process automation to increase efficiencies and cut costs, and leading a small workforce. This journey has afforded him a profound understanding of the B2B landscape and the critical challenges business owners face as they start and grow their enterprises today. In addition to running his own business, Peek shares his firsthand experiences and vast knowledge to support fellow entrepreneurs, offering guidance on everything from business software to marketing strategies to HR management. In fact, his expertise has been featured in Entrepreneur, Inc. and Forbes and with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
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