Orientation and onboarding are two terms often used interchangeably. However, they represent two different HR functions. Orientation is an action that is part of the onboarding process. True, HR in most organizations is responsible for onboarding a new employee. Still, they guide the employee through ‘orientation.’ So why are these two functions essential to retaining your top talent, and what is the difference? Let’s take a closer look.


Orientation is typically a half to a one-day event that focuses on the administrative tasks associated with employment. It typically covers an organization’s structure, mission, and policies. It should include a brief overview of the employee handbook. Orientation is also an opportunity for HR to present the new employee with details around benefits, company history, reporting structure, and payroll. Some may argue that it makes sense to conduct orientation at the end of onboarding, and I would have to disagree. I think new employees are thirsty for information on what they just signed up for by agreeing to work for your organization. To put wondering minds to rest about what they will receive in return for their work, besides a paycheck, I believe it is best to get the administrative items out-of-the-way first. At least deliver the information and provide adequate time for the employee to make decisions regarding voluntary benefits.


On the other hand, onboarding is much more involved than orientation and extends well beyond day one of employment. It is a systematic process meant to help the new employee acclimate to their new work environment as quickly as possible. It serves to cultivate long-term relationship building and provides access to information. Onboarding promotes a better understanding of the culture, mission, and goals. It helps foster a feeling of belonging, the affirmation of making the right choice, and reduces the time it takes to “hit the ground running.” Onboarding extends beyond HR and involves departmental management, supervisors, team leads, and co-workers.

How long should onboarding take?

The duration of the onboarding process depends on the company and position but can last from 3 – 18 months. If your organization offers an introductory period, developing and implementing an onboarding program that coincides with the introductory program is beneficial. The introductory period serves to allow the employee time to acclimate to the company, the culture, and their new role. It provides the employer an opportunity to learn where the new employee excels or where there might be a need for training. A solid onboarding program will help the new employee understand the expectations and create milestones that are clear indicators of their progress.

Retaining & Engaging Talent

According to the Aberdeen Group, 66% of companies who offered an onboarding program claimed a higher rate of successful assimilation of new hires into company culture; 62% had higher time-to-productivity ratios, and 54% reported higher employee engagement. Approximately 90% of new hires make their decision to leave or stay in a new job within the first six months of employment. Another 89% of new employees say they lack an optimum level of knowledge and tools necessary to do their job. Moreover, 79% of those who quit cite a lack of appreciation as the reason.


A well-designed orientation and onboarding program is essential to the company and the new employee. While orientation provides the new employee with details related to administrative items, onboarding helps the employee acclimate to their work environment as quickly as possible. The duration of the program is up to the employer. However, the employer should adequately weigh the expectations of the position against the experience and skillset the employee brings with them to determine the length of the program. HR plays a critical role in managing the onboarding process to ensure a “win/win” situation for the new employee and the company.

[1] Mauer, Roy. April 16, 2015. Onboarding Key to Retaining, Engaging Talent. Retrieved from: https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/talent-acquisition/pages/onboarding-key-retaining-engaging-talent.aspx

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