What is a buddy system?
A buddy system is a knowledge-sharing method used to onboard new employees. Each new employee is assigned to an existing employee who guides them through their first weeks or months in the new position. The exchange of information is mutual.
It makes it easy for the new employee to share tips, knowledge and techniques that they’ve learned through previous work experiences. The exchange of ideas enhances the organization by encouraging innovative thinking and giving the new employee the opportunity to offer confidential feedback.
Why use a buddy system?
A buddy system provides a positive onboarding experience for employees. A well-executed onboarding process positions new employees for long-term success within your company. Assigning every new employee to a buddy gives employees a reliable and enthusiastic single point of contact for any questions they may have.
Having a system that helps a new hire feel like part of the team makes a substantial difference in early workplace performance and long-term retention.
How to create a buddy system in the workplace
Implementing a buddy program is easy. Here are steps to take if you’d like to create a buddy system in your workplace:
- Decide on the framework: Begin by writing down the purpose of the program and any goals you have for the company and employees. Make note of the amount of time that each pairing will last and any rules for the buddy relationships.
- Set the expectations: Establish specific tasks and expectations for the buddy system. Make a checklist of every topic and task that you would like each buddy to go over with the newly hired employee. Include new hire paperwork, introductions to different team members, a tour of the office, an explanation of the processes and software that the organization uses and anything else that you think the new employee should learn. By defining the expectations as clearly as possible, you can select the right people for the program and streamline the process.
- Find participants: Find volunteers to assist in the development of new hires. It’s important to have volunteers from multiple departments because limiting the system to the HR department isn’t ideal. A buddy system is most effective when the buddies serve a similar purpose and can share their day-to-day tasks with the new employee. If you’re having trouble finding volunteers, you can incentivize the program. Offer a bonus, extra paid time off or gift cards to those who sign up. Get creative with the incentives that you choose, as everyone is motivated differently.
- Match to new employees: Ask the new hires some questions that help assure they’re paired with others who have similar personalities and goals. The teaching or learning style they prefer is important because some new hires thrive better with a buddy who provides hands-on instruction, while others simply want to have someone check in periodically to answer questions that arise.
Choosing the right match is an important part of the buddy system. Ask each new hire what kind of person they would like to be paired with. For example, you could ask them whether they prefer to work with someone who’s more hands-on or someone who will just check in with them periodically.
Benefits of implementing a buddy system
Buddy systems benefit the workplace in a variety of ways. Each employer that implements a buddy system has different goals for the program. Here are some of the ways a buddy program can help your business:
Welcoming new employees
The first week at any new job is nerve-wracking. New hires are in a foreign environment and don’t know any of their coworkers yet. They’re still learning what’s expected of them and may make a few mistakes as they adjust to their new positions.
Pairing new employees with those who have been with your company for a while can help them feel more at ease, and they may learn the systems and processes used by your organization more quickly. The buddy system can help them assimilate into your company culture by allowing them to ask questions and build working relationships. New hires who receive a buddy feel like they’re a part of your community right away.
Boosted employee confidence
Whether a new employee has experience in their field or not, each new job has a learning curve. Your business won’t do things the way the new hire is accustomed to, so a buddy can put the new hire’s past experience and skills to use. This builds confidence faster than leaving the employee to their own devices and making them figure things out on their own.
Constructive feedback is taken better when it comes from a buddy, rather than a supervisor. New hires are often afraid that if they ask too many questions or receive too much criticism from above, they won’t fit in. The criticism is less formal when it comes from a buddy, and the new hire can relate to anecdotes the buddy shares about how they found success in the role.
This has the added effect of increasing confidence in your business. When a new hire makes friends they can confide in, they’re more likely to be satisfied with their work environment. This translates to improved employee retention and can save you the time and expense of needing to replace a valued worker.
New employees are slower at their jobs because they’re still learning. It’s normal to expect that your new hires won’t be as productive as your seasoned veterans. Having a buddy propels the new hires along the learning curve and increases their productivity as a result.
The relationship some new hires have with their buddies can improve overall productivity in the department. The new hire might have an idea from a previous job that sounds great and has wonderful applications for the business. If these ideas are fed up the chain of command, they often result in changes to the workplace that help everyone accomplish more.
