Benefits of buddying

Five reasons why buddy schemes are so crucial for autistic employees

I’m a huge advocate of buddy schemes. Always have been. In fact, I even made a request to have a buddy at a previous job where I was really struggling. It was implemented too late in this instance, (I only lasted a couple of months at the organisation), but I knew back then that having a buddy was important and could really help make the onboarding process a lot easier. And since my diagnosis of autism, I’ve come to understand why having a buddy has been so key, and this blog will explore these reasons.

A buddy is different to a mentor

At a simplistic level, a buddy is an informal role provided by a peer (usually at the same level as you), while a mentor is a more formal and structured relationship with someone who may be more senior to you, or from outside the organisation. There is also greater focus on progression and career development when working with a mentor. I’d like to add that I’m also a fan of mentoring, but that won’t be covered in this blog.

There has been research on the benefits of buddy schemes more generally, but what’s so great about a buddy scheme for autistic employees? Well firstly, what’s not to love about having someone showing you the ropes and helping decipher organisational nuances in those crucial first weeks? That’s true, but for an autistic employee, it goes a lot deeper than that, as starting a new job can be an immensely stressful experience, and change in general can be difficult for autistic people. Read on to hear my top five reasons why buddy schemes are so helpful for autistic employees.

1. The chance to check everything. Twice.

I always have so many questions. Small ones especially. I want detail. Complete information.

As a very thorough and detailed person, I need someone who can fill in every minute gap for me. If I asked my line manager all these questions, they simply wouldn’t have the time, and may even get a get a bit frustrated with me. But with a buddy, I can ask away – and they can add useful context. As well as my extensive questions, I struggle profoundly with directions and get lost easily. It’s embarrassing. I also experience face-blindness so have trouble recognising people (unless they have very distinct features). By having a buddy, I can work with them to figure out how best to remember people and ways to navigate the workplace, without any of those awkward faux pas. It’s that level of context and comprehension that no employee handbook, line manager or colleague in general could provide.

2. Deciphering cultural norms to enable effective communication

Every organisation has different modes of communicating; its own niche culture and ways of doing things. I find it hard to simply ‘pick these up’ and need someone to decipher and translate them for me.

I need to be able to check that I’ve understood the context of each type of meeting, social event and away day.

Each type is different and presents a considerable amount of anxiety, but a buddy can help in enabling me to understand what to expect and to be prepared. By minimising these uncertainties and spelling out how the organisation functions with its unspoken rules