Mentoring

Trevor Nelson
Trevor Nelson, DTM, PHR, SHRM-CP
As an HR professional, are you looking for something to increase employee productivity, boost profits or even increase employee retention? If so, implementing an employee mentoring program could be the solution that you are looking for.

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What Is Employee Mentoring?

Employee mentoring is typically a collaborative or mutually beneficial (and voluntary) relationship between two or more people that serves several purposes: job growth, on-the-job learning, personal or professional development, coaching, support, etc. (Voluntary is a key component of mentoring, as forcing anyone into this type of program could likely lead to unintended consequences.)

Employee mentoring can happen at any stage of the employee life cycle, whether you’re new to a role, growing in your current position, preparing for the next role, transitioning from individual contributor to leader, or even phasing out of the workforce into retirement.

Almost three-quarters of people consider mentors as important influences in their career. However, less than half of these same people actually have a workplace mentor. One of the biggest reasons for this may be that most people simply aren’t sure where to start in an employee mentoring relationship. This is where HR professionals could really add real value by developing an employee mentoring program within their workplaces. This program would help employees in all levels realize the importance of mentoring and provide assistance in the success of such a program.

Benefits of Mentoring Employees in the Workplace

While the benefits of mentoring can often favor the one being mentored (typically referred to as a “mentee”), those employees doing the mentoring (typically referred to as a “mentor”) also stand to gain something from this relationship. While each side may give something different to the mentoring relationship, if both are engaged and committed, the pairing and overall program is much more likely to be successful. Here are just a few of the many benefits that a mentoring program could provide:

Network Expansion

Quite often people view a leader or direct report relationship as the only type of employee mentoring relationship. However, mentoring can be so much more than that. If an employee mentoring program is set up correctly, with enough buy-in from the top down, mentors can cross departments, fields of expertise, reporting hierarchies, and sometimes even businesses or industries. Mentors often have a network of their own that they introduce the mentee to (this often happens in reverse as well), therefore opening up a whole new possibility of connections.

Increased Engagement and Satisfaction

Can you imagine having someone that is willing to listen, provide feedback, be honest with you and encourage you to be your best self? Do you think you’d be more willing to perform and enjoy what you do on a day-to-day basis? While mentoring isn’t always bright and shiny compliments, as sometimes constructive criticism is also necessary, it can definitely lead to a more committed workforce.

Development Opportunities

Both mentors and mentees are likely to experience growth and development opportunities from being active participants in an employee mentoring relationship. A mentor has the possibility to teach a mentee new skills they need to develop to be successful in a current or future career opportunity. A mentor may develop better leadership skills and capabilities by having a mentee if they haven’t had the opportunity to influence direct reports quite yet.

Both mentors and mentees may learn how to set career goals and work through the process together on how to best achieve them. Simply sharing ideas within a mentoring relationship may greatly influence how each person approaches particular aspects of their job differently. While no mentoring relationship is the same, nor should it be, both mentors and mentees can get a lot more out of what they might put into a mentoring relationship.

Examples of Mentoring in the Workplace

While “traditional mentoring” is the most common employee mentoring relationship, where a more senior/experienced employee is matched with a more junior/less experienced employee, there are other types of employee mentoring relationships that could suit your workforce or particular groups of people.

1. Reverse Mentoring

There may come a point where a less tenured employee has the ability to mentor a more tenured employee, particularly when a certain skill or expertise may need to be taught that the more experienced employee isn’t familiar with. A relevant example of reverse mentoring may be an employee teaching someone the ins and outs of social media marketing when they have only had experience with printed marketing methods. If a skills gap is present in your workforce, there could be an opportunity for reverse mentoring, as long as age, pride, or other personal factors don’t get in the way and both sides are willing and open to learn.

2. Group Mentoring

If resources are limited, a workplace may want to consider the possibility of group mentoring, especially if the mentor has knowledge, skills or expertise that would be beneficial to share en masse. While a group mentoring relationship can require more structure (defined goals, objectives, teachings, etc.), it can allow the same messages and best practices to be shared with numerous people at one time. As one mentor could be associating with several mentees, the mentees are also learning from each other and can provide a great base of support for each other in their learning process and journey.

3. Peer Mentoring

People in similar positions can also serve as mentors to each other in what is called a peer mentoring relationship. Different workplaces may have different names for this type of relationship: buddy, coach, team lead, etc. Despite their name, peer mentors can often be used to assimilate others into a new company, a new department or a new team even though they may hold the same job title as the person they are mentoring. They share the same knowledge, skills and abilities the mentee will need to learn to be successful in their job, making peer mentoring a great program of support in these instances.

