Modern Mentoring & Millennials: Employee Development in a Shifting Workforce

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We all know the workforce is changing. According to Forbes, millennials make up 40 percent of the workforce today and are predicted to make up 75 percent of the workforce by 2020. This massive shift means it’s a must for employers to attract, develop and retain millennial talent.

With this in mind, what then are organizations doing to attract millennial talent? The solution many organizations are turning to is mentoring. And with good reason: 75 percent of millennials want a mentor and believe it’s crucial for success. They’re not wrong. Companies who offer mentoring programs give employees an avenue for career growth and development, which is actually the number one driver of successful engagement and retention among millennials.

Many organizations are already using mentoring to meet business goals around employee development, engagement, and retention, but the requirements of the shifting workforce have impacted mentoring and brought new life into this known strategy.

The Shifting Workforce Drives New Uses of Mentoring

As baby boomers leave the workforce and millennials flow in, the fabric of the workforce is evolving. Baby boomers exiting the workforce are taking with them years of experience and knowledge and thinning the leadership bench.

Millennials entering the workforce have a lot of expectations around employment.  When applying to jobs, millennials place a greater emphasis on opportunities to learn, grow and advance than baby boomers or Gen Xers do. Employers who don’t meet those expectations will have trouble retaining millennials – 60 percent of millennials leave a company in less than three years.

This shift in the workforce has spurred what we call modern mentoring: a collection of new uses and innovative formats of mentoring adapted for the modern workforce.

To understand modern mentoring, it’s important to first define mentoring. At its core, mentoring is the process of learning informally through others. Traditionally mentoring is viewed as a 1:1 relationship, developed organically, and lasts months or years. Traditional mentoring certainly is important and will always have its place, but today’s changing workforce has created so many opportunities to apply mentoring in innovative, efficient and impactful ways. This is modern mentoring.

Why Modern Mentoring?

Modern mentoring is beneficial to both employee and employer. It empowers employees to drive their own development while creating a highly scalable model for organizations. In light of the shifting workforce, here’s how organizations are using mentoring to develop, engage and retain employees:

Employee (or Career) development: We’ve established that millennials highly value career growth and development.  For millennials, career mentoring makes a lot of sense. A mentor with years of industry experience can impart guidance and insight that millennials may not find anywhere else. Mentoring programs give employees an opportunity to take an active role in their career development.

Retention: Losing employees comes with quite the price tag. Forbes recently reported that 30 percent of organizations lose 15 percent or more of their millennial workforce annually. The Society of Human Resource Management estimates that employers spend the equivalent of six to nine months of an employee’s salary to replace those who leave. To mitigate this risk, companies are turning to mentoring programs. A study by the University of Pennsylvania showed that retention rates were much higher for mentees (72 percent) and mentors (69 percent) compared to those who did not participate in a mentoring program (49 percent).

Engagement: It’s well known that American workers aren’t particularly engaged at work. This sentiment is magnified with millennials. Harvard Business Review revealed that a whopping 71 percent are either not engaged or actively disengaged at work, making them the least engaged generation in the U.S. What can organizations do about this? According to PeopleFluent, 78.8 percent of young professionals feel more engaged with their organization when part of a mentorship program. Implementing a mentoring program enables employees to self-drive their development, which makes them feel more engaged at work.

An added benefit of modern mentoring? It imparts a sense of belonging. Millennials prefer collaboration to competition. They want to feel connected to their team, not pitted against each other. This maps back to Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs. We won’t go too deep into this topic, but the third level of the hierarchy encompasses the need for a sense of love and belonging.

One modern mentoring format in particular, mentoring circles, can be a great way to help cultivate a sense of community and belonging among employees. We’ve seen organizations facilitate mentoring circles for groups like parents, veterans, dog owners – the opportunities are endless. More on mentoring circles later, but the key here is to recognize this need. A sense of belonging is something we all crave, but study after study emphasizes how important this is to millennials.

Modern Mentoring in Practice

So what does modern mentoring look like in practice? Here are some popular programs we’ve seen:

High potential mentoring programs help organizations to retain their top talent by providing them an engaging career development experience. The National Business Research Institute found that 23 percent of employees voluntarily leave their jobs due to lack of development and training. Retaining high potentials also gives organizations a healthier leadership pipeline.

Diversity inclusions programs connect underrepresented populations within an organization to learn and share experiences. These programs help diverse populations to feel more empowered and valued in an organization, making them more likely to