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Onboarding vs Orientation: What's the Difference

In the business world, the term "orientation" is rarely used anymore. Instead, companies use the word "onboarding" to describe the process of integrating a new employee into the company. In practice, some companies are really just changing the name of what they've always done. But onboarding is a much richer experience than the orientation process.

True onboarding includes a long-term effort to integrate the employee fully into the company. A quality process means the employee performs better faster, has fewer adjustment problems and produces more for the company. When your company chooses to onboard, you create happier, higher-producing employees who are more likely to stay with you. Your business wins when you handle new hires well.

New Employee Statistics

Companies suffer when new hire productivity is low. You have a small window to get these employees to contribute positively to your bottom line because a significant number do not stay long. Statistics show that 25% of new hires leave the company within the first year. When the position is a new hire's first job, they often leave in the first 18 months. These short job tenures are quite harmful to your practice. Hiring and training a new employee is a costly and time-consuming effort, and losing a new hire in the first year costs two-years worth of salary. 

Onboarding creates more satisfied employees who start earning their pay more quickly. Research indicates that companies with excellent onboarding programs get 54% more productivity from their new hires. Clearly, investing time and energy in new hires ensures a better outcome for everyone involved.


To many people, orientation means a day of slapping on a name tag, meeting their coworkers, and filling out endless forms. You might give them the link to a company handbook as well as a talk from a superior about company policy. Then they may go home with a folder full of handouts, a headache, and a million questions. These first day efforts should probably be called disorientation. New employees get too much information and not enough guidance.

During orientation, you would undoubtedly give new hires additional support for the first few weeks, but that simply isn't enough for most people. Their learning curve would largely depend on the handbook, random luck and the kindness of coworkers. Traditionally, mere orientation efforts aren't enough to get your new employees up to speed in a timely manner. Plus, you will lose some of these hires because they feel overwhelmed and out-of-place.


When onboarding is done well, it goes far beyond simple orientation measures. Companies who take an in-depth, organized approach to onboarding retain their employees for longer periods and see these new hires become productive faster. Without onboarding, new hires may not stay long enough to make their employment profitable to the company. You lose money on ineffective training methods and end up in an endless hiring loop.

Effective onboarding should be considered a "journey" that takes the employee from orientation to integration to full productivity. This journey has several important elements.


To be effective, onboarding depends on the right software technology so that the process doesn't require many instructors. Otherwise, you lose time and money to the onboarding process. The right software allows new hires to complete much of the work themselves, although human support is also necessary. 

Support Network

Onboarding should include a support network for each new employee, one that goes beyond software and includes management and coworkers. New hires need to feel safe and knowledgeable to be productive. To achieve that goal, you need to codify this support network so that the employee knows whom they can consult and when. That way you can identify problems early and take steps to mitigate them.

Company Culture

Additionally, new hires need help in understanding company culture. Every company has its own expectations of employee behavior. Some companies expect employees to participate in group activities and charity fundraisers. Some promote a conservative image while others are more casual and freewheeling. Employees will integrate more quickly once they understand the company culture. 


While all new hires should have a rich onboarding experience, you should customize the process for the position. Entry-level employees need a different approach than upper-management. Each employee level needs customized onboarding that reflects the position's duties and the employee's experience level. One size clearly does not fit all when bringing new employees on board. 

Unlike orientation, onboarding will take months instead of weeks or days. In fact, you should create a program that lasts at least six months to improve job productivity and longevity.  In today's job market, you need a satisfied and stable workforce more than ever before.

Final Notes

Orientation by any other name is still orientation. You can call your process onboarding, but if it doesn't include long-term strategies for training and support, it's not adequate. With the right program, new employees are more likely to thrive and become productive. They will feel at ease and stay longer with the company. And you will spend less time and money searching for new employees to fill an endless rotation of open positions.

Today's employee typically spends four years at a job. The younger generation spends even less time, punching in for only two years. The time when people stayed in one job for decades is long gone, and so is the time for brief orientation periods. Employers in every industry need to up their onboarding game to make their new hires happy and profitable. When they do, the company benefits through increased profitability and enhanced stability.


If you are a current HR for Health client and have additional questions, please reach out to our team by calling 877-779-4747. Please keep in mind that due to an influx in questions related to the COVID-19 outbreak, our response time may be slower than usual, but we will get back to you as soon as we can! 

If you are not a current HR for Health client and have additional questions, please schedule an HR consultation with us by booking time here or calling us at 877-779-4747, option 1. 

Learn more about the advantages of onboarding with the experts at HR for Health. Contact us by phone at 877-779-4747 or by emailing compliance@hrforhealth.com today.

HR for Health is one of the nation’s leading Human Resources Management Systems (HRMS) used by small to mid-sized practices. 

Quick note: This is not to be taken as legal or HR advice. Since employment laws change over time and can vary by location and industry, consult a lawyer or HR expert for specific guidance. Learn about HR for Health's HR services