· Eve Church  · 11 min read

How to Elevate Your Onboarding Process with a Buddy Program

Have you created a new hire checklist to help you navigate your onboarding process more easily? Have you considered - really considered - ways to make your new employees feel more at home from the moment they step through the door of your workplace? It’s time to talk about buddy programs.

Have you created a new hire checklist to help you navigate your onboarding process more easily? Have you considered - like really considered - ways you can make your new employees feel more at home from the moment they step through the door of your workplace?

Creating a welcoming atmosphere and a structured and informative first week is crucial in that it makes new hires feel part of the team enabling them to settle in and become productive members of your organization more quickly.

Read more: How to Onboard New Hires: The Do’s and Don’ts

It also helps combat the possibility of them feeling lost and under-valued and therefore quitting during that three month danger period. And that in turn will increase your retention rates.

Get it right from the start and you’ll have a greater chance of securing the loyalty of your top talents.

Read more: 10 Tips for Improving Your Brand as an Employer

Most of us have been there: We’re new to a company, we don’t know the ropes, we’re overwhelmed with all the new things to learn, we don’t know who to ask questions to or we don’t want to keep bothering people.

We just wish there was a friendly face to help us through those first few days, weeks and months while we figure out what it is we’re supposed to be doing!

And that’s where introducing a buddy program comes into the picture.

How to elevate your onboarding process with a buddy program

Having a new hire checklist is vital when you bring new starters into your company. Whether they’re interns, managers, part timers or remote workers, you need to make sure you’re following logical and well thought out steps to create a truly engaging employee experience.

You want your onboarding workflow to…well…flow!

Read more: Your Onboarding New Hire Checklist for Interns

We’ve talked before about how to create a new hire checklist and in this post we’re going to take a closer look at just one of the steps in your onboarding process: Buddies.

When you pair your new starters up with a workplace buddy you’ll be making them feel more included and more encouraged - and thus they will be more likely to become a long term employee.

Not convinced that a buddy program is for you?

Take a look at research conducted by Gallup which found that employees who have a “best work friend” are “…seven times as likely to be engaged in their jobs, are better at engaging customers, produce higher quality work, have higher well-being, and are less likely to get injured on the job.”

The study also found that employees who don’t have a work best friend only have a one in twelve likelihood of engagement.

And while there’s no guarantee your newbie and their buddy are going to become Best Friends Forever the concept should, at the very least, help a new employee to feel more settled - and of course a real friendship could blossom too.

Read more: The Secret Ingredient in a Great Onboarding Strategy

What actually is a work buddy?

To be able to add a buddy program to your onboarding process, it helps to understand the definition of a buddy. First of all, don’t make the mistake of getting a buddy confused with a coach or mentor. These are more formal relationships while a buddy is primarily to offer friendship and support.

Your buddies need to know that trust is a big part of the role: They can offer an inside look into the workplace from a more casual point of view, all while maintaining confidentiality so that your new employees can ask questions without worrying about private conversations between the two being made common office knowledge.

What do workplace buddies do?

When choosing your trusted employees to become buddies you need to clearly define their role for them.

As well as ensuring they understand the relationship between them and a new hire (trust, friendship etc.) you need to reassure them that they are not suddenly going to be saddled with employee training, setting KPIs or monitoring performance!

The buddy relationship isn’t about employee skills development - those duties will still lie with a manager. However they can be responsible for answering general company-related queries.

As well as helping to form a buddy relationship this also has the added advantage of freeing up a manager or supervisor’s time, allowing them to focus on more important tasks.

So what do buddies do? Of course there are the obvious things: Turn left and then right into the corridor for the bathroom, and the printer is over there and you can fix the perpetually jammed paper tray by opening and closing it with a firm but gentle slam!

But on the whole, besides pointing out the fire exits and kitchen area, a buddy’s job is to help integrate a new starter into the company on a social level by helping them assimilate into the company culture.

How can they do this? By showing a new hire where the best places to get lunch are, by inviting them to Friday night drinks after work, by pointing out those weird unspoken rules that every workplace has and that you often only find out the hard way, months into your employment.

They are also a good source of information on company policies such as  duvet days and other perks. True, these may have already been ticked off the new hire checklist by HR but it won’t hurt for your newbie to hear them again from an employee viewpoint.

For example, if you have dress-down Friday, how dressed down is dressed down?! Are jeans and a t-shirt acceptable? How about hot pants and a crop top? Or is dressed-down actually referring to business casual?

The self-perpetuating buddy program

One of the great things about assigning a buddy to new employees is that it is likely that they will appreciate the value a buddy provides. And in turn they too may be keen to provide the same service and impart their knowledge to subsequent new starters.

Their positive onboarding process and employee experience will make them want to pay it forward.

