Mentoring: What is it and Why Does it Matter?

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There’s a lot of buzz around mentoring lately, but that doesn’t mean mentoring is simply a passing fad. So what’s the big deal? Mentoring is quickly becoming one of the go-to methods for increasing employee engagement, development and retention. Over 70 percent of Fortune 500 companies offer corporate mentoring programs to their employees.

Let’s take a deep dive into what mentoring is, why it’s become so popular, and why it’s worth getting excited about!

What is Mentoring?

At its core, mentoring is the process of informally learning through others – and it’s actually been around for a long time. If you’re familiar with Homer’s Odyssey, you might remember Mentor, who acted as a friend and advisor to Odysseus. But the concept of mentoring has grown far past its roots in ancient Greek poetry.

Fast forward to more recent history. In the 20th century, mentoring traditionally involved an older, experienced mentor advising and guiding a younger mentee. Reflective of the corporate culture of that time, both were likely male and of the same ethnic background. They might catch up and share experiences over a round of golf or drinks after a day in the office.

A lot has changed since then. The fabric of the workforce has evolved to become more representative of women and diverse populations (though improvement here remains imperative). With the influx of women, diverse populations, and millennials, mentoring has grown from the traditional 1:1 format we’re all familiar with into what we call modern mentoring: a range of new uses and formats adapted to the modern workforce. For more on modern mentoring, see our in-depth article on employee development in a shifting workforce.

Impact for Organizations

So what’s in it for companies who do provide mentoring programs? Why do 71% of Fortune 500 companies offer corporate mentoring? The benefits can be seen in a few ways.

In terms of direct business value, it’s an effective method for engaging, developing, and retaining employees. In terms of how employees and job candidates perceive the company, mentoring is a strategy that helps companies position themselves more competitively as an employer. Offering mentoring programs is a tangible way for your company to show that you have a learning culture and that you prioritize helping employees meet their career goals.

Business ROI:

Retention: The immediate cost of employee attrition is the loss of productivity for the leaving employee’s role. When it comes to filling the vacant role, it costs the equivalent of six-to-nine months of an employee’s salary to replace that role. And then there’s the softer cost that attrition has on morale, team dynamics and corporate culture. How does mentoring address retention? In 2012 Deloitte found that retention is 25% higher for employees who have engaged in company-sponsored mentoring.

Employee Career Development: Investing in employee skill development is an obvious benefit – A more skilled employee will yield better output and results. But investing in employee development also maps back to retention: The National Business Research Institute found that 23 percent of employees voluntarily leave their jobs due to lack of development and training. This point is magnified for millennials. Professional growth and career development is the number one driver of successful engagement and retention among millennial employees. Mentoring programs give employees the opportunity to develop their skills by informally learning from more experienced coworkers. A well-supported mentoring program is an essential part of a robust employee development plan.

Engagement: American employees are notoriously disengaged at work. With millennials entering the workforce, it doesn’t look like that trend is improving. Harvard Business Review revealed that 71 percent of millennials are either not engaged or actively disengaged at work, making them the least engaged generation in the U.S. How can mentoring programs help? A study by PeopleFluent found that 78.8 percent of employees said it made them feel more engaged with their organization to be part of a mentorship program. Engagement, like career development, maps back to retention. Engaged workers are more customer-focused and profitable, and less likely to leave their employer. A study of professional services firms found that offices with engaged workers were over 40% more productive (Stein and Christiansen).

Impact on Job Candidates

The direct business benefits of mentoring are compelling, but let’s take a moment to pivot to how mentoring programs affect the way job candidates perceive a company that offers mentoring programs. This point is often underemphasized, but is worth mentioning, especially if your company employs or recruits millennials.

To understand this, let’s explore from the job candidate’s shoes. When job searching, candidates are putting themselves first – and rightly so. They want what’s in their best interest and they want to find the right fit. They want to learn and they want to grow. They want to be happy at their jobs.

Some of the points mentioned above are worth repeating:

  • Professional growth and career development is the number one driver of successful engagement and retention among millennial employees.
  • 23% of employees leave a company because of a lack of career development and training.

These two points are compelling not just for your current employees, but for job candidates as well. Offering mentoring programs helps to set your company apart from those who don’t.

When a candidate is deliberating between offers from otherwise equal companies, but one of those companies offers a mentoring program, which offer do you think they’ll accept?

We’ve all job hunted before, so you’ve probably experienced this yourself: some companies can talk the talk when it comes to having a growth mindset, but that point is lost if you don’t back it up. Company-sponsored mentoring programs reinforce your company’s learning culture. Put yourself in the job candidate’s shoes again with a thought exercise: What’s a job candidate’s thought process like when evaluating a company?

  • Would I enjoy performing the tasks associated with this role?
  • Down the line, will I be proud to list this company on my resume?
  • Will I be gaining skills and competencies at this job?
  • Will I be a better candidate in the future for having worked at this company?

See those last two points? If a candidate is evaluating your company, and the answer to those last two questions is a resounding “yes!” you’ve just set your company apart by showing that your company truly does value its employees. By offering employees mentoring programs, you’re showing tangible proof that your company invests the time, money and effort into something that directly benefits employees long-term.

Impact for Employees

Learning through others has a proven track record of success. Mentoring in the workplace allows the mentee to engage in experiential learning, so mentees are able to apply concepts immediately, which helps them to better understand and internalize what they’re being taught.

Mentoring programs also set employees up for success in terms of salary and promotions. In a study by the University of Pennsylvania, 25 percent of employees in a test group who took part in the company’s mentoring program had a salary grade change, compared with five percent of employees in a control group who did not participate in the program. Mentors were promoted six times more often than those not in the program; mentees were promoted five times more often than those not in the program.

Mentoring programs make employees feel supported and valued. They gain new knowledge and skills, and share their own expertise. Julie Kantor, founder and CEO of Twomentor, says that 79% of millennials want their boss to serve more as a coach or mentor and 75% want to be mentored and deem it crucial for success.

Mentoring programs remind mentees that their career development is important to their employer and gives them the space to open up about their larger goals and aspirations.

Conclusion

Learning through others has proven benefits for employers, employees, and job candidates. Employers see improvements in employee development, engagement and retention. Employees want to learn and be mentored. Job candidates will see mentoring programs as proof that an employer is willing to invest in employees, which is especially beneficial in competitive industries.

To learn how to start a high-impact mentoring program at your organization, download our eBook.

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