Onboarding programs

How To Create an Engaging Onboarding Buddy Program + Benefits

Make your new hires feel welcome and valued. Learn how to launch and leverage onboarding buddy programs and reap the benefits.

Kinjal Dagli

Sr. Content Marketing Manager at Together

Published on 

April 29, 2022

Updated on 

March 7, 2024

Time to Read

mins read time

Imagine your first day at a new job. Excitement mixes with nerves as you navigate unfamiliar faces and processes. Wouldn't it be amazing to have a friendly guide by your side, someone to answer questions, show you the ropes, and make you feel instantly welcome?

That's what an onboarding buddy program can do for new hires.

New hires with onboarding buddies are more likely to stick around, feel invested in their work, and blossom into their full potential sooner. That’s because buddies forge genuine connections that ease the transition and create a positive onboarding experience that sets new hires up for success.

In this blog post, we'll delve into the "why" and "how" of implementing a successful onboarding buddy program, equipping you to turn those first-day jitters into excitement and set your new hires up for long-term success. Buckle up, and let's get started!

What is an onboarding buddy?

Starting a new job can be daunting, especially when faced with an unfamiliar work environment and a sea of new faces. Enter the onboarding buddy: your friendly guide to navigating the early weeks and feeling right at home. 

Unlike being left to your own devices ("Here's your desk, good luck!"), an onboarding buddy provides invaluable support and assistance as you transition from newcomer to valued team member.

Think of your buddy as an experienced employee cheering you on from the sidelines. While they're not directly responsible for skills development (that's more for designated mentors), they focus on the crucial "human first" aspect of onboarding. They'll answer your questions, introduce you to colleagues, and help you adjust to your new work environment.

This buddy system isn't a new invention. Over the years, companies across various industries, particularly larger ones with complex structures, have seen the significant benefits of onboarding buddies. In environments where navigating the organizational maze can be tricky, a buddy's guidance and support can be truly invaluable.

Do new hires need a buddy?

Onboarding buddies might seem like a nice perk, but the evidence overwhelmingly suggests they're a necessary investment. Consider these staggering statistics:

These figures paint a clear picture: unwelcome, disengaged employees leave quickly. Onboarding buddies bridge this gap, creating a supportive, positive environment that boosts retention and engagement. Here's how:

  • Building warmth and support - Buddies offer a friendly face on day one, reducing anxiety and creating a sense of belonging. They answer questions, navigate unfamiliar territory, and introduce new hires to colleagues, creating a supportive network.
  • Learning from within - Buddies provide firsthand insights into the company culture, beyond the official handbook. They help new hires understand unspoken rules, dress codes, and team dynamics, leading to faster integration.
  • Boosting confidence and engagement - Feeling comfortable asking questions and taking risks is crucial for growth. Buddies provide a safe space for new hires to learn and experiment.

Ultimately, onboarding buddies are an investment in your company's future. They create a welcoming environment, improve retention, and drive engagement, ensuring your new hires become successful, contributing members of your team.

What are the benefits of having an onboarding buddy program?

Did you know that only 29% of employees feel adequately prepared after their onboarding experience? That's not enough to keep retention levels high, and it's certainly not beneficial for business success. 

😌 Keep your best employees thriving at your company! Read our white paper on Employee Retention Strategies 🔽

With an onboarding buddy program, however, the picture looks completely different. Employees are supported, engaged, and made to feel like part of the team right from day one. Onboarding buddies help build confidence and make new employees feel as though they belong.

And these aren't just empty claims. Research shows a direct link between supportive onboarding and employee productivity, engagement, and retention:

  • Reduced stress and anxiety - Buddies offer a friendly face and answer questions, leading to higher job commitment and lower job stress. This translates to a happier, more focused workforce.
  • Faster onboarding - With a personal guide, new hires navigate workflows and company culture faster which increases time-to-productivity by 60%. Imagine the efficiency gains!
  • Increased confidence and engagement - Buddies offer support and guidance. This translates to more motivated and productive team members.
  • Improved employee retention - Feeling valued and supported leads to happier employees. Onboarding buddies contribute to a 52% increase in employee retention, saving companies significant costs associated with high turnover.
  • Enhanced employer branding - Positive onboarding experiences create a strong employer brand, attracting and retaining top talent while reducing cost-per-hire by 50%. 