How do you pick a buddy for your onboarding process?

There are a few things to consider when playing Cupid and picking your buddies. Here are some things that you may want to consider when choosing people who can have a positive impact on your onboarding process.

  • Buddies need to be positive, engaged and a great company or brand advocate. They need to understand the goals and values of your business and be able to express them clearly.
  • They must also genuinely want to be part of your onboarding process and ideally will have volunteered when the idea of a buddy program is announced or when you ask for new buddies to step forward. An employee who has been strong-armed into the position against their will is not going to create a great impression on a newcomer.
  • If possible make sure your buddy is on the same team, or in the same department, as your new hire - this way the information being shared will be more relevant.

If you’re lucky and your hire culture and company culture are inspiring and engaging you will find that employees will volunteer off their own backs to become a buddy.

However, even the greatest company might struggle with finding buddies due to any number of  factors: everyone is really busy on that new project, people have stuff going on outside work that is requiring their attention etc.

If this is the case you might find you need to incentivize your people to sign up for buddy-dom! More on that below.

Introducing your buddy and new hire

Under the header of ‘Buddy Program’ on your new hire checklist you will want to bullet point a few notes. For a start you need to introduce your buddy and your new hire to one another. The best way to do this is not on the first day of work but beforehand.

That way your new employee will already know someone in the workplace which will go a long way to helping them through that, often stressful and intimidating, first day in a new job.

How you and your buddy want to do this is for you to decide between you, but a local coffee shop or friendly café is probably the most obvious choice.

But don’t make this a one time only occasion: An onboarding process shouldn’t be done and dusted in the first week. It can take several months for a new employee to feel like they truly belong to an organization.

Therefore buddy meetings should be scheduled periodically. And these meetings aren’t the stuff of boardrooms: stick with that coffee shop, café or other place where your buddy and employee can grab a cup of tea, some lunch or even hit up happy hour after work.

They should also be as quick - or as leisurely - as both parties like. A fifteen minute coffee break in the office rest area or a couple of hours over some food or beers. It all depends on their schedules and preferences.

And here’s where your bribe, sorry we mean incentive, comes in!

Clearly you don’t want your buddy to be paying out of their own pocket for coffee or soup and a sandwich so make sure that they are reimbursed (quickly) for their efforts or, better still, given some petty cash up front.

And there’s no harm in making this an attractive offer by being generous with your budget (especially if you’re struggling to find volunteers…)

Let’s also not forget remote workers in all of this. They deserve to have workplace friends too!

In fact, we’d say it’s almost even more crucial that remote workers are assigned a buddy - whether this is someone who also works remotely and who knows the ropes, or someone who is office based and can provide a connection to the team.

If your remote workers are local (or fairly so) a get together in person would work and could provide some, perhaps very welcome, real human contact. If they are truly working remotely and are miles from the office, your buddy can schedule a video call with them, for example over Zoom, Skype, Slack or Google Meet.

Is your buddy program working?

Like all aspects of your onboarding process, you need to know the value of what you’re adding to and ticking off on your new hire checklist.

Your hire culture is only going to be truly great if you’re constantly monitoring and tweaking your onboarding and HR systems. And that means asking for feedback from the people at the very epicenter: your employees. In this case your buddy and your new starter.

And that calls for an employee satisfaction survey. Add another bullet point to your entry for ‘buddy program’ on your new hire checklist that reminds you to check in with the people in the program, perhaps on a monthly basis.

(Side note - you will also want to determine how long the program should last for each employee. Three to six months is a good benchmark.)

Keep your employee satisfaction survey short and confidential, and make it easy to answer and submit.

Some question ideas for your buddy:

  • Does the new employee understand and respect our company culture?
  • Does the new employee understand our company goals and values?
  • Is the new employee asking the same amount of, less, or more questions than before?
  • Is the new employee showing confidence in their role?

Some question ideas for your new employee:

  • How would you describe our company culture?
  • How would you describe our company’s goals and values?
  • Have you felt at ease asking your buddy questions about the company and your role?
  • Do you feel like you are part of your team and/or department?

When a buddy program reaches its conclusion, you will want to conduct one final employee satisfaction survey to get an idea of the bigger picture.

It is well known that asking employees for feedback helps increase retention rates so use this opportunity to also create further engagement and exhibit employee recognition.

Ask the participants what they thought worked and what they thought could be improved upon. This will ensure that your buddy program is adding value to your onboarding process and hasn’t become something you’re just paying lip service to on your new hire checklist.

Buddy programs and the onboarding process: conclusion

An awesome onboarding process benefits hugely from an awesome onboarding software solution to back it up and provide structure.

And when you get your onboarding process right you’re creating better engagement with your newest employees from the get go, helping to ensure that the time and money you’ve spent on hiring and training them won’t go to waste.

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