How To Start an Employee Mentoring Program in The Workplace

The most important step to ensuring an employee mentoring program will be successful for a workplace will be full support or buy-in, especially from all levels of leadership. While this type of program could survive by putting responsibility on a sponsor or captain (like someone in HR), sustaining an employee mentoring program will be more likely if there is more than one person supporting it. As leaders become committed to the program, they could supply additional referrals of mentors or mentees to the program.

1. Mentor/Mentee Pairing

After obtaining full leadership support, the next step in creating an employee mentoring program is creating a pool of possible mentors and mentees. While candidacy for being a mentor or mentee will differ by workplace, setting a standard regarding who can participate in the program will help maintain fairness and consistency. For example, an employee mentoring program may consider utilizing high performers (“hi-po” talent) for both mentors and mentees in efforts to boost succession planning efforts or talent pipelines.

Once you’ve identified possible mentors and mentees, a process for pairing needs to be determined. This could happen a number of ways, depending on what fits with your workplace culture and what goals you’ve set up for the employee mentoring program: self-selected pairings by mentors or mentees, guided pairings based on career aspirations and goals, etc.

2. Meeting Cadence

After pairing, schedule an introductory session between mentor and mentee. This can be done with individual pairings or, if multiple pairings occur simultaneously, a combined meeting with all mentors and mentees is an option, further displaying the importance of the program to all employees. It may be best for this first meeting to be structured so that the mentoring relationship starts off correctly.

The biggest factors to determine in this initial meeting would be expectations from all parties and setting up a future meeting cadence to determine that this mentoring relationship takes priority. While an employee mentoring program would still need to be sensitive to business priorities, the program should be considered a priority itself with meetings or other events connected to the program staying on schedule as much as possible. If meetings need to be cancelled, which should hopefully be the exception, they should be rescheduled as soon as possible to maintain priority.

3. Evaluation and Feedback

In a sponsored employee mentoring program, official mentorship pairings will likely be in place for a predetermined amount of time, anywhere from six to 12 months but this could greatly vary depending on how often the workplace would like to make mentor/mentee pairings. However, these mentoring relationships could continue outside of the regular program.

Regardless of the program’s timing or the continuation of the mentoring relationship, it would be appropriate for the program administrators to allow the mentors and mentees to evaluate each other. Evaluating the effectiveness of the mentor/mentee pairings is vital to the continued success of the program. While this evaluation could not only provide opportunities to make continual adjustments to the program, it would also allow for feedback to be given to both mentor and mentee. Since one of the employee mentoring program’s goals should be the development and growth of the employees, this type of feedback serves that purpose.

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Questions You’ve Asked Us About Employee Mentoring

Does mentoring benefit the mentor or only the mentee?
If done correctly, mentoring can be mutually beneficial to both parties. In fact, if the relationship is only one-sided, it can lead to disengagement, burnout or even resentment. Therefore, both sides of a mentoring relationship should work together and set clear expectations regarding what they are wanting to accomplish.
Are there different techniques to mentoring?
Absolutely! In addition to the examples of mentoring given above, mentoring could also be done in a variety of ways. In a pandemic-conscious world, mentoring can even be done via Zoom or any other video technology. A good, traditional phone call can also be a very effective method of mentoring. As long as a back-and-forth conversation occurs, mentoring can happen. Mind mapping, open-ended questions, SWOT analyses and many more techniques can also be used as communication tools to help establish productive mentoring conversations.
Who should be mentored in an organization?
Mentoring could prove to be effective at ALL levels of the organization. Whether it be from senior/executive levels to newly hired employees or from corporate office employees to front-line production workers, as long as there is an opportunity to learn, there is likely an opportunity for mentoring.
Trevor Nelson
Trevor Nelson, DTM, PHR, SHRM-CP

With a personalized license plate that literally reads “HRGUY”, I’m pretty passionate about the field of work that I’ve chose to indulge in! I have found Human Resources to be a very enjoyable career! With HR, I have had exposure to various disciplines, such as: Recruiting, Worker’s Compensation, Learning and Development, Benefits, Associate Relations, etc. Being a well-rounded Generalist has given me the ability to widen and deepen my knowledge and expertise in the HR field. I’ve also had the opportunity to work in various industries, including: Restaurant and Entertainment, Call Center, Retail, Non-Profit, Transportation, Printing Services, and Defense/Aerospace. Continual progress and development keeps me going! Inside and outside of work, I love and appreciate opportunities to learn and serve. Whether it be my children’s school, Toastmasters International, Sigma Phi Epsilon, or other community groups, I find different ways to stretch and grow personally and professionally. I currently lead a small HR team that serves upwards of 700-800 associates. We continue to look for ways to add value for our Operations partners, while still being great advocates for the associates, and keeping an engaged and dedicated workforce.

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