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Onboarding Buddy for Work: How (and Why) to Build Your Program

Jun 28, 2022| Reading time: 6min

BY Sharon Rusinowitz

Director of Content Marketing

Did you know that a sense of social connectedness has a 7x greater effect on happiness than a four-fold increase in income?

That’s according to Princeton researchers Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton, who studied half a million people to determine the most important factors driving happiness and well-being

They predicted that money, material possessions, and a sense of social connectedness would be the leading results. To their surprise, a sense of social connectedness — the quality and number of connections one has with family, friends, acquaintances, co-workers, and even strangers — was significantly more important in determining a person’s happiness than any other factor.

This research has significant implications at a time when employees are more empowered than ever and value workplace satisfaction above all else. Companies must be motivated to engage employees from the very beginning, and it turns out compensation is only one piece of that. 

Connecting Employees at Work Starts with Onboarding 

Plain and simple, focusing on strengthening social connections can help increase employee engagement and, therefore, reduce turnover.

And this focus must start from day one, when employees form their first impressions of what it’s like to work at your company. That’s what makes onboarding so important. A successful onboarding experience can be the catalyst for new hires to quickly integrate into the social fabric of your company, which can expedite job satisfaction. 

The Power of Onboarding Buddies to Foster Social Connections

Reflecting on our own team’s extensive onboarding experiences, it’s not surprising that many people weren’t overly enthusiastic about tours of kitchens stocked with snacks. 

Time and again we heard that the most impactful part of people’s onboarding experiences throughout their careers was the connections they made with co-workers, particularly those designated as their onboarding buddies.

Our team told us stories of onboarding buddies who immediately made them feel welcome on day one, carving out time to get to know each other personally and professionally. And the impact extended well beyond that first impression. Well-matched onboarding buddies – those who had an understanding of their role – provided an outlet for feedback and support.

As one person recalls: “Back in the office, our friendship made it easier to ask questions and get the support I needed to become productive faster. It also made her more comfortable giving me much-needed feedback that saved me hours of wasted effort. Knowing that I had a friend at work was a significant part of why I loved my new role.”  

What is an Onboarding Buddy?

An onboarding buddy is an employee who is matched with a new hire to educate them about day-to-day processes, introduce them to the rest of the team, bridge social connections, and answer questions as they arise. 

These buddies benefit the onboarding process by improving: 

  • Contextual Awareness: The real meat of what new hires need to know isn’t bound inside the employee handbook. Buddies can help new hires navigate unspoken social and cultural cues and increase their confidence in social settings. 
  • Productivity: For Microsoft, 73% of employees who met with their buddy two to three times in the first 90 days indicated that their buddy helped them to become productive in their role. This number rises to 86% for new hires who met with their buddy four to eight times and 97% percent for new hires who met with their buddies over eight times.
  • Increased and early work satisfaction: At Microsoft, new hires with assigned onboarding buddies were 23% more satisfied with their onboarding experience. This statistic transformed into a 36% increase in overall work satisfaction at the 90-day mark. New hires with buddies also reported higher confidence in connecting with their boss and the broader team, suggesting that onboarding buddies really do speed up the process of integrating into the larger organization community. 

Insights From Successful Onboarding Buddy Programs

Creating authentic social connections matters, and buddies are a fantastic way to start new hires off on the right foot.

The key question is: How can your company personalize existing onboarding buddy models to the specific needs of your culture? The options are endless.

Some companies are experimenting with assigning multiple buddies to each new hire, one for culture and one for task-related questions. Some companies are matching two new hires into pairs so that they grow and learn on-the-job together, in addition to pairing them with experienced mentors.

On top of personalizing your approach to match your company culture, there are several steps you can take to improve the outcomes of your program and ensure meaningful experiences for your new hires and their onboarding buddies as a result.

Matching

Onboarding buddies need specific knowledge and time to support new hires and develop a meaningful relationship. Specifically, buddies are significantly more effective when they: 

  • Know the work that the new hire will be doing and can help
  • Report to the same manager as the new hire
  • Can create room in their schedule for the new hire

For larger companies, achieving this matching might require a system (for example, Microsoft uses a sophisticated internal system to assign buddies based on fit). For smaller companies, an intentional conversation with employees to see who is willing and qualified typically works well. One way to accomplish this at scale is to send out an interest survey with each new hire’s information so that potential buddies can volunteer their time.

Empower Buddies with Time

No matter how fantastic the buddy or new hire is, “optional” activities get swept aside too easily without proper time carved out. As a result, it’s essential to help buddies make time with their new hires a priority.

Once buddies are matched, try triggering an automated message to bring the buddy into the process. Even better, automate the process of scheduling check-in meetings – rather than making it an added task – to increase the likelihood of those check-ins taking place. It also helps to make those dates visible to managers so they can help re-prioritize work if needed. In general, automated workflows like these can save time and ease the logistical burden of maintaining a buddy program.

Autonomy + Means

Employees aren’t likely to buy-in to being a buddy if the process is rigid and prescribed. This makes it important to give buddies support, but also freedom to welcome their new hire in the way that they see fit. Giving buddies the ability to expense the activity within reason can go a long way toward investing in those early relationships. 

Consider sharing activity ideas within check-in calendar invites to give onboarding buddies a place to start, but always give the ultimate freedom to the buddy and new hire to decide how they want to use that time. Be sure to include guidelines for getting the activity expensed to eliminate financial stress and encourage employees to use what’s available to them.

The Final Step: Getting the Support of Managers 

Finally, make sure to have a conversation with managers about the difference between orientation and authentic onboarding. Emphasize the ways that fostering social connection expedites productivity and protects your investment in talent. From a manager’s perspective, it might seem costly to send employees out to bond. But pulling data from a people analytics platform can help you show the actual cost of losing an employee altogether, which often can be prevented through fostering social connection. 

Those initial interactions during onboarding help humanize the office, allowing new hires to get to know their co-workers first as people rather than fellow employees. In turn, this deeper connection ignites their ability to ask for help and feel safe to take creative risks. The feeling of belonging underscores all that they’ll do with your company, and it all starts with a buddy.

You want your onboarding experience to be engaging and supportive. Learn how Adriana Roche, Chief People Officer at MURAL, developed a program to get it done.

Read the Q&A here

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