Do employee mentorship programs promote career growth?

by | Nov 16, 2022

We hear it all the time in mainstream media – mentoring is a rewarding practice that helps enrich the careers of younger professionals with knowledge gleaned by a senior leader. The past decade has seen widespread enthusiasm for corporate mentoring programs, but what effect do they have on an employee’s career growth? An even bigger question is how can companies measure returns on investment in formalized mentoring programs within their organization.

With the right approach, a mentorship program can achieve both of these priorities.

 

What is the role of a mentor in a modern workplace?

The term mentor first appeared in Homer’s Odessey, a tale from antiquity where the character Mentor guides Odysseus’s son while his father is away. In the modern sense, a mentor is an experienced professional who acts as an advisor to a mentee who works or aspires to work in a similar field. Within an organization, mentors can help new employees get acclimated to the culture and expectations of the company, offer advice on how to navigate and achieve promotions, or, quite simply, serve as a sounding board for an employee seeking candid conversations about their careers. 

For employees who identify as women or members of a minority demographic, the support of a mentor can offer an authentic, physical illustration of diversity within a company and representation in senior-level leadership. In many ways, the old adage “seeing is believing” holds true for these employees who may feel that growth within their organization will be more challenging to achieve. 

In an interview with The Chronicle of Evidence-Based Mentoring, Kenny Leung, a junior respiratory therapist was asked what specific things leaders can do to help younger employees grow and thrive. “It’s really cool to see different people’s stories,” said Leung. “Especially coming from different cultural backgrounds, and seeing, with the perspectives that they bring, how they execute plans and what kinds of decisions they make because they have a different perspective.”

Sometimes mentors are incorrectly thought of as career coaches. Unlike mentors, career coaches are trained to help professionals formalize their career goals and become more aware of their unique personality traits and aptitude. Through guided self-discovery, clients are challenged to integrate new techniques that transform daily work habits and long-term leadership behaviors. The most significant difference is that coaches are trained in their specific field and paid for their services. Mentors are almost always volunteers.

What is the role of a mentor in a modern workplace?

Employee Mentoring Programs in Dollars and Cents

Companies that invest in equitable mentorship programs illustrate their commitment to career development opportunities and workplace experience. In effect, these investments help reduce dollars and time spent on retention and onboarding.

In 2022, Randstad, an international human resources and staffing agency, conducted a study of 1,100 employees who participated in their mentorship program. The study showed that program participants were 49% less likely to leave the company, which saved Randstad approximately $2,800 per participant each year.

A similar study by Sodexo, a food facilities management company, found that 72 percent of mentees and 79 percent of mentors who participated in its mentorship program cited increased job satisfaction, 74 percent of mentors and 72 percent of mentees cited organizational commitment, and 52 percent of mentors and 54 percent of mentees cited increased diversity awareness. Participants also lauded cross-cultural interactions, in-person sessions, and mentor accountability as the most successful components of Sodexo’s program.

Creating effective mentorship programs

Creating a Structured Mentorship Program

1. It’s always best practice to establish a goal or objective for your mentorship program. 

For some companies, the goal is to improve the onboarding process, while others may aim to close a skills gap between frontline administrative workers and senior leaders. Identifying the core objective of the program will help you articulate its purpose to prospective mentees and establish Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), or quantifiable measurements of success.

For example, if your objective is to improve workplace morale, your KPI could be the difference in feedback received from employees in the mentorship program, versus those who are not, in an annual survey of your workforce. If your goal is to bolster retention, the same process can be applied to measure the impact and success of the program.

2. Choose the type of mentorship program that best suits your goal and the culture of your company.

Once there is alignment on the goal of the mentorship program and buy-in from senior leadership and potential mentors, have a discussion to identify the type of program that will best suit that objective and the company’s culture.

The most traditional structure is one-on-one mentoring, where a more senior employee is paired with a junior associate. This scenario is the most personalized option and has the potential to quickly inspire a trusting relationship. With fewer mentees in the equation, the mentor is able to devote more attention and provide more feedback or guidance during each scheduled meeting.

Some companies embrace a group mentoring program, where one mentor meets with a small group of employees during each session. For companies with substantial employee interest, but limited mentors, this can help solve any concerns about bandwidth. For the mentees, this type of program exposes them to multiple viewpoints from employees they would not normally communicate with, which creates a more diversified experience for participants. 

The most nuanced approach is peer-to-peer mentoring. In this scenario, a mentee is paired with an employee in the same or lateral-level position within an organization. This type of programming is mutually beneficial for both participants, especially for more junior employees. On one hand, the junior mentor will gain holistic, real-world leadership and advisory experience. The mentee will likely feel more comfortable exchanging ideas with their peer, who holds a similar status within the corporate hierarchy.

You’ll also need to decide the duration of the mentorship program. Most programs range from six months to a year.

3. Build excitement for employees to join the program.

Work with your leadership team to create engaging announcements that introduce the program. Ideally, employees at all levels within the organization will be invited to join as mentees. Your announcements should be accompanied or followed by a questionnaire that helps illustrate the applicant’s reasons for seeking a mentor and career goals, and offer a snapshot of the applicant’s personality. 

To retain mentors, establish criteria that support your objective and the program style you’ve chosen. This might include career milestones, tenure, seniority, and emotional intelligence.

4. Decide how mentors and mentees will be matched.

How a company decides to match participants is crucial to the success of the program. It’s best to thoughtfully consider the participants’ personalities, job functions, and to what degree the program will serve as a learning experience for the mentee. 

5. Establish clear guidelines for participating mentors.

It’s quite likely that a majority of your workforce has never served as a mentor. This does not mean they’re unqualified but presents an opportunity for the program to be less successful. To help maximize the success of the program, it’s best to establish clear guidelines for the mentors to follow. This should include: 

  • Scheduling and agenda requirements
  • Suggested discussion topics and icebreakers
  • Codes of conduct
  • Acknowledgment of confidentiality to protect the mentee
  • Tools to enhance the mentees’ experience in the program

 

6. Evaluate the program’s success.

At the conclusion of each program, consider distributing a survey among the mentors and mentees, and tally the feedback against your established KPIs. Workplace demographics change over time and a survey can help keep your mentorship program fresh and relevant to the needs of your employees. 

 

Take a Thoughtful Approach When Considering a Mentorship Program

No matter what your objective is or the preferred format, the most successful mentorship programs are structured in a way that cultivates a relationship of trust, accountability, and empowerment. When thoughtfully considered, mentorship programs can have powerful effects on retention and individual career growth within an organization.

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