This article was originally published on Digital-Adoption.com

Employee onboarding vs. orientation … is there really a difference between these two terms?

In this article, we’ll learn:


Get your Free Digital Adoption Certificate




  • How orientation and onboarding are different
  • Why this difference matters
  • The benefits of creating great onboarding and orientation experiences

And much more.

Let’s start by defining both of these concepts.

Employee Onboarding vs. Orientation

We’ll begin with employee onboarding – also called new hire onboarding:

Employee onboarding is the process of integrating an employee into the workplace

To become a contributing member of the workforce, an employee must be fully integrated into the workforce and the work environment.

There are several areas that an onboarding program should address:

  • Social integration. It is important that new hires feel comfortable and confident in their work environment. Teams should be prepared for the new hire’s arrival, responsibilities should be clarified, liaisons should be assigned, and managers should be supportive during the first days on the job.
  • Aligning the employee with the organization. It is also important to ensure that an employee understands and supports the organization’s mission. During orientation, it is important to go over the organization’s mission, its values, as well as behavioral expectations.
  • Integrating the employee into their job duties and their work environment. It is also critical to prepare employees for their actual day-to-day job duties. This means providing them with the proper work environment, tools, and skills they need to be successful.

Following these steps can have a very positive impact on the employee experience, as well as a number of important employee metrics (see below).

Orientation is one of the first steps in the onboarding process.

Orientation is an important part of employee onboarding, but it is only one step in the process.

The aim of orientation is to introduce, familiarize, and orient a new hire to the work environment.

During orientation, a new hire is introduced to…

  • HR processes, such as payroll and benefits
  • The organization as a whole, including its mission and philosophy
  • The workplace, both digital and physical
  • Key personnel, such as coworkers and managers
  • The job, or their day-to-day work duties

Orientation almost always occurs on the first day of work.

In some cases, employers replace onboarding with orientation, but this can have a negative impact on the employee’s overall experience and ultimately their performance.

Why Both Onboarding and Orientation Are Important

It is important to clarify the distinction between orientation and onboarding.

Orientation introduces new employees to the work environment.

Onboarding integrates them into that environment.

Both processes are beneficial for employees, as well as their employers.

Here are a few benefits of implementing both orientation and onboarding for new hires:

  • Boosted engagement and satisfaction. The first days on a new job can be difficult and stressful, which is why it is important to simplify this process as much as possible. When employees are properly introduced and integrated into a workplace, they will feel less anxiety, confusion, and frustration. 
  • Improved employee retention. There is another major long-term benefit to onboarding and orientation: improved retention. Studies have shown that a structured onboarding process improves long-term employee retention.
  • Improved productivity and performance. A well-structured onboarding program helps new hires learn more quickly and become more productive. By easing their transition into the workplace – and offering effective job training – employees will become more skilled in less time.

With the right approach to onboarding, it is possible to significantly enhance the employee experience, which can result in many of the benefits listed above.

However, orientation is only one part of the onboarding process – let’s look at a few other components to include in an onboarding program.

Other Steps in the Onboarding Process

To fully integrate an employee into the work environment, onboarding should also focus on:

To ensure that employees become fully participating members of the workforce, it is necessary to implement as many of these steps as possible.

How to Improve Onboarding and Orientation

Additionally, HR professionals should continue to learn from their efforts and optimize them over time.

That is, it pays to:

  • Define metrics and KPIs
  • Collect feedback from new hires and exiting employees
  • Analyze onboarding data
  • Identify growth opportunities
  • Make course corrections as necessary
  • Continue to track performance and optimize over time

There are a number of tools and applications that can help improve the onboarding process, such as:

  • HR platforms. HR platforms are multi-functional platforms that help with a variety of HR functions, from payroll to benefits to employee communications. These platforms can dramatically streamline HR workflows, making them essential for the modern HR professional.
  • Project management and task management tools. Project management tools – or their simpler cousin, task management tools – can help HR personnel create task lists, build employee onboarding templates, and stay organized.
  • Digital adoption platforms (DAPs). Digital adoption platforms are tools that simplify the digital onboarding process by automatically offering in-app product tours and software walkthroughs. 

By using these tools – in conjunction with a solid onboarding strategy – HR professionals can design onboarding programs that get tangible results for their organization.