If you ensure that your employees have the support they need in a buddy system, they’ll be happier, more confident in their work and more productive. They may also be more willing to share ideas that they weren’t comfortable sharing with management due to shyness. Strong working relationships help your organization have better collaboration and more effective communication.
Improving employee retention
The cost of hiring a new employee is often greater than the cost of retaining one. Businesses try to retain employees by offering competitive pay, benefits packages, career advancement opportunities and regular training. A buddy system is a way to provide training while assimilating employees into your corporate culture. When people like their coworkers, they’re less likely to leave.
A buddy system helps your employees feel supported and valued. Making employees feel like they’re part of a team improves both morale and retention. Improved retention alone is one of the reasons employers implement a buddy program.
Gaining insights and innovation
The mutual exchange of ideas can create opportunities for innovative thinking and creativity. Management then has access to new tips, processes and procedures that weren’t considered before.
For example, when a business hires someone who has years of experience in similar positions, the new hire has valuable insights to deliver. Pairing a new hire with a buddy allows a cross-exchange of ideas. If the ideas are used to improve workflow and train new employees in the future, it can transform your business.
How to find the right people for your buddy system in the workplace
Before you pair new hires with buddies, it’s important to find current employees who show the characteristics needed in buddies.
Here are some characteristics to look for when selecting buddies:
- Strong work performance: The buddy should be a good example and have good grades on their past and present work performance.
- Skilled in the new position: The buddy may have held the position in the past or performs similar job duties.
- Has good communication skills: It’s important that the new hire be paired with someone who knows how to communicate effectively and can use active listening to understand the new hire’s needs.
- Isn’t a manager: The purpose of the buddy system is to pair people with others who are in similar roles, so a supervisor wouldn’t make a good buddy.
- Is accessible: It’s important that the buddy has the time available to assist someone else in their duties.
- Wants to participate: It’s okay for people to turn down the opportunity to become a buddy. If they’re forced to participate, the new hire is seen as a burden on the buddy, and this can have unintended consequences.
Buddies aren’t meant to be supervisors or mentors. Here are some points to make clear when recruiting current employees to the program:
- Buddies aren’t supposed to be experts. It’s okay if they don’t know an answer and need to refer a question to someone else.
- Relationships aren’t immediate. Some new hires won’t develop relationships immediately. Be patient and available.
- Take it slow. Don’t overwhelm the new hires with information and processes. Allow them to make a slow, steady transition into their roles.
- Take time to listen. Listen to the new hire and use what they say to adjust in the future. This includes learning how to communicate effectively and discovering what motivates the new hire.
- Record new ideas. Part of the program is to learn what you can from the new hires, so the buddy should be taking notes about tips and ideas to improve the business.
- Remain positive. Buddies shouldn’t criticize their supervisors or company culture. Doing so can make the new hire feel uncomfortable and question whether they accepted the right job.
Once you’ve found a compatible pairing, establishing the buddy relationship is simple. The most important step is to define the role of the buddy in the relationship by creating a checklist and having the buddy review it and agree with it.
The checklist should offer rules for the relationship and give bullet points, so the buddy can check each item off the list. This ensures that the buddy covers all the information you’d like the new hire to learn and takes notes on anything they learned of value. Have the buddy review and sign these guidelines.
Define how long the relationship will last and set a meeting for the end date. This gives you an opportunity to review anything the buddy learned that could help your business. The new hire can also offer feedback at this time.
FAQs about buddy programs
What is the difference between a buddy and a mentor?
A mentor is someone who guides a professional’s career and offers feedback about their career trajectory. A buddy is someone a new hire works with closely and helps guide them through processes, tasks and other aspects of their day-to-day life in the workplace.
The buddy might work closely with them during the first few days of employment and remain a go-to resource for weeks or months afterward. In other cases, the buddy remains in regular contact with the new hire due to the formation of a friendship or mutually beneficial work relationship.
Related: How to Start a Mentor Program
What makes a good buddy at work?
A good buddy is someone who’s prepared to be the first point of contact and moral support for a new employee. This relationship is different than the one they’ll have with their manager or an HR representative. A buddy is an informal source of information with whom the new hire should be able to speak honestly and directly.
Is it expensive to create a buddy system?
Aside from the time needed to create documentation for the buddy system and recruit buddies, there isn’t a significant financial investment required to create a buddy system in the workplace. Buddy programs are popular due to their low cost and ease of implementation.