Does the Buddy System Work?

November 30, 2012 2 Comments

By Allen F. Weitzel

Blog Editor Allen F. Weitzel has been a trailblazer in the recreation field for 45 seasons. He most recently led the safety and training department at a California amusement park for 25 seasons.

What Is the Buddy System?

Experts classify the buddy system as a process in which two people, the ‘buddies,’ operate together as a single unit so that they are able to monitor and help each other. They are normally of equal rank and pay. In the recreation industry, the buddy system is addressed in several ways.

How Does It Work?

One approach is to assign a new employee a buddy when they are hired. The buddy helps orient the new worker to the standard operating procedures, such as how to clock in, when they get their breaks, the operating polices of the company, who to see if they have various problems, etc. Some operations also require the buddy to be the primary trainer to the worker, training them how to perform the assigned job. Some facilities allow the employee to select a buddy. That buddy would provide an orientation as to the ins and outs of the company, but also become their confidant if the new worker becomes unhappy and wants to vent or seek advice about solving a problem. A few operations consider the buddy to only be a trainer for the new worker. The buddy system is often used in smaller venues, where there are fewer written procedures for the new worker to access and follow.

What Are The Question Marks?

When managing any operation, it is important to have a good grasp of human nature and to understand how employees think. Employees will gravitate to people they like, so assigning a buddy (a stranger if you will) to a new employee is really a match that assumes that the employee will like the person they are required to work with.

How many buddies do you need on the payroll to make the buddy system effective in the eyes of the new worker? Does a veteran buddy receive additional compensation for being a buddy? Is the buddy of equal pay and ranking to the new worker? If not, then you may have created an employee/manager relationship. There may now be employment law issues that must be addressed.

When you assign a specific veteran employee to become the buddy of a new worker, you need to consider the overall picture. Is the expectation that the new worker will like their newly assigned buddy? Is the expectation of the buddy to train the new worker or merely make them feel happy and content with their new job? If the new employee and the buddy do not jell well together, do you assign a different buddy to the new worker? Who decides if the buddy and the new worker are not getting along? If there is a dual trainer/friend role for the buddy, then what function takes priority – new employee comfort or job training? What is the attitude of the buddy? Are they company-oriented or anti-establishment oriented? How do you verify the attitude of the assigned buddy?

You must understand that employees will learn on their own, even if they have a buddy. They will also decide who they will listen to. If your buddy match is not working, the new employee may decide to listen and learn from another employee who does not have the best interests of the company at heart.

What Is The Solution?

I think it is a good idea to assign a trainer to connect with the new employee, to educate them, and help them establish and maintain good work habits.

I do not, however, feel that the buddy system is a clean solution toward making an employee feel welcome, comfortable and well educated. As listed above, there are too many question marks, regardless of what size of operation you run, to make the pure buddy system work well for the new employee.

I believe in the ‘employee trainer’ concept. You hire and/or develop a limited number of trainers, higher in rank, who possess the qualities of a good buddy and are also good teachers. Restrict the number of trainers so you can monitor their performance, and make it easier for you to train these trainers on new changes in the organization. Have a trainer assigned to meet, train and mentor the new worker. Yes, it will be an instant supervisor/employee relationship, but that system will be easy for the new employee to understand. Make sure your trainers possess the qualities of good leaders, ‘buddies,’ teachers, and confidants all wrapped into one person. If your trainers are good, they can still be a buddy, but one that keeps your new worker on the path to becoming a great and happy worker.

2 Comments to “Does the Buddy System Work?”
  1. David Rack says:

    Coming up to guide and employee training season here in May. This is a great idea to use during our intensive training week, but also a great way to incorporate a new employee that joins us mid summer.
    Keep up the tips!

    • David, Thanks for checking in on the blogs. I’m glad that some tips were helpful. Spring is always a hectic time and I understand that every little idea helps. If there is anything else I can assist with, feel free to ask – via TAP or my website. Keep on training! -Allen F. Weitzel


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