The Difference Between Onboarding and Orientation (And Why Businesses Need Both)

Both onboarding and orientation benefit your workforce... we look at why it's an integral part of employee experience.

The Difference Between Onboarding and Orientation (And Why Businesses Need Both)

If you find yourself embedded in the HR world, you’ll know that the difference between onboarding and orientation is something you have to explain to most people more than once. To be fair, there is subtlety at play, but it can be rather frustrating when these two terms are used interchangeably when we know it really shouldn’t be.

How so? Well, there is quite a big difference between onboarding and orientation. When you understand where the distinction lies, it's easy to understand why businesses need both. Let's start by looking at the basic definitions of each of these terms:

The Difference Between Onboarding and Orientation

Onboarding (def): The process of integrating a new employee within a company and its culture, as well as getting them set up the tools and information needed to become a productive member of their new team.

Orientation (def): The practical matters of filling out new hire paperwork, becoming accustomed with the layout of the office, being introduced to team members, receiving access control devices, and other 'first-day' office administration in general.

As such, orientation forms a part of the overarching and ongoing process of onboarding, which can take a couple of months, depending on the intricacies of the position in question. At a time when we know that voluntary turnover can cost employers at least 33% of a given employee’s annual salary, it makes sense to hang on to top talent once you’ve attracted it. This starts with the onboarding process.

Here are a few top tips to ensure that you take care of onboarding and orientation in the right way in 2021 and beyond:

4 Tips for Onboarding and Orientating New Recruits Effectively

Perfect Onboarding

1. Develop A Checklist

The mistake many businesses make is to do onboarding on the fly. Making the process up as you go along may work when you have a tiny team of 3 or 4 individuals, but once your business starts to scale (which is the hope for most companies), it’s vital to standardise and optimise your approach to bringing new talent on board.

Ideally, you want a step by step guide to welcoming your new hires that your HR team can follow, and tick off as they go along. This way, you can ensure that nothing falls between the cracks and that every person who joins your team receives a thorough welcome that serves as the first taste of your company culture.

2. Leverage HR Tech

One of the big benefits of living and working in the midst of the 4th industrial revolution is the fact that we have access to some really great HR technology. This includes SaaS-based, mobile-first onboarding platforms like &Team, which take all the guesswork out of creating a wonderful first impression with each new recruit who crosses your threshold.

Our well-designed solution slots in seamlessly with your existing HR ecosystem and does not cause any needless friction. You want it to be as easy (and fun!) to use as possible. This way, your human resources team won’t have to run around reminding people to use it and cause more work for themselves in the process.

3. Survey For Insights

Not quite sure if your onboarding and orientation processes are up to standard? The best way to know if you are hitting the mark is to ask the people who have been through the process themselves, namely your inducted workforce. Check in with your existing employees to see if they feel that the process is efficient and thorough enough, and where you could improve.

Survey Employees

Ideally, this type of survey should be completed regularly and at various touchpoints throughout the employee journey - including exit interviews, when your employees are ready to move on and become a member of your valued alumni.

If you find that there is room for improvement, follow up by taking action immediately. It’s all good and well to ask for feedback, but if you don’t follow continuous listening with continuous action, it's likely to frustrate your team to no end. As an example, if it becomes apparent that new hires battle with IT issues due to a lack of communication with the tech support team, take steps to rectify it posthaste.

4. Don’t Underestimate The Power Of Small Gestures

We often get so wrapped up in the big things that have to get sorted out as a part of the onboarding and orientation process - contracts that have to be signed, codes of conduct that need to be read, manager meetings that have to be set up - that we forget about the importance of small gestures.

Employees are humans first and foremost, and no matter how grownup you get, the first day in a new space can be quite daunting. This is when a warm, human touch like a gift of a funny office mug or a pretty desk plant can make all the difference. Show people that you are excited to have them as a part of the team!


The difference between onboarding and orientation is an important distinction that underpins the whole notion of bringing a new recruit into the fold. Orientation forms a part of the overarching onboarding process, which should be tailored to form part of a seamless and rewarding employee experience that starts as soon as a freshly hired employee.