What is an Onboarding Buddy Program?

Wuraola Ademola-Shanu
May 9, 2022
min read
September 19, 2023
Photo credit
Providing a new hire with an onboarding buddy can drastically improve the start of their new role. Learn how to implement a buddy program at your company.
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Have you ever moved to a new city? You probably knew no one. You had no idea what was nearby, didn’t know what malls or markets sold affordable items, couldn’t decipher how to transport yourself from one location to the other, or even know where you were in relation to the rest of the world. 

Exhausting, right? Imagine what it feels like for a new employee. They likely know little to nothing about your organization. Once they walk through the door, it’s easy to drown in the sea of information before learning to tread water. 

That’s where an onboarding buddy comes in.

A 2019 HBR study discovered that new employees with onboarding buddies were 23 percent more satisfied than their counterparts after week one. This satisfaction rate increased to 36 percent after the 90-day mark.

Businesses that deliver a poor onboarding experience lose $37 billion annually. According to IDC, enterprises suffer these losses because untrained employees misunderstand, misinterpret or are misinformed about processes, company policies, job functions or a combination of the three.

What’s in a name? Who is an onboarding buddy?

Consider it as a built-in support system. An onboarding buddy is a current employee who aids in your new hire’s transition. As a peer, they offer a unique perspective and bridge connections with the rest of the team. Unlike a manager, the buddy is unconstrained by onboarding protocols. They’re simply an additional resource for guidance and answers. 

A new workplace is a different terrain. Your employee must learn how to navigate the dynamics and expectations. It’s nice to know there’s someone there to help. 

Let’s review what an onboarding buddy is and isn’t. 

Is Isn’t
A peer or guide. A mentor or manager.
A volunteer with genuine interest. Someone forced to take on the role.
A middleman who can educate, offer resources and support. Responsible for reporting activities to the new hire’s manager.
Someone who understands how to navigate the workplace. An encyclopedia of knowledge who’s constantly at the new hire’s beck and call.
Advocate for the company’s values. In charge of the new hire’s professional development.
A go-to person for basic day-to-day inquiries. Supervising the new hire’s performance, productivity or engagement.

Not everyone should be an onboarding buddy. Open up your program for volunteers, but never mandate participation. Your system can be fluid. Empower managers and employees to determine the best fit for a new hire based on their responsibilities, location or other details. 

The difference between buddies and mentors

A mentor might also support a new employee, but they’re not the same. For starters, onboarding buddy systems are informal. The relationship is casual and gives new hires a chance to be more open than they would with a direct manager.

On the other hand, mentorship is formal and structured. Mentors will educate the new employee on how to succeed, provide industry insights and guide professional growth. Unlike a buddy, a mentor relationship lasts beyond onboarding. They typically focus on long-term goals and career development within the organization.

Essentially, mentors serve their own function. But first, new hires must integrate into their roles.

Characteristics of a good buddy 

An onboarding buddy should have the following traits:

  • Empathetic and approachable.
  • A champion of the organization’s values.
  • A peer relationship with the new employee.
  • A willingness and ability to help new employees navigate the workplace.
  • An understanding of the new hire’s role.
  • Excellent communication and interpersonal skills.

Onboarding buddies should be able to perform the following tasks:

  • Share insights on company culture and policies. 
  • Educate on workflows or unfamiliar tasks. 
  • Explain how to use tools and access resources. 
  • Help build relationships between the new hire and other colleagues. 
  • Listen and support throughout the transition. 

9 Tips for the onboarding buddy

As you develop your onboarding program, prepare your volunteers. Here are some tips to help buddies create a memorable and engaging experience for themselves and your new hire:  

  • Don’t obsess about being an expert on everything – no one expects you to be one.
  • Be patient. Relationships take time.
  • Pay attention to what the new hire might need to function and succeed in their role. 
  • Be positive. They might be frustrated or overwhelmed. Let them know there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. 
  • Don’t force it. Be personable and available, but give them time to adjust. 
  • Recognize the new hire’s communication style and adapt accordingly.
  • Try not to be judgmental. Your new hire might ask many questions or battle with imposter syndrome. They're relying on you as a safe space to be vulnerable and get answers. 
  • Encourage them to be open, willing to learn and provide honest feedback.

How should my buddy program function? 

Buddies should meet regularly. Depending on your program’s timeline (we recommend three to six months), set up a cadence for: 

  • Once a week for the first month.
  • Two times a month for the second and third months. 
  • Once a month for months four through six. 
  • An end of buddy program meeting. 

HR should prepare buddies to schedule and manage these meetings. It’s up to the buddy and new hire to keep the pace and see what works for them. 

Ask for feedback

Only 26 percent of new employees get to give input on their experiences. Yet, when a company shows their hires that they value their opinion, 91 percent of those employees are willing to remain at the company for a long time. 

Feedback is an opportunity to improve your buddy program and entire onboarding experience. Moreso, it shows employees that you care about their experience. 

Here are some survey questions to ask employees during or after onboarding

  • How would you describe the company’s goals and visions in your own words?
  • How would you describe the company’s culture and overall attitude?
  • Do you feel welcomed by your new team members?
  • Were you comfortable with asking your onboarding buddy any questions you had?
  • Do you feel prepared and supported in your role? 

Survey questions to ask onboarding buddies during or after the buddy program

  • In your own words, how has the new hire’s confidence progressed?
  • Do you think they have a solid understanding of the company’s goals and visions?
  • Do you feel they have acclimated to the organization’s culture?
  • Over the past month, have the new hire’s questions increased, decreased or remained the same?
  • Are you confident that they can work independently by the end of this program? 

An onboarding buddy program leads to employee satisfaction

A buddy system requires investment and care — and it’s worth the effort. After all, employees who say they had a great onboarding experience are 2.6 times more likely to be extremely satisfied with their organizations. Additionally, 70 percent of respondents claimed to “have the best possible jobs” following successful onboarding. 

An onboarding program offers actual results, like:

  • Boosting productivity.
  • Improving employee satisfaction and engagement.
  • Easing the transitional process. 
  • Promoting confidence in daily responsibilities.
  • Enhancing motivation.
  • Bolstering employee retention. 

Overall, you’re building a team based on trust, collaboration and intrinsic motivation. Those are the ones that last.

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