These benefits go beyond just numbers. Onboarding buddy programs helps build a supportive and inclusive culture, where everyone feels valued and empowered to succeed. It's a win-win for both employees and businesses, leading to a more positive, productive, and fulfilling work experience for all.

How to start an onboarding buddy program

Onboarding buddies aren't as formal as paired mentors, but it's still a good idea to have a plan in place before you start assigning buddies. Let's run through the steps.

1. Determine which employees would make great onboarding buddies

It takes a particular personality and skill set to be an onboarding buddy. Of course, the buddy needs to be welcoming and friendly, and they should ideally be knowledgeable in most areas of your company.

Whether you use mentoring software like Together, or you manually assign buddies, you'll want to find individuals who exhibit strong people skills and can provide support to new employees.

🪓 How to Break Down Silos In Your Organization

2. Create a relevant pairing for every new employee

Once you've chosen the right people for the job, pairing them with suitable employees is a task in and of itself (that’s why we’ve outlined how to match employees in a detailed Ebook.) 

For example, if you have a new employee coming into the software engineering space, it wouldn't make sense to pair them with a buddy from your communications department.

Instead, try to match them up with someone who has a similar job role or skill area. Doing so will help the new employee feel more comfortable and supported as they navigate their way through your company.

A great way to pair your employees with their buddies is by using an intelligent matching algorithm. At Together, we've designed our algorithm to create the most relevant and optimal pairings possible, matching people according to their goals, skills, and development areas.

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3. Set ground rules for the relationship

Next, it's crucial that you run each onboarding buddy through some ground rules before they get started. This will help to avoid any confusion or conflict down the road.

Some things you might want to include are:

  1. The buddy's role is not to be a substitute for a manager or supervisor
  2. The buddy should provide support but not direct the new employee's work
  3. The buddy should keep the new employee's manager in the loop about any progress or concerns

Alongside these rules, you can guide your buddy in best practices for supporting their employee. For instance, you might ask them to be particularly attentive in the first couple of days so that the new employee can get used to their surroundings and ask any questions they may have.

Your buddies should also:

  • Show employees around the entire company space to get them familiar with their surroundings
  • Introduce them to other team members and explain their role on the team
  • Make sure new employees know where HR, IT, and other essential areas are in case they need to access them urgently

Onboarding buddies are tasked with making the transition into a new job as smooth and comfortable as possible, so these ground rules will help to set the tone for a positive working relationship.

🤝 Boost Team Connections With Virtual Coffee Breaks

4. Monitor buddy system outcomes

Don't leave success to chance! Regularly schedule check-ins with both new hires and their buddies to gather valuable insights. Ask open-ended questions like:

New Hire

  • How has your buddy been helpful in your onboarding journey?
  • Are there areas where additional support from your buddy would be beneficial?
  • How comfortable do you feel asking questions and requesting help?
  • Do you feel welcomed and integrated within the team?

Buddy

  • What resources or training would help you better support your buddy?
  • How has this experience been rewarding for you?
  • Do you have any suggestions for improving the program for future pairings?

Go beyond individual feedback and leverage available data for deeper analysis. Use Together to get valuable insights into:

  • Signups and participation rates - Are employees actively engaging with the program?
  • Goal completions - Are buddies and new hires achieving their set onboarding goals?
  • Session feedback - How are participants experiencing their interactions?
  • Pairing relevancy - Are buddies well-matched with new hires in terms of interests, skills, and roles?
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Utilizing data allows you to identify areas for improvement, measure program effectiveness, and demonstrate its positive impact on the organization.

But remember, don't just check the boxes when it comes to your onboarding buddy program! Think bigger: make new hires feel welcome, get them excited about their work, and help them succeed. Listen to what they think and use numbers to understand what's working. This will turn your program into a win-win for everyone!

Colleague Connect: Leverage employee connections to set your new hires up for success

Colleague Connect gives new employees a work friend right on their first day. Rooted in the philosophy that "Everyone Can Learn From Anyone," Colleague Connect integrates new hires into an organization with more fluid and less formal connections. As a result, you cater to diverse needs and learning styles, and give each new hire a head start.

