Onboarding vs. Orientation: 10 Ways to Elevate a New Employee Welcome

Posted in Talent & Onboarding

Two terms you’ll hear a lot in the process of bringing new employees into a company are “onboarding” and “orientation”. Sometimes they’ll even be used interchangeably. You might hear people say: “It’s time to strategize about our new hire orientation,” or “Let’s make a plan for new hire onboarding.” So, is it even necessary to distinguish onboarding vs orientation? Aren’t those the same thing? 

In a word: nope. They are actually two different ideas, and it’s worth distinguishing them because both have their place. In fact, they are quite different, so focusing only on one might mean you miss important aspects of the other. 

At first glance, the terms do seem like synonyms, but once we dive a little deeper, we can see that in scope, timing, and goals, they actually represent distinct points in the journey of welcoming new hires into the fold. 

Okay, so what sets them apart? That’s what this post is all about. We’ll cut through the mystery and break down the differences — with a rundown on the unique roles each plays in the integration of new team members, how one fits into the other, some tips on combining them, and some thoughts on how together they can form the backbone of a successful employee introduction strategy and onboarding for engaged employees

What is Employee Onboarding?

If you’ve been around our Enboarder blog for more than a minute you already have a decent idea of what makes employee onboarding tick— but let’s give you the 5-cent summary. 

Think of onboarding as the grand tour of a new city—except this city is your company, and the tour lasts up to a year or more. It’s the communications, practices, and processes designed to help newcomers navigate the ins and outs of their roles, understand the company culture, and start their journey from being ‘the new person’ to a fully integrated team member. It’s about connection, education, and, let’s be honest, making sure they don’t feel lost.

Spanning the time from the day the employee gets their offer all the way through their first year and beyond — onboarding is a series of touchpoints, communications, and experiences that make sure every employee is set up for success.

What is Employee Orientation?

If onboarding is a tour, employee orientation is like the welcome brochure or safety demonstration you get at the start of the tour. It’s the introduction to the company’s mission, values, and culture, usually crammed into the first hours, day, or week. Think paperwork, policies, and a whole lot of handshakes. It’s important, sure, but it’s just the appetizer to the onboarding main course.

It’s short, sweet, exciting, and chock-full of everything they need to jump-start their journey with your company.

Image by freepik

Onboarding vs Orientation: What’s the difference?

So yes, onboarding and orientation are both crucial steps in welcoming new talent, but they’ve got different roles to play. Let’s compare them side by side, and break it all down with a quick table for a bird’s-eye view:

DurationShort-term (Think hours to a couple of days)Long-term (From the moment the employee accepts the offer up to a year, or even beyond)
FocusCompany policies, basic procedures, meet and greetRole clarity, cultural immersion, skill development, ongoing support
GoalTo inform and introduceTo engage, integrate, and develop

At What Stages Do Onboarding and Orientation Occur?

As you can see above, onboarding and orientation have very different scopes, goals and timing.  Orientation is the sprint that kicks things off as your day one or week one blitz — a whirlwind of names, faces, and important places (like where to find the best coffee). It’s intense but short, and tends to throw a lot out all at once. 

Employee onboarding lasts a lot longer — and employees may reboard or carry pieces of their orientation — like our Connection Cards — with them into the later phases of their employment, accessing them months or years after a start date. 

If orientation is the sprint, onboarding is the marathon that sustains you over the long haul. It can be divided into a few phases:

  • Preboarding: Preboarding can extend from the late stages of the candidate experience, through an offer, and up to the first day. This is a period that is about ensuring new hires are prepared and excited about joining your company.
  • Initial Onboarding: The honeymoon phase, where everything’s new and exciting and you convey the vital information and make the vital connections to enable work to start.
  • Intermediate Onboarding: This is where the real learning kicks in, the theoretical becomes practical, and employees start feeling like part of the team.
  • Long-term Onboarding: This is the commitment and repetition phase, which focuses on two-way feedback, growth, and development. It might also encompass reboarding after a leave or when taking on a new role.

Of course, there is some synergy. Both orientation and onboarding exist to help introduce a new starter to your organization, help them feel at home and get them equipped — mentally and in terms of resources and tools — to quickly become acclimated and productive.

Onboarding vs Orientation: Which One to Prioritize?

Trick question, of course! It is not about picking favorites. You need both. 


Orientation is where you light the match of employee success. Onboarding fans that initial spark into a blazing fire of engagement and productivity. Without them both, that sizzle becomes fizzle.

Which means both onboarding and orientation are crucial to the game of new hire integration. You will want to pay attention, and have an integrated plan for both so they work together well. By integrating orientation into your onboarding strategy, you ensure they work well together, ensuring that seamless handoff from “Welcome!” to “Welcome home.”

 How? We’re about to spill the tea on how to blend the best of both worlds in the next section.

10 Strategies to Effectively Combine Onboarding and Orientation

Here’s where we get to the good stuff—how to blend onboarding and orientation into a seamless experience that sets your new hires up for success.

Develop an Integration Framework: Create a structured approach and workflows in your onboarding software that include both orientation and onboarding. Ensure you account for quick start information and long-term resource provision in a strategic, planned way that provides a consistent experience for every new starter. Before you start, check out our 4C’s of onboarding. And if you’re onboarding remotely, consider our remote employee onboarding checklist.

Create a Welcoming First-Day Experience: A first day is firmly in orientation territory, but should foreshadow what comes next. Make it unforgettable with a mix of orientation essentials and a taste of the onboarding adventure to come.  Make it count with a mix of warmth, information, and a memorable sprinkle of fun.

Implement Immediate Role-Specific Introductions: During orientation, you’ll dive into the deep end with introductions to their role and the people they’ll be conquering challenges with. This is a great time for using Enboarder Connection Cards to introduce folks to their immediate team or people they’ll interact with regularly, long into onboarding.

Schedule Regular Check-Ins and Feedback Sessions: Set the groundwork in orientation to keep the conversation flowing later by introducing scheduled catch-ups, and setting expectations for two-way feedback. Use tools like Enboarder to keep the conversation going incrementally —  in a way that makes people feel supported, but not overwhelmed.

Integrate Cultural Immersion Activities: Show, don’t tell, what your company culture is all about, turning abstract values into lived experiences. In orientation you can begin with connected onboarding and activities that make culture a cornerstone of the experience, and breathe life into your company’s values and purpose. Continue to revisit those touchpoints all throughout orientation so that the “Wow!” moments aren’t just a honeymoon, but intrinsic to employee experience at your company.

Provide Clear Roadmaps for Role Proficiency: Orientation is the perfect time to help employees understand what’s expected and map out what they’ll be learning during onboarding, as they go from newbie to pro. Point out the milestones they will hit along the way. Enboarder’s workflow is a fantastic way to plan and share this information.

Leverage Mentorship and Peer Support Systems: During orientation, pair up new hires with workplace buddies, mentors, and friendly faces to guide them through this new world during the orientation process.  This is another superb place to incorporate human connections outside of their immediate team for the specific purpose of guiding new hires —  again, something Enboarder Connection Cards do spectacularly.

Use Blended Learning Approaches: Mix and match ways of presenting information from orientation all the way through onboarding, making sure people absorb information in a way that best facilitates their learning style. If you use Enboarder, you can serve up a choice or mix of digital and hands-on learning tailored to different preferences.

Encourage Cross-Departmental Engagement: Break down silos and open doors to collaborations that enrich the new hire’s perspective and understanding of the company landscape. Oh, did someone mention Enboarder Connection Cards again? This tool can connect people on a personal level through shared interests and form the kinds of bonds that significantly improve cross-group collaboration. (Seriously, check those out. ) Again, this can kick off during orientation and carry through the entire employee journey.

Celebrate Milestones and Achievements: Be sure to revisit that roadmap you shared during orientation on the regular and let people know where they are and see how far they’ve come. Nothing says “You’re doing great!” like a virtual high-five or an actual celebration for the milestones they hit along the way.

Onboarding vs. Orientation: The Right Balance for the Right Employee Growth

Finding the perfect harmony between onboarding and orientation is like conducting an orchestra — it takes skill, practice, and a bit of magic. It’s about building a symphony of experiences that resonate with each new hire, setting them on a path of growth, engagement, and success. 

And if, like so many organizations, you’re trying to juggle orientation and onboarding in a hybrid environment, we can help there, too.

Download our ultimate guide to mastering this art form lies within the pages of “The Ultimate Guide to Hybrid Onboarding.” Dive in, and discover how to craft those WOW moments that make your remote, in-office, and flexible employees feel right at home, from day one.

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