The importance of a robust and effective mentor programme at work.
You can have all the training in the world for your career of choice, but you don’t really start learning until you show up for work, sort of like driving a car. Employees might have been briefed and tested on the different aspects of their job, but that doesn’t mean they’re fully prepared for the ins and outs of working life. An empathetic role model can make a world of difference, which is why workplace mentorship is important for long-term employee development.
What is workplace mentorship?
What we’re discussing today are formal workplace mentorships. Generally speaking, unlike your boss, a mentor isn’t responsible for managing you, assigning you work, or reprimanding you in any way. While workplace mentors can often be very high-ranking members of staff, they can also be people on the employee level who happen to have specialist knowledge or a knack for guiding others. More than 70% of Fortune 500 companies have mentorship schemes in place, as do a notable chunk of smaller businesses.
Education is vital for expanding our boundaries, and it shouldn’t necessarily stop when you graduate, because people can massively benefit from education in the workplace too. Throughout school and working life, we spend time with various people who could be described as mentors helping us to achieve progress. While it starts with teachers, a person’s manager is also their mentor to some degree.
A manager’s job is to keep their employees on task, and ensure that their behaviour reflects the values of the business, and it’s hard to imagine someone doing this without being a mentor in at least some capacity. But managers have a lot of responsibilities, and aren’t guaranteed to be someone their team members find approachable, which is why workplace mentorship is important.
The objectives of workplace mentoring
There are various reasons an employee might seek out a workplace mentorship scheme, so employers need to try and avoid taking a one-size-fits-all approach. There are a few different mentorship types you could offer to employees to suit their needs.
- Getting to grips with the basics: If you have the personnel for it, providing mentorships to new employees can be a great way of getting them up to speed. Peer mentorships work really well here, because the mentee gets practical instruction from someone who knows the daily pressures first-hand, while also getting that first social connection to break the ice with their new team.
- Long-term career development: Even if an employee has all their basic responsibilities down, they could still benefit from being mentored. Career mentorships are about helping someone hit the right stops on their career path to keep advancing. A career mentor is typically a fairly senior employee (or even a retired one), who can advise which promotions to aim for, what skills you’ll need, and anything else it takes to make it to the top. Because career mentors are often quite senior, their networking connections alone make them worth their weight in gold.
- Staying resilient and achieving work/life balance: A good mentor is someone who’s been around the block, and knows what its most stressful days feel like. One reason why workplace mentorship is important is because a good mentor can help protect employee wellbeing by helping them to stay resilient. Some companies even offer “life mentorships.” Life mentors don’t so much help you navigate the world of work, so much as they help you to reconcile work commitments with personal obligations. These can be very useful for really demanding jobs with poor work/life balance, like being a doctor, or a lawyer at a big firm.
The impact of mentoring in the workplace
So, we know why workplace mentorship is important, and what it aims to achieve. But what of its impact in the real world? If you read our piece on how mentorships build great organisations, then you’ll remember that mentorships had numerous benefits, for both employees and businesses.
- Mentorships improve career prospects all around: It only makes sense that a good mentor can improve an employee’s odds of being promoted. But you might not realise just how much difference it can make. A case study from Sun Microsystems found that employees who took part in the mentorship program were 5x more likely to be promoted or get a raise than those not in the program. And, on top of the mentees benefitting so much, the mentors themselves also experienced improved career prospects.
- Mentorships make careers more accessible: The ideal mentor is someone who understands what you’re going through, and can offer advice based on a shared experience. This means that employees from typically marginalised groups in particular can stand to benefit, which is another reason why workplace mentorship is important. In Heidrich and Struggles’ ‘Creating a culture of membership’ study, minority respondents had the highest levels of participation (74%). Women (30%) and BAME employees (32%) were also more likely than men (23%) to state that mentorship was extremely important to their careers. This is also why it’s vital to have a diverse range of employee mentors available.
- To succeed, mentorships must be adaptable: Anyone who joins your scheme as a mentor needs to be committed to the role. When mentorships rely on outdated philosophies, or turn into generic exercises in box-ticking, they become just another layer of bureaucracy and end up doing much more harm than good.
From having mentors from a range of different backgrounds, to offering different formats of mentorship for people with different needs, the best way to guarantee success is to build flexibility in from the ground up.
Hopefully, by now, we’ve impressed on you exactly why workplace mentorship is important. In a world where changing jobs has become the norm, and the ongoing advancement of tech renders human interaction less and less necessary, workplace mentorships are a great way to share wisdom and build loyalty, to ensure your top talent sticks around.