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  • Barbara Martinez

Understanding the Difference: Onboarding vs Orientation for New Hires

The Oxford Dictionary states onboarding is integrating a new employee into an organization or familiarizing a new customer or client with one’s products or services. It also expresses orientation as the determination of the relative position of something or someone.

When it comes to employees and business operations, orientation is something that typically occurs on the first day and provides new hires the information they need to navigate their duties and specific roles in the organization.

Both onboarding and orientation processes connect employees with knowledge regarding a new subject, giving them all the tools they need to succeed in their specific role. The true difference in both of the processes is the time frame. Employee orientation is done on the first day as it orients the new hire where their focus will be in the organization. It gives them the grand plan and their specific role in the company's overall operations scheme. Onboarding is a series of events and training that fully develops the new hire into a successful and integral part of the team. Onboarding will continue until the new hire is fully integrated and a functional member of the organization.

Both onboarding and orientation are important factors to the success of a new hire and it is possible to lead them to success without understanding the difference but understanding the difference will allow you to further develop your new hire intake process.


Orientation is typically a small part of the onboarding process. To have a successful orientation several aspects should be accounted for. The goal of orientation is to provide the employee confidence and help them adapt to their position as quickly as possible.

  1. Provide an Agenda

  2. Complete Critical Paperwork

  3. Policies and Expectations

  4. One-on-One

  5. Manager Introduction

  6. The Tour

  7. Continue Improving

Provide an Agenda

An agenda is a list of items discussed at a formal meeting, including topics, goals, timelines, talking points, specific speakers, and more. The agenda, once written, should be shared with the new hire before or at their arrival. This will prepare them for the challenges and allow them to look forward to certain tasks or training. An agenda is a treasure map, showing the new hire the path to victory. Without the map, looking for treasure is bound by luck, not skill.

An agenda benefits all meetings, but for a new hire, it shows planning, communication, and organization which are all beneficial characteristics an organization can represent. Employee retention starts before day 1 even begins and every seemingly small interaction the new hire has with the organization will affect their overall perception. The agenda is also a unique tool that can help you stay on track and ensure your new hire is meeting all of their goals.

The steps to write your agenda are as follows:

  1. Select the topic - There are an infinite amount of reasons to have a meeting. In this case, the topic is new hire orientation but any reason to have a meeting can be the topic to develop an agenda.

  2. Choose the information - What information needs to be passed to ensure everyone in attendance completely understands the topic? In a nutshell, what do I want everyone to know and how will I make sure they know it by the end of the meeting?

  3. Arrange the order and time frames - The agenda should follow the conversation line. What topic do you want to discuss and what is the best way to explain it? Having a set order and times keeps conversations on track.

  4. Additional information as needed - Have key details and important information at the beginning of the meeting while people are engaged and focused. End with lighter or less critical information towards the end during long.

  5. Questions, comments, and concerns - Always have time for questions at the end. Have people come with a way to write down notes during the discussion and either hold questions at the very end of the entire meeting or at the end of the topic discussions.

Complete Critical Paperwork

Paperwork that needs to be completed includes a review of employee handbooks, information and discussion on company benefits, and enrollment in available plans such as medical, insurance, etc. Many companies will provide some of these critical forms prior, minimizing tedious work for the new hire.

Policies and Expectations

This is the time during orientation when you will review policies and procedures as well as general expectations with the new hire. Some key policies that are typically reviewed include, but are not limited to, safety: fire, emergency evacuation, active shooter training, and other job-specific safety education. Other policies may include anti-harassment review and discussion, administrative procedures such as security, time cards, use of and logins for computer systems, supplies, and equipment management.

One on One

One of the most important aspects of orientation is the one-on-one time that should be allotted to a new hire. This is a crucial time to develop an open line of communication and a positive atmosphere between supervisor and employee. During the meeting with the direct supervisor, important topics can be reviewed and discussed, such as specific work functions, expectations, as well as responding to any questions that the new hire may have.

Manager Introductions

Most companies have multiple departments that work together to reach the organization’s mission, thus new hires need to be introduced to managers of other departments. They should also be introduced to general information regarding each department and how they may interact with their department. This will not only provide general knowledge for requests or referrals to other departments but will build a sense of community which is integral to the company’s overall performance.

Continue Improving

As with anything that you want to maximize and improve, it is imperative to take stock and process how the orientation process is working for your company. You may ask for suggestions from those who have been through your orientation process and determine areas that work and others that may need improving. Never be complacent and maintain the status quo. Make observations, review data and recommendations, and change formats to best suit your company’s needs.


Now that you have a better understanding of the process of orienting a new hire, let’s delve into the aspect of onboarding. Onboarding is the process by which a new hire is integrated into your organization. In essence, it encompasses everything required when a new employee starts work. An effective onboarding process is comprehensive, allowing the new hire time to acclimate to a new workplace environment. Special consideration should be taken for those new hires who are onboarding remotely, ensuring that they feel valued and an integral part of the team. Onboarding begins with the acceptance offer, the first day of employment, orientation, and months afterward. There are numerous positive results from effective onboarding, including increased retention; increased job satisfaction; improved team structure/dynamics; and increased levels of productivity.


  • Determine the length of onboarding. Each company is unique and has its unique needs, however, overall, your onboarding should be for a minimum of 6 months.

  • Consider purchasing and utilizing HR software specifically for onboarding. There are many which can be customized to your company’s needs.

  • Day one expectations. Ensure that your new hire’s first day is memorable and not overwhelming. Consider having the new hire complete some pertinent paperwork before the first day. This will, in turn, minimize the amount of tedious work on their first day. Make them feel welcome and allow them free communication to answer any questions or concerns they may have.

  • Define expectations. Make sure that job expectations are clear, concise, and in writing. You may also want to establish work goals, using SMART goal writing: Specific; Measurable; Attainable; Relevant; Time Bound.

  • Ongoing supervision or periods of checking in. A crucial step in ensuring that your employee feels heard and acknowledged. This is also a good time to review goals and modify them as needed. Allow for further training to make sure that your employee has all the tools for success.

  • Make revisions. Just as with your orientation process, you want to gather data, suggestions, and make suitable changes to the process for simplicity and efficacy.

Now you have a general overview of what distinguishes orientation from onboarding as well as the general process for both. As you implement these strategies and techniques, you provide your employees with feelings of community, being valued, and the confidence to perform at their peak. When employees are satisfied and have a sense of belonging, they want the company to succeed as much as you do. The company’s success becomes its success. The triumph of a successful company is yours, and it starts with one employee at a time.


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