Footprints – Training & eTracking Solutions Blog

Employee Onboarding vs. Employee Orientation: What’s the Difference?

Posted by Amy Lewkovich on

After months of talking to clients about employee orientation, we came to a startling conclusion: Not everyone knows what we’re talking about. Most of our clients have some sort of “employee orientation” process in place, but we discovered that they call it something other than employee orientation. Quite often the word “onboarding” was used in conjunction with or in place of the word “orientation.” After this happened about 10 times and because it was causing some level of confusion in most of our meetings, we thought it made sense to review the onboarding and employee orientation processes and draw some distinctions between the two.

Employee Onboarding A good onboarding program begins when the job offer is extended and ends when the new hire is determined to be a fully functioning employee (when all is said and done, the onboarding process could last weeks or even months). Onboarding is an ongoing process that includes a series of events, one of which is employee orientation. The onboarding process helps new employees understand what they’ll need to do in order to succeed in their new job. It should reinforce everything the new hire was told during the recruiting phase, encourage them to become the best employee possible, and confirm that they made the right decision to join your company. This process should break down what is expected of them on a daily basis and explain how their work contributes to the organization as a whole. Bottom line: The goal of your onboarding process should be to turn a great hire into a great employee.

What’s Included in Onboarding a New Employee? Many companies take a strategic approach to onboarding. It’s during the onboarding process that new employees are introduced to their managers, co-workers, and support staff. They participate in meetings and work on projects with co-workers, thus beginning to learn the company’s goals and culture. It’s recommended that managers check in with new employees regularly throughout the onboarding process to cultivate the new relationship and make sure the new hires are up to speed and becoming productive members of the team.

Employee Orientation Orientation, on the other hand, is just one piece of the onboarding process. Employee orientation delivers information that all new hires need to know including things like company policies, benefits options, where to park, when it’s OK to eat lunch, and more. It tends to be a one-time thing, lasting anywhere from a few hours to a full day, during which new hires are welcomed to your company.

What’s Included in New Employee Orientation? It’s during orientation that new hires are formally introduced to your organization’s culture, mission, vision, and values. New employee orientation should be conducted within the first few days of employment, if not before the new hire’s first day of work. Although many organizations still host traditional employee orientation (in-person sessions for employees from all different departments), more and more companies are switching to an online version of employee orientation, which allows employees to review the materials from home before their first day of work. Because of the ease of access and added convenience of the online format, some companies that hold in-person orientation programs choose to offer an online version prior to the group setting so new employees are armed with some general knowledge about the company before attending the face-to-face event.

Although the exact content will vary by company, here’s an overview of what is generally covered during new employee orientation: Welcome and introduction to the company culture, mission, vision, and values.

  • Required paperwork.
  • Overview of benefit plans.
  • Review of administrative procedures (time off, sick days, expected hours of work, absenteeism parking, computer systems logins, etc.).
  • Review of safety, health, and other important policies.

Orientation vs. Onboarding

When you take the time to distinguish between the two, you can see just how different (and important) orientation and onboarding are to your newly hired employees and to your company as a whole. To further drive home the differences, take a look at this side-by-side comparison:


  • General Focus: The employee’s role at the company (this information is given to every new employee regardless of job title)
  • Duration: One-time event
  • Setup: Classroom or online
  • Content: General overview
  • Outcome: Get new employees ready to start working and ready to take job-specific training


  • Focus: The employee’s specific role in his or her department
  • Duration: Ongoing, could last a few months
  • Setup: On-the-job
  • Content: Specific to each new employee
  • Outcome: Get new employees ready to be productive

What it comes down to is this: Onboarding and orientation are not the same thing. Orientation is necessary to familiarize new employees with the company’s mission and culture, while the equally important onboarding process gets new employees to buy into their day-to-day job and their place in your company.

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