Start new hires off on the right foot with inclusive learning

The transition to a new workplace can often feel daunting for new hires, with the challenge of navigating unfamiliar territories and forming new professional relationships. Colleague Connect addresses this challenge head-on by moving beyond the constraints of conventional mentor-mentee dynamics. It democratizes learning within the organization, ensuring that everyone, regardless of their position or tenure, can contribute to and benefit from shared knowledge and experiences.

Give new hires access to mentorship without the hierarchy

Designed to complement traditional mentorship programs, Colleague Connect offers a fresh perspective on professional development by allowing learning without explicitly labelling individuals as "mentors" or "mentees." This approach facilitates a more organic growth environment where connections are made based on mutual interests, skills, goals, or even shared characteristics like location, department, and involvement in Employee Resource Groups (ERGs).

🏅10 Examples of successful employee resource groups

Help new hires establish meaningful and relevant connections

Colleague Connect facilitates meaningful connections across the organization by pairing individuals based on shared skills and goals. As a result, onboarding buddy relationships are both relevant and beneficial. This encourages a culture of learning and support, where employees feel valued and understood, significantly enhancing the onboarding experience for new hires.

Open the doors to a wide pool of connections

Colleague Connect ensures that opportunities for professional advancement never run dry. By allowing participants to easily connect with colleagues across different levels and functions, the tool creates a vibrant ecosystem of learning partnerships. Whether it's acquiring new skills, understanding different aspects of the business, or achieving specific professional goals, Colleague Connect empowers employees to pursue their development trajectories collaboratively.

Leverage templates for any objective

Every organization has unique needs, Colleague Connect offers a variety of customizable templates designed to support a wide range of objectives. Whether the goal is to facilitate cross-department introductions, streamline the onboarding process, or address specific learning needs, the tool provides best practices to ensure effective and engaging connections. These templates serve as a framework to tailor the learning experience to their specific context, and maximizing the impact of each connection.

Colleague Connect transforms how new hires are integrated and how ongoing learning is facilitated within an organization. Everyone has something valuable to learn and teach – organizations that embrace this idea build a culture of inclusivity, support, and continuous growth. 

Let’s look at an example of how Emma, a new employee, is set up for success and growth:

Situation: Emma, a recent graduate in Graphic Design, joins a mid-sized tech company as a Junior Designer. Her excitement about starting her new role is coupled with nervousness about fitting into the company culture and understanding her role within the team.

Colleague Connect Matching: Using Colleague Connect, Emma is matched with Alex, a Senior Designer with over five years of experience at the company. The matching was based on their shared field of expertise, a mutual interest in sustainable design practices, and their involvement in the company's Green Initiatives Employee Resource Group (ERG).

First Meeting: Alex reaches out to Emma through the company's internal communication platform, introducing himself and setting up a casual coffee meet-up for their first day. They discuss Emma's background, interests, and aspirations, along with Alex sharing insights into the company culture, the design team's dynamics, and ongoing projects that involve sustainable practices.

Ongoing Connection: Over the following weeks, Alex introduces Emma to team members from different departments, helping her understand how her role contributes to the broader company goals. They attend Green Initiatives ERG meetings together, where Emma feels welcomed and begins to form her network.

Learning and Development: Alex shares resources on the latest design trends and sustainable practices in tech, sparking discussions that contribute to Emma's professional development. They collaborate on a project, allowing Emma to apply her skills and learn new ones in a supportive environment.

Feedback and Adjustment: Through regular check-ins, Alex provides Emma with constructive feedback, helping her navigate challenges and celebrating her successes. Emma feels comfortable asking questions and seeking advice, significantly easing her transition into the new role.

Outcome: Emma's integration into the company is smooth and swift, thanks to the supportive and relevant connection established through Colleague Connect. Her confidence grows, and she starts contributing innovative ideas to her team's projects. Alex, on the other hand, finds mentoring Emma rewarding, as it allows him to share his passion for sustainable design and see the impact of his guidance on a new team member's growth.

Learning for L&D and HR: The Colleague Connect match between Emma and Alex exemplifies how non-hierarchical, interest-based onboarding buddies can significantly improve the onboarding experience for new hires. 

eBook How To Fast-Track Employee Learning With Colleague Connections  

What makes a good onboarding buddy?

It can be tricky to choose the right employees to act as onboarding buddies, but one of the best strategies is to reflect on your own needs as a new employee. When you were new to the role, who were the people you looked to for support? What qualities made them stand out?

