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Employee Orientation vs. Employee Onboarding


You have new hires starting. Do you put them through employee orientation, onboarding or both? Many employers use orientation and onboarding interchangeably, and they are related. But understanding the elements of onboarding vs. orientation can help you better prepare new employees and encourage them to stay with your company. Compare the difference between orientation and onboarding to improve your company’s hiring process.

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What is employee orientation?

When you hire new employees, you often have them start with a new employee orientation session. It’s a brief, one-time event aimed at quickly introducing new employees to the company and their position. New hires receive key information in an easily digestible format. All new hires from all departments typically go through the same orientation. Employee orientation is a small part of the longer onboarding process.

Benefits of employee orientation

Some benefits of employee orientation include:

  • Eases some of the first-day jitters new employees have
  • Distributes key information quickly to all new employees
  • Helps employees learn the layout of the building
  • Starts adding to the company culture immediately
  • Easy to conduct since it’s basically the same for all employees
  • Gives new hires the key tools they need to get started quickly

What is employee onboarding?

Employee onboarding describes the longer process of integrating new hires into the workplace. Onboarding starts as soon as a new employee accepts a job offer. It involves a series of events –such as the new hire orientation – and helps him or her learn more about the company and his or her role. Onboarding is different for each person and evolves based on their progress.

Benefits of employee onboarding

Here are some benefits of developing a robust employee onboarding program:

  • Provides ongoing support to help new employees integrate into the company
  • Encourages early relationships between new hires and current employees
  • Speeds up the process of acclimating new employees
  • Improves the candidate experience, which can help your company retain top talent
  • Increases productivity by helping employees learn the job faster
  • Boosts new hire confidence with regular feedback and support
  • Provides a clear understanding of job roles and expectations
  • Reduces the chances of miscommunication and confusion

Employee onboarding vs. orientation

Comparing employee orientation vs. onboarding helps you better develop each part of your hiring process.

Goals and focus

The goal of both onboarding and orientation is to support employees as they acclimate to the new job, but they vary slightly. Orientation is meant to be a quick, straightforward introduction that gives employees the key information they need right away. Think of it as a crash course in a successful start with your company. It’s essentially the same for every new employee with some slight differences that might be role-specific.

Onboarding is meant to nurture new hires with ongoing support that helps them learn more about their role within the company. It gets them more comfortable with their position and is highly customized to each employee and their role. Since all new hires learn at different rates and have different experiences, questions and concerns, the onboarding process can adapt to those variations.


Employee orientation typically takes a conference-style approach that provides new hires with lots of information. There might be some interactive elements, such as tours and question-and-answer sessions, but it’s primarily designed to give employees the information they need to get started successfully.

Onboarding involves lots of different formats, often with hands-on experience. It can include one-on-one training, meetings with supervisors, group training and other customized formats based on what each employee needs. Onboarding evolves as the new hire learns and develops skills, using assessment to support the new employee based on that progression.

What’s involved

Specific topics covered in onboarding vs. orientation can vary. Topics that are covered by both are often more in-depth during employee onboarding because it’s a longer process.

Topics typically covered in new employee orientation include:

  • Mission, value and vision statements and how that applies to employees
  • Company policies and procedures
  • Safety procedures
  • Benefits
  • New hire paperwork
  • Facility tour
  • Introduction to coworkers
  • Workstation setup
  • Instruction on using software and equipment
  • Setting up logins, security clearances and other requirements
  • Other required new-hire training

Some of the things involved in employee onboarding include:

  • Regular meetings with a supervisor
  • Buddy system with a coworker
  • Training or instruction on specific job tasks
  • Test or beginner projects
  • Evaluations to assess the new hire’s performance and customize additional training
  • Goal setting


Onboarding vs. orientation length also varies based on the goals. Since new employee orientation is considered a one-time event, it’s much shorter than onboarding. Some companies do a brief orientation on the first day that lasts anywhere from a few hours to the entire day, while others extend orientation for multiple days up to the first week.

Onboarding is an ongoing program that typically runs for the first 90 days of employment. Some companies extend the onboarding process to the first six months or year. It can also vary in length based on an employee’s progression. For example, you might extend onboarding for an employee who needs more support.

While orientation starts on the employee’s first day, onboarding usually begins before new hires officially start. That might include sending a welcome email with detailed information or having a new employee fill out some paperwork before starting.

Tips for new employee orientation and onboarding

Employees need a quick version of all key information they receive from orientation to get started quickly. But they also need ongoing support that comes with a strong onboarding process to help them settle in. When done well, orientation and onboarding complement each otherand help employees succeed in different ways.

Use these tips to make employee orientation and onboarding more successful:

  • Make it fun: Orientation and ongoing training tend to have a reputation of being boring. Make it interesting, so your new hires are excited to get started.
  • Ask for feedback: Create surveys for orientation and onboarding to get structured feedback from your new hires. Use it to determine what you’re doing right and what needs improvement.
  • Keep evolving: Your orientation and onboarding processes are always a work in progress. As your company grows, you’ll have new components you need to add. Feedback from employees also helps you improve your process.
  • Involve more people: Instead of handling all orientation and onboarding planning yourself, get input from others. Managers, HR staff and current employees can give insight that helps. Having those people present at orientation and having them interact with new hires also helps develop relationships.
  • Develop standard processes: Create checklists and policies that define the specifics of orientation and onboarding. This creates continuity across departments and gives all new hires a similar experience.
  • Avoid making it overwhelming: New employees have a lot of information coming at them. Break up orientation and onboarding into digestible chunks, starting with the most crucial information. Mix in building tours and team introductions with intense information sessions to balance the activities and give new hires a mental break.
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