Instructional Design

Onboarding vs. Orientation: How to Approach Both

Imagine you’re about to start working at a huge royal palace as a tour guide. You’ll receive orientation on the first few days of work, but senior staff will continue to onboard you for a while. Onboarding can last up to six months or a year. So, when you think of onboarding vs. orientation, duration is distinctive, but they’re different in other ways.

Today, we’ll give you our take on the differences between onboarding and orientation and how to handle both flawlessly.

What Orientation and Onboarding Are About

Some might define orientation as an onboarding phase, whereas others might say that onboarding is an extension of orientation. While both are true, there’s more to orientation vs. onboarding than that.


Orientation is about making new hires feel integrated into your organization. But here’s what’s more specific to orientation than onboarding:

  • Taking care of the necessary paperwork for each employee to start working at a company, such as getting them on the payroll and signing up for benefits
  • Instructing those employees about the company’s history, mission, vision, culture, values, and product portfolio
  • Presenting them with the organizational chart
  • Facilitating activities for new hires to meet their team
  • Informing them about the communication channels they can use to reach out to other employees and top executives
  • Delivering training on company-wide tools, policies, and procedures


Onboarding is broader than orientation in scope. It’s also about not flooding new hires with too much information on their first days at work. That’s why it takes longer than orientation.

Without onboarding, you could make your new employees feel overwhelmed. And that would compromise their capacity to absorb all the valuable information they need to bring their A-game to the job later on.

You want to make sure that you address all your new hires’ questions in their first weeks or months at work. Besides that goal, onboarding aims to prepare them to be as productive as possible in the shortest amount of time.

Onboarding activities include:

  • Introducing new employees to their functions, tasks, and responsibilities; how those tie to company goals; and how they fit within the team
  • Training new staff on job-specific tools, guidelines, methods, and workflows
  • Walking new hires through team dynamics such as regular meetings, peer reviews, and other practices
  • Presenting team and individual performance review criteria

All in all, onboarding goes more in depth than orientation. It’s about increasing your new employees’ excitement about joining your organization and setting them up for success.

Bottom line: you need both orientation and onboarding at your company.

Why You Need Both Onboarding and Orientation

Here’s how onboarding and orientation benefit your company’s and your new hires’ success:

Improve Employee Engagement

Just as you can’t build a durable house without a solid foundation, you can’t grow a company without proper orientation and onboarding. Both will amplify employee engagement levels from the moment new employees join your organization.

Employees demonstrated their interest in helping you grow the business when they applied to work with you. And now, they expect you to show the same level of interest in helping them achieve their career goals at your company. Employee engagement works both ways.

Invest in integrating new hires into your organization with a thorough onboarding and orientation program. As a result, they’ll give back the same level of commitment to the organization.

Lower Employee Stress

You hire new employees because they have the skills or experience that fit the role, team, and business. However, stepping into new environments can make anyone feel anxious, and anxiety leads to stress. So, it should come as no surprise when new employees feel stressed to start working at your company.

The anxiety-causing fear of unknown environments is common and natural. Because new hires don’t know the team or the specifics of performing their job at your company, they get anxious.

You can reduce their anxiety with orientation and onboarding. Use that period to prepare new employees with the information, tools, and other resources they need to perform their new job. That will clarify what you expect from them and how they can leverage their career at your organization. And clarity will make them feel more at home within their new company.

Enhance Employee Retention

Onboarding and orientation demonstrate to new hires that you’re invested in supporting their growth at your organization. Consequently, you’ll increase employee satisfaction levels and reduce employee turnover.

Timing is key. First impressions matter, and during the first few weeks or months on the job, your new hires will be building their impression of you as an employer—their orientation and onboarding process can create loyalty from the start.

Boost Productivity and Performance

A motivated employee is a precious resource to your company. They’re more dedicated to their job and take more pride in what they do. They also embrace more challenges and take the initiative more often than others.

Orientation and onboarding increase your new hires’ motivation from the moment they step into the company. In turn, they’ll become productive faster and be more likely to grow into high performers within their teams.

Best Practices for Onboarding and Orienting New Employees

We couldn’t let you go without summing up a few tips and tricks about how to set up an onboarding and orientation program that delivers results.

Streamline the Process with a Plan

Carefully structure your orientation and onboarding with a plan—that’s how you’ll make them effective. Orientation meetings and onboarding training sessions are just a couple of the activities outlined in an orientation and onboarding plan.

With that outline, you’ll be able to do the following:

  • Schedule the planned activities
  • Book rooms or send invites to the participants’ online calendars
  • Know which materials to prepare

Set Goals and Expectations

Include in the orientation and onboarding plan the outcomes of each activity and the overall program. Be clear when describing those outcomes.

Hand your new hires a checklist with the outcomes right at the beginning of the program. This way, they’ll have an organized overview of what you expect from them and what it means to be prepared to tackle their new job. Then, by going back to the list and checking off the items, they’ll know where they are compared to the expectations.

Provide Interactive Training Materials

Put in the time and effort to deliver effective training during onboarding and orientation. And one of the best ways to make training effective is by making it engaging.

Interactive materials will increase the focus of your new employees on the training topics. They’ll feel more engaged with the experience and recognize your investment in the process. And not only will they form a positive image of you as an employee, but they’ll absorb, retain, and recall information better.

Try providing your new hires with a gamified onboarding experience, and see the benefits for yourself.

Avoid Information Overload

Too much information might frustrate your new hires. On the other hand, too little information won’t prepare them to embrace their new job skillfully, resourcefully, and confidently.

The right amount of information is a balance between these two things:

  • The amount of information you’re transmitting to your new employees
  • The value of that information in making them productive in their new job as quickly as possible

To find the balance point, you need to

  • Customize the information to your new hires’ level of experience and role
  • Convey that information gradually
  • Rely on effective, attention-grabbing training methods

For instance, you can use an eLearning course that new employees can take at their own pace. They’ll feel less stressed while going through orientation and onboarding, which will likely raise the effectiveness of the experience. Moreover, your new hires will engage more with the company and retain information better.

Make It Social

Onboarding and orientation involve learning the social aspects of performing the new job at the new company. It’s the appropriate time for new employees to start building a social network in their new workplace.

By connecting with their new peers, the organization will integrate new hires faster. The remaining benefits draw from that integration and include productivity and employee retention.

Bring current employees to informal, after-hours group activities with new employees, such as a welcome dinner. Grow a sense of community among new hires and current employees.

Summing Up Our Take on Onboarding vs. Orientation

Orientation is part of onboarding. Although they both prepare new employees for a job in a new work environment, they’re distinct:

  • Orientation is shorter and company-wide
  • Onboarding is longer and specific to the role and team

Now that you know more about onboarding vs. orientation, check out our employee onboarding solutions.