Look for traits such as:

  • Proven ability to develop relationships quickly
  • Genuine interest in helping others succeed
  • Strong communication and problem-solving skills
  • Knowledgeable about the company and the role they’re mentoring in

It also helps if they are friendly and enthusiastic – after all, the onboarding buddy is essentially the new employee’s first friend at the company.

Conquering the challenges of onboarding buddy programs

Onboarding buddy programs are like sunshine for new hires, guiding them through the early days and making them feel welcome. But like any good adventure, there might be a few bumps in the road. 

1. Mismatched buddies: Not every friendship blooms instantly

Sometimes, the perfect buddy pairing feels like finding a unicorn – rare and magical. But sometimes, personalities don't click, or skills don't align. Don't panic! Here's what to do:

  • Open communication - Encourage open communication between buddies and program coordinators. If a mismatch happens, address it quickly and offer a re-pairing.
  • Be flexible - Consider allowing buddies to switch roles within the program, or even find a new buddy altogether.

2. Buddy burnout: Avoiding compassion fatigue

Being a buddy can be rewarding, but it's also an extra responsibility. To prevent burnout:

  • Set clear expectations - Define the buddy's role and time commitment upfront.
  • Offer support - Provide training resources and access to program coordinators for guidance and support.
  • Show appreciation - Recognize and reward buddies for their contributions, big or small.

3. Low participation: Sparking the buddy buzz

Even the best programs need a little nudge sometimes. Here's how to get the buzz going:

  • Incentives - Offer small perks or recognition programs for participation.
  • Highlight benefits - Share success stories and data on how the program benefits both buddies and the company.
  • Make it fun - Organize social events or activities for buddies to connect outside their designated roles.

Remember, onboarding buddy programs are a journey, not a destination. By being prepared for challenges and adapting along the way, you can ensure your program shines brightly, guiding new hires towards a successful future in your company.

Examples of companies with successful buddy systems

Wondering whether buddy systems are all hype and no substance? Here are two solid examples of companies that have implemented successful onboarding buddy programs:

  1. Microsoft’s Buddy Program matches new hires with seasoned employees based on compatibility and shared interests. Buddies offer support, guidance, and a friendly face to navigate the company's complex structure and have helped the tech giant increase new hire satisfaction by 30% and reduce time-to-productivity by 25%.
  2. Zapier assigns "Zap Pals" to new hires. These buddies provide informal mentorship, offer practical guidance, and help navigate various company resources and tools. As a result, Zapier has experienced a 70% decrease in employee turnover in the first 90 days and a 65% increase in productivity.
  3. Netflix connects new hires with "Peers" who share similar roles or interests. Peers provide insights into Netflix culture, offer feedback, and assist in navigating internal processes. This has helped Netflix increase new hire confidence, reduce anxiety, and deliver a positive onboarding experience.

You, too, can reap the benefits of a buddy system, and we at Together can help you get started.‍

Build your onboarding program with Together

Investing in a strong onboarding program is crucial for new hire success, leading to increased retention, faster productivity, and improved overall employee satisfaction. However, crafting a program that helps build meaningful connections can be challenging. This is where onboarding buddy programs shine, pairing new hires with experienced colleagues who can guide, navigate, and empower them.

At Together, we understand the transformative power of onboarding buddies. That's why we offer a platform designed to supercharge your program, making it easier and more impactful than ever before.

Here's how Together helps you build an onboarding buddy program that shines:

  • Expert matching - Our powerful algorithm goes beyond basic criteria, considering personality traits, interests, and skills to create ideal matches. Say goodbye to mismatched pairs and hello to thriving partnerships!
  • Seamless program management - Our platform simplifies every step, from buddy selection and onboarding to scheduling check-ins and tracking progress. You can spend less time on logistics and more time building connections.
  • Engaging features - We encourage interaction and engagement with features like in-app messaging, shared goals, and virtual coffee chats, building lasting relationships that extend beyond the initial onboarding period.
  • Expert support - Our team of onboarding specialists is here to guide you every step of the way. We offer consultation, training, and best practices to help you create a program that truly shines.

Ready to unlock the power of onboarding buddies?

Schedule a demo to see how our platform can help you build a program that makes your new hires feel welcome, supported, and ready to thrive.

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