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Employee orientation vs. employee onboarding: Why you need both


Many businesses think that having an employee onboarding process means that they don’t need a formal employee orientation – or vice versa.

But they’re actually not interchangeable. Employee onboarding and orientation differ and complement each other, and there’s value in leveraging both.

Employee orientation vs. employee onboarding

For new hires, employee orientation is a one-time event that welcomes new employees to your company. It’s more general in focus.

Conversely, employee onboarding is a series of events and trainings (including orientation) that helps new hires progress into successful employees. It’s more job- and department-specific.

All about employee orientation

At orientation, human resources personnel and company leadership formally introduce new hires to your organization. If conducted on-site and in person, orientations are usually conference-room or classroom-style events that bring together new hires from different departments across an organization. For virtual or hybrid workplaces, orientation can take place over videoconference.

Typically, HR and company leadership deliver information through presentations, videos and question-and-answer sessions. Many times, companies schedule time for each of their leaders to greet new employees, introduce themselves and explain their roles within the business.

Ideally, your company should conduct employee orientation within an employee’s first few days of employment.

Here’s a full checklist of what employee orientation typically entails:

  • Overview of your company’s mission, vision and values
  • Mandatory new-hire paperwork
  • Discussion about benefit plans and enrollment instructions
  • Review of safety, health, security and any other critical policies
  • Review of administrative procedures
  • Distribution of company-issued materials and equipment, such as parking tags, building key cards and laptops
  • Guided tour of the workplace
  • Required general training for all employees on topics such as the code of business conduct and ethical business practices
  • Dissemination of key organizational contacts, such as a designated HR representative or IT

Prior to orientation, it’s a good idea to let new hires know:

  • Directions for how to access orientation
  • The agenda and duration of orientation
  • Specific items they need to bring
  • Contact information for the individual or team conducting orientation

For virtual orientations, keep the following in mind:

  • You’ll need to work harder at the outset to combat employee isolation. Consider sending new employees welcome packets in advance. These packets may include a small gift, orientation materials or company-branded merchandise.

  • Set expectations for the virtual setting, suggesting attendees participate from a distraction-free setting with minimal background noise and a strong Wi-Fi connection.
  • If necessary, ensure that you have established secure systems and settings so that employees can safely transmit sensitive information contained within their new-hire paperwork.
  • Keep scheduling in mind; sitting in a virtual session for an entire day is a different experience, and sometimes more exhausting, than being in an in-person setting. The schedule of both options might look different.

All about employee onboarding

Employee onboarding is more of a strategic plan to help new hires understand their day-to-day job responsibilities and work processes through meetings, starter projects and job-specific training, which can help to identify areas for development.

This is the time when they can acclimate to the company culture and start to live out the mission, vision and values they were introduced to in orientation.

They get to know their team members and manager, and learn who to go to for certain questions and work approvals. During this time, it’s critical for managers to schedule regular check-ins with new hires so they can connect face to face and have an opportunity to share feedback. It’s also important for team members to build camaraderie through work or casual activities.

Of course, encouraging strong connections and maintaining engagement is more challenging in virtual or hybrid work environments. A few ideas to onboard new remote employees effectively so they feel included and part of a team:

  • Pre-recorded welcome video, with an introduction from each team member, that appears in the new employee’s email inbox on their first day
  • Team-wide welcome meeting via videoconference
  • Virtual team building that occurs regularly
  • Virtual lunches or happy hours
  • Regular check-ins between managers and new employees via videoconference for virtual coaching, sharing feedback and also to get to know each other and build rapport

At the end of the onboarding process, new employees should have the tools, resources and connections they need to be successful. The amount of time this takes can range from three weeks to six months – it really depends on the individual and their role.

Why both matter and provide value

Let’s compare the focus, duration, setup, content, outcome and overall value of orientation and onboarding to highlight the necessity of each.


  • Focus: Role in the company
  • Duration: One-time event
  • Setup: Classroom or group videoconference
  • Content: Big picture
  • Outcome: Ready for training
  • Value: Get employees familiar with your company’s mission, vision, values, policies and other general requirements. This enables them to feel welcomed, included within the larger organization and committed to your company as a whole.


  • Focus: Role in department or smaller team
  • Duration: Sequence of events over a longer period of time (months)
  • Setup: On the job (in person or remote)
  • Content: Individualized
  • Outcome: Actively contributing
  • Value: Employees gain clarity about their role and are invested in their day-to-day work and goals, with an understanding of how they and their team contribute to the larger picture. They feel integrated within their team and empowered for success. This is the critical first step to fostering long-term employee engagement, while lowering employee stress and reducing turnover.

Summing it all up

Employee onboarding and employee orientation are each critical components in the introduction of employees to a new work environment. They are not interchangeable but, rather, complement each other in the overall goal of increasing employee engagement and helping them feel prepared and ready to work.

Orientation is a one-time event that welcomes new employees to your company and comprises a checklist of general, mandatory steps to complete. Onboarding is a series of training over a longer period of time that helps employees learn more about their individual role, their team and how their job relates to broader company goals.

For more information about training employees to be their best and empowering them for success, download our free magazine: The Insperity guide to leadership and management.