Employee Onboarding vs. Orientation

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A new employee forms an opinion about a company within the first few days on the job. They’re looking for proof that becoming a part of the company was the right choice. Onboarding and orientation are both essential processes to make them feel at home, and each plays a distinct role in the new employee’s success.

New hires are in a transitioning state—they’re moldable. They’re highly motivated and willing to try out new actions and behaviors as they adapt to the new environment. You can seize on this chance to present your company in the brightest, most positive light, emphasizing the qualities you desire most in your new employees. You can accomplish this with an inviting and effective orientation for new hires.

To this, you might say, “But we already have an onboarding process—we don’t need an orientation, too.”

If this is your company philosophy, you’re not alone. A lot of companies believe having onboarding practices means orientation is a bit redundant. By understanding how onboarding differs from orientation, you can embrace the value of both.

Defining Onboarding vs. Orientation

New employees see orientation as a once-and-done event that welcomes them into your workplace. But onboarding is actually a series of events that helps new hires understand what it takes to be successful within their new job and how their tasks contribute to the success of the company overall.

What is New Hire Orientation?

Orientation is an event to formally introduce a new hire into your company. Orientation includes information about your company culture, its vision, and its mission and value statements. In a perfect world, orientation occurs on the first day or within the first week of hiring. Normally, orientation is a conference-style event bringing together the company’s newest employees across departments, who learn from presentations and Q & A sessions. Usually, the company will have pre-scheduled various company leaders to introduce themselves and highlight their roles in the company.

During the orientation, your new hires should:

  • Hear an overview of the company’s mission, vision, and values;
  • Complete mandatory paperwork;
  • Get benefit plan information;
  • Review company policies related to safety and health measures; and
  • Receive information regarding administrative procedures and policies, such as how and where to log in to company technology.

What is New Hire Onboarding?

Orientation amounts to ticking off a basic checklist of items. Onboarding is more of a strategic plan to integrate new hires into the company.

During onboarding, a new employee gets introduced to their department. They learn about the company culture, take part in business meetings, and even work on small projects with other employees. 

Management can schedule mini check-ins with new hires during this time. This helps all employees get comfortable in the new environment.

Over time, each new hire learns their specific roles and responsibilities, such as:

  • Expectations on task completion and general duties;
  • Where to ask questions;
  • How to get approval for tasks; and
  • Where to direct suggestions.

Each department should have its own onboarding plans to help employees see the connection between their own specific tasks and the overall goals of the company. After an employee’s initial 90 days, you can work with them one-on-one to develop their own personal and professional goals. When you do so, review their progress and assess their engagement and connection with the business.

Using a Buddy System for Orientation and Onboarding

Most new employees are full of enthusiasm on their first day. This excitement can grow—or waver—in response to their first impressions of coworkers and the company overall. The first few days are crucial. Even excellent orientations eventually leave new employees to fend for themselves. If the only person they have to go to for moral support and answers is their busy supervisor, that excitement can wane. This is where a work buddy comes in.

What Makes a Great Work Buddy?

The best buddy for the job often:

  • Wants to be a work buddy;
  • Is highly regarded by co-workers and management;
  • Is a good role model;
  • Has a great work ethic and good history with the company; and
  • Has patience and great communication skills.

If you can, consider choosing a new buddy for every new hire, allowing each current employee the opportunity to take part. Becoming a work buddy is a great opportunity for current employees. It allows them to show off their skills and be part of a welcoming committee for new hires.

Why You Need Both Orientation and Onboarding for Successful Employees

Orientation and onboarding are both critical elements to the development of a new employee. But they are distinct processes.

Let’s recap…


  • Focuses on the employee’s role in the company
  • Only happens once
  • Is set up like a classroom conference
  • Only gives a “big picture” overview
  • Prepares the employee for training


  • Focuses on the employee’s role in their specific department
  • Is a specific sequence of events
  • Takes place on the job
  • Provides individualized information
  • Prepares the employee to actively contribute to the company

An employee’s first week is the prime opportunity to foster positive energy. This is the time to introduce new hires to their environment and give continuing support and ample feedback. After the first week, it’s important to keep up the energy levels fostered in the beginning. You can do this by continuing to provide meaningful tasks and encouraging management and coworkers to maintain the motivation of new hires

Once 3 months have passed, a new hire should feel completely a part of their new organization. Goal setting and timely performance reviews help you provide ongoing feedback.

How America’s Back Office Can Help

As you’ve probably noticed, orientation and onboarding aren’t the same things. You must have an orientation to familiarize your new hires with company culture, but you also need onboarding for them to become invested in their daily routine and assist your business with meeting goals.

When you combine onboarding with orientation, you clarify employees’ roles, solidify job satisfaction, and overall forge a commitment to your business. This helps lower workplace stress and employee turnover.

Executing your onboarding process perfectly is your first step in fostering highly motivated and encouraged employees. America’s Back Office can help you develop a flawless onboarding and orientation process and continue to discover ways to maintain employee motivation and productivity.