Onboarding programs

Why an onboarding "buddy" is essential for every new employee

Onboarding buddies are essential for setting up new hires for success. Here's everything you need to know about buddy programs with examples.

Nick Saraev

Published on 

April 29, 2022

Updated on 

Hiring new talent isn't as simple as reading a few resumes and choosing the best one. It extends way beyond the interview stage to the crucial onboarding process when you introduce your newest team member to their new job and company culture.

It can be a daunting experience for a new employee – all that change, in an unfamiliar environment – and companies that neglect to provide adequate support during this time are doing their new hires a disservice. Unfortunately, 88 percent of employees report that their company's onboarding process is ineffective.

This is where an onboarding buddy can make all the difference. They provide support and guidance during those first few weeks, helping the new employee to feel comfortable and get up to speed as quickly as possible.

A strong onboarding program can improve your retention rates by over 80 percent, so it's definitely worth putting in the extra effort. Let's take a look at the ins and outs of allocating onboarding buddies.

What is an onboarding buddy?

There's nothing more off-putting than being left to your own devices on the first day of a new job. “Here's your desk – have fun!” Conversely, an onboarding buddy is someone who supports new hires and helps them settle into their new role. An onboarding buddy usually checks in with the new hire throughout each day for the first month.

Onboarding buddies are slightly different from onboarding mentors in that they are less involved in developing the new employee's skills. Their focus is more on aiding the new employee in their transition from candidate to fully integrated team member.

The buddy system has been used in various industries for years, and is especially beneficial in larger companies with complex hierarchies and multiple teams. It can be difficult for a new employee to navigate their way around an organization like this, so a buddy can provide invaluable support and guidance.

Do new hires need a buddy?

Onboarding buddies sound great on paper – but do you really need them? Research would suggest so. Studies reveal that 30 percent of job seekers have voluntarily left their job within the first three months, while half of employees leave within two years. 

Considering that every new employee costs thousands to onboard (and thousands to lose), we shouldn't take these stats lightly.

When thinking about the importance of company culture, it's not hard to see why turnover rates are so high across most industries. Take a look at these figures on the current state of company culture:

Company culture is deeply intertwined with job satisfaction, which makes complete sense. No one wants to work in a toxic, cold, or unwelcoming atmosphere. We are social creatures, and positive affirmation is essential to our well-being.

Onboarding buddies can help to improve company culture by creating a warm and supportive environment in which new employees feel comfortable asking questions and taking risks. They also provide an opportunity for the new employee to learn about the company's culture first-hand, from someone who is already in it.

What are the benefits of having an onboarding buddy program?

Did you know that only 29 percent 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. 

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. Confidence is fostered, and new employees can truly 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:

  • A strong onboarding process can improve productivity by 70 percent and retention by 82 percent
  • Employees are 93 percent more likely to refer their company after having a strong onboarding experience
  • 70 percent of employees who have a supportive onboarding experience end up loving their jobs

In other words, if you want to keep your new hires around for the long haul, it's essential to provide them with a positive onboarding experience – and having a buddy program is your surefire solution.

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 registration software like the one we offer at Together, or you manually assign buddies, you'll want to find individuals who exhibit strong people skills and can provide support to new employees.

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 E-book.) 

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 the powerful Together pairing algorithm. We've designed our algorithm to create the most relevant and optimal pairings possible, matching people according to their goals, skills, and development areas.

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:

  • The buddy's role is not to be a substitute for a manager or supervisor
  • The buddy should provide support but not direct the new employee's work
  • 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.

4. Monitor buddy system outcomes

Finally, you'll want to monitor the performance of each pairing to ensure that the system is working effectively. This can be done by conducting regular check-ins with both the new employee and their buddy.

You can ask questions such as:

  • How has the buddy been helpful?
  • What are some things the buddy could do to improve support?
  • How comfortable does the new employee feel?
  • Is the new employee integrating well with their team?

Consider that employees who feel comfortable giving feedback report a 91 percent improvement in company relationships. This is a great incentive to solicit feedback frequently and openly.

You can also use the Together reporting feature for comprehensive updates on signups, participation rates, goal completions, session feedback, pairing relevancy, and more.

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.

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:

  • Microsoft actively uses buddy systems to boost their productivity and improve their new hire satisfaction rates. After piloting their first buddy program with 600 employees, they saw a 36 percent increase in satisfaction.
  • Buffer employs a buddy system to help new remote hires feel at home. Each new hire is assigned not one, but three buddies – a leader buddy, a role buddy, and a culture buddy. Google later adopted the same model, so it was evidently a success.

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

At Together, we are fully committed to helping companies perfect their onboarding and employee satisfaction through mentorship. Our software ensures that every employee is matched with the best peer, mentor, or expert to learn from – and our platform is recognized as the very best in the industry. 

If you're ready to harness the power of a solid onboarding buddy system, we are here to help you. Our powerful algorithm can pair every new hire with their ideal buddy, and our team of skilled onboarding experts can help you create a program that will make your new employees feel welcome, supported, and productive from day one.

Try us out for free here, or give us a book a demo with us for more information. We'd love to work with you.

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Learn how to be an onboarding buddy or mentor with our onboarding mentorship handbook.

Starting a new job is an exciting time, but can also be a little nerve-wracking for the new team member. Onboarding programs are designed to help alleviate some of that anxiety. This handbook provides tips for being an onboarding buddy.