What is Onboarding? A Definition, And Why You Should Take it Seriously

What is onboarding?

A solid onboarding process can make all the difference when it comes to a new employee’s experience — and their success. As soon as an employee is able to do their job properly and contribute in a meaningful way, the sooner they’re able to feel like engaged and valuable members of the company.  

Continue reading to discover: 

  • What onboarding is
  • The differences between onboarding and orientation
  • The key benefits of proper onboarding

What is onboarding?

At its core, onboarding is the process by which a new employee is initiated into a company or organization. But any good HR professional knows there’s a bit more to it than that. Onboarding starts during the recruitment and hiring process, and can stretch over the course of the individual’s first year. 

Successful onboarding provides key information and important context for the employee in areas such as their specific role, company policies, company culture, and business processes and systems. 

A good onboarding plan will cover three key areas

  • The organizational: how things work, company culture, mission, and processes, etc. 
  • The technical: job expectations, goals, definitions of success, etc.
  • The social: creating a sense of community, interpersonal connections, building trust between team members, etc.

A strong onboarding process gives the employee insight into not only where they’ll be working, but how they’ll be working. 

What’s the difference between onboarding and orientation? 

Although often used interchangeably, there are key differences between onboarding and orientation. 

As mentioned above, onboarding is a comprehensive process that begins as early as during recruitment. Orientation is simply one part of the onboarding process. 

The majority of today’s workers have most likely attended an orientation of some kind at the start of a new job. These orientation meetings usually take place within the first few days or weeks, and will often act like a training session for multiple employees at once. 

For example, a member of the HR team might lead an orientation session on how to use the company’s online HR software to request time off or sick days. Any new employees who started that week would be in attendance, regardless of what department they’re in or their seniority level. An orientation session covers broader, company-wide issues that act as one part of the holistic onboarding process. 

To break down the key differences between orientation and onboarding:


  • Main Goal: Familiarize a group of new employees with one part of the company
  • Timeframe: First few days or weeks of job
  • Attendees: Multi-departmental, all seniority levels plus HR team member to lead 
  • Duration: Once per topic
  • Topics: Company-wide and relevant to all or most employees 


  • Main Goal: Provide information and build on knowledge in multiple areas of the employee’s working experience, engage and retain employee
  • Timeframe: Begins during the recruitment experience, multi-step process
  • Attendees: Can be one-on-one (between new employee and manager or HR team member) or in groups, depending on the stage of onboarding
  • Duration: Continuous, usually up to one year
  • Topics: Any content that affects the employee, from role-specific training to company-wide orientations 

Why employee onboarding is so important

While employers once might have simply dropped new hires at their desks with a brief rundown of the company, today’s HR teams and managers know this isn’t an effective or sustainable approach. If you want to succeed — and you want your new hires to succeed — you need a proper onboarding plan. 

Here’s a more detailed look at the key benefits of a thorough onboarding process. 

Attracts top talent 

One of the main issues facing recruiters and businesses today is the ability to attract top talent. With talent pools shrinking and hiring demands growing, HR departments are strapped trying to build an attractive brand to potential employees.

Since the onboarding process begins during the recruitment and hiring process, companies need to establish a solid brand up front. When a potential employee heads to your company website and looks through the culture section of your careers page, your values, or even the appearance of team members featured on the website, they’re gaining knowledge of your organization. And since 79% of job seekers consider a company’s mission before applying for a job, this part of the onboarding process is crucial. 

When your brand and core values connect with potential employees, you’re able to efficiently and effectively attract top talent who are not only informed about what your business stands for, but are engaged with your brand. 

Improves retention

First impressions matter, and it’s no different when it comes to employee onboarding. Up to 20% of new employees leave the company within the first 45 days, and improper onboarding can be a very influential part of that. The proof? According to research by Glassdoor, organizations with a good onboarding process improve the retention of new hires by 82%

The loss of newly hired employees isn’t just a minor annoyance for businesses either. It’s literally a costly mistake. The average U.S company spends $4,000 to hire a new employee. That’s not to mention the countless hours invested by other members of your team throughout the hiring process and in the first weeks or months before that employee leaves. You want to do everything in your power to make sure that money and effort is well-spent. 

Increases productivity 

When an employee quickly understands what it takes to succeed — and has the proper tools and knowledge to do so — they’re able to start contributing to the business right away. 

In fact, organizations with successful onboarding plans have a 62% higher time-to-productivity ratio. New employees can spend less time trying to figure out how the printer works or how to use their project management tool, and more time actually getting the work done. It’s a win-win. 

Boosts business growth 

Thanks to successful onboarding, new employees report feeling higher levels of engagement. Onboarding helps build and nurture a supportive and trusting relationship between a new hire and their manager, and shows them that the company is dedicated to their employees. 

With these higher levels of engagement come higher levels of profitability. According to research from Gallup, highly-engaged teams show 21% greater profitability than less-engaged teams. Not only that, but disengaged employees cost U.S. companies up to $550-billion a year

Get onboard with onboarding

The onboarding period is the most crucial time in the employee-organization relationship. It’s essential that HR professionals and managers work together to create a good first impression. 

In our next post on onboarding, we’ll provide a detailed breakdown of the process — including a standard onboarding checklist. Stay tuned!