Buddying new starters: the benefits of peer support

Have you ever started a new job and found yourself overwhelmed with new systems, new processes, and new information? Perhaps you work in a role that has a particularly steep learning curve?  

In the Content Design team at the Office for National Statistics (ONS), we use a buddy system that pairs each new starter with a more experienced member of the team. This helps to bring new staff up to speed while also building relationships.  

Once a buddy has been assigned to a new starter, they arrange to meet once a week. These meetings can be used to discuss any aspect of the new starter’s working life, from questions about the fine detail of the role to the more general experience of working for the organisation.  

The new starter is also encouraged to make their buddy the first port of call for day-to-day questions throughout the week. This saves time for line managers as well as helping new starters to feel more comfortable because they are asking questions of a peer rather than asking someone senior to them.  

Helena Cleverley and Anna Foley from the ONS’s Content Design team share their experiences of the buddy system. 

Helena’s experience as a new starter 

I remember the excitement and the nerves of my first day at the ONS. I was excited to join such a huge organisation and to find my place within it. It was a change of career, as well as a new job for me, and I had so much to figure out! 

I spent my induction period working remotely (as many of us do), which made it feel more difficult because I couldn’t just lean over to a colleague and informally ask a quick question. I also really missed the human connection that I had in my old job. The days felt quite long and, at times, lonely. I met Anna a week into the induction process and it’s what changed my perception from feeling like a tiny, isolated part of a huge organisation, to feeling like an essential part of a great team.  

Anna answered any question that I had about our team’s work. There was no question too small, too silly, or too obscure. Always kindly and calmly, she found the time to help me solve a problem, and she always made sure that I would be able to solve similar issues for myself in the future. 

As the months have passed, we have moved from a traditional teacher-pupil relationship, (how do you do this?, where can I find that?) to a motivational, supportive and reciprocal partnership. 

On my path to becoming a confident and established member of the team, it has been so helpful to have a companion. My buddy guided me through hundreds of new processes, helped me to understand content design as a discipline, and helped me to find my place in the ONS.  

Most importantly, having a buddy immediately made me feel welcomed, supported and that my experience mattered. Would I recommend the buddy system to other departments? In a heartbeat.

Anna’s experience of supporting a new starter

I had been with the ONS for only a few months when I was asked to act as a buddy. Honestly, I was reluctant. I still felt new in the role and didn’t feel experienced enough to mentor someone else. I imagined that my buddy would have dozens of questions I wouldn’t be able to answer and that I would have to pass all the questions I received on to someone else.  

It ended up being the other way round: talking through Helena’s questions and concerns showed me how much I had learnt. It felt great to be able to resolve her concerns and every time I was able to answer a question, I felt a bit more confident in my own knowledge. Now she is more experienced, I find myself learning from her every time we speak.

Try buddying in your team

Any team can benefit from using the buddy system. We believe that it improves collaboration, productivity and well-being in a team.

Buddying allows us to support new starters and to give them a positive and personal experience. It’s also a great opportunity for existing staff to build confidence and develop their mentoring and management skills.  

Why not give buddying a try in your team or organisation?