Employee onboarding vs. orientation: Why you need both

“We have an onboarding process, so we don’t need to put new employees through an orientation.”

Is this your philosophy for new hires? If so, you’re not alone. Many businesses think that having an onboarding process means they don’t need a formal orientation.

But once you understand how onboarding and orientation are different, you begin to see the value in both.

Onboarding and orientation defined

For new hires, orientation is a one-time event welcoming them to your company.

Onboarding is a series of events (including orientation) that helps them understand how to be successful in their day-to-day job and how their work contributes to the overall business.

What’s new employee orientation?

At orientation, new hires are formally introduced to your organization and its culture, mission, vision and values. Ideally, new employee orientation should be conducted on the first day or weeks of employment. It’s usually a conference-style event that brings together new hires from different departments across an organization. Typically, information is delivered through presentations and question-and-answer sessions. Many times, companies schedule time for each of their leaders to come in and greet new employees, introduce themselves and explain their roles within the business.

Prior to attending orientation, some companies offer an online, self-guided training, so that new employees have some general knowledge about the company before participating in the face-to-face event.

Here’s a full list of what is generally accomplished during new employee orientation:

  • Intro to the company mission, vision and values: The company’s leaders or long-tenured employees may give a presentation on these topics, telling stories that help bring the information to life for new hires.
  • Mandatory new employee paperwork: The company’s HR representative can guide new employees through paperwork completion and collect and answer any questions they have.
  • Introduction to benefit plans: Again, an HR representative or benefits coordinator can present an overview of benefits to new hires, answering questions about how and when they should begin using them.
  • Review of safety, health and any other key policies: Bring in safety personnel to introduce employees to pertinent workplace safety information. This could include a guided tour of relevant areas of the business for necessary demonstrations.
  • Review of administrative procedures, such as computer systems logins, etc.: An information technology representative can present and answer questions about how to use workplace tech systems.

What’s new employee onboarding?

While an orientation agenda can be boiled down to a checklist, onboarding is a more strategic plan.

During the onboarding process, employees are thoroughly introduced to their department. They learn the culture and business objectives by participating in meetings and starter projects with co-workers. Managers should schedule regular check-in meetings with new employees so that they get comfortable talking to one another. Gradually, they’ll learn the specifics of their role and responsibilities, such as how to properly complete key tasks, who to go to with questions, how to get approval for their work and how to make suggestions.

An onboarding plan should focus on what matters most to each department with the goal of helping new employees make connections between company-wide goals and their day-to-day tasks.

After the first 90 days, you should work with new employees to develop SMART strategic goals. During this process, you can review their initial experiences within the company and assess how engaged or connected they feel to the organization.

A comparison of orientation and onboarding

When you compare the focus, duration, setup, content and outcome of orientation and onboarding, you can see how different and necessary both are to your new hires.

For example, consider the differences in the content that’s covered: During onboarding you might explain your department’s unspoken rules, such as how the phone gets answered by the third ring, or that the assistants are responsible for answering the phones. Whereas, during orientation, you would explain the company’s overall commitment to customer service.


  • Focus: Role in company
  • Duration: One-time event
  • Setup: Classroom
  • Content: Big picture
  • Outcome: Ready for training


  • Focus: Role in department
  • Duration: Sequence of events
  • Setup: On-the-job
  • Content: Individualized
  • Outcome: Ready to contribute

As you can see, orientation and onboarding are not interchangeable. You need an orientation to get new employees immediately familiar with the company’s mission and culture. You need an onboarding process to get them invested in their day-to-day roles and how it helps your business meet its goals.

When used together, orientation and onboarding help establish role clarity, job satisfaction and organizational commitment, which can help lower employee stress and turnover.

A well-executed onboarding process is the first step in fostering high employee engagement. Download The Insperity Guide to Employee Engagement to discover more ways to keep your employees motivated and productive.

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4 responses to “Employee onboarding vs. orientation: Why you need both


Greer article. I’ve been trying to articulate this to one of my clients and you have now done it perfectly for me. Thank you.

Insperity Blog

You’re welcome, Susan! So glad this article could help you craft the message you were trying to share with one of your clients. Thank you for your feedback!

Paul Beltz

perfect timing Gloria, thanks!

Insperity Blog

Great to hear, Paul! You’re welcome – hope you find the article helpful!

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