Have you ever started a new job and felt lost and alone?
Who do you talk to if you get confused?
Where do you go to find a spare pen or stapler?
Who bakes the best cookies in the office? Where do people go for drinks after work? If you’ve ever been in this position, don’t worry—you’re not alone.
Some of these concerns can be managed via employee onboarding programs, but the less official issues are often overlooked. Yet that doesn’t mean they are any less important. After all, making employees feel welcome isn’t only about HR meetings and a new office chair—it’s about building relationships with new colleagues and offering “local knowledge” about the internal dynamics of the group.
The Buddy System at Work:
That said, buddy programs have a lot of benefits for employers of all sizes, such as higher employee morale and better employee retention. Although you can expect that new employees will quickly make connections with their teammates and colleagues, having a friendly face to turn to at the beginning of a new job can make a big difference in employee wellness, so here’s a simple step-by-step guide to implementing a buddy program at work.
1. Define the basic rules of your buddy program:
The first step to implementing a buddy program is defining its basic framework. Write down the purpose of the program, its goals for both the company and employees, the length of time it will operate, the ground rules for buddy relationships, etc.
In this first step, you want to showcase the broad strokes—or guiding principles—of your buddy program. This is important because these principles will serve as a basis for every decision made within the program. It will also help when defining the tasks of each buddy, which vary based on the goal of the program (i.e. integrating an individual into a small team or with the larger company culture).
2. Determine the specific tasks and expectations for buddies:
Now that your buddy program is broadly defined, you can begin working on the specific tasks and expectations of your buddies. Start by making a checklist of clearly defined expectations and responsibilities, as well as every task and topic the buddy should go over with the new employee. Ask yourself questions like: How available should employees be to their assigned buddy? What kind of help are they expected to provide? In what scenarios should they refer the new employee to HR or other company resources?
Defining these expectations as concisely as possible will also help you select and recruit the right matches for the program, as not everybody—ha!—is suited for buddy work.
3. Recruit buddies:
Once the specifics of your buddy system are complete, the next step is publicizing your program across your organization and recruiting buddies. Although the HR department may seem like a natural fit for a buddy program, you should try to enroll employees from other departments as well. It’s good to have at least one buddy per department so new employees can be introduced to someone on their team, rather than a person they may not interact with in the future.
If you’re having trouble recruiting buddies, implement incentives like a buddy bonus or extra time off (if possible). Taking care of a new employee is indeed extra work after all!
4. Match buddies to new employees:
Buddy matching is an art, and recruiting sociable, agreeable buddies is always beneficial. Still, you can put some power in the hands of your new employee by asking them what kind of person they would like their buddy to be. Do they want someone who’s very hands-on and checks in on them often? Or would they rather want someone who lays low and is available if and when the employee has questions? Choosing the correct pair is an inherently important part of a buddy system, and can make or break the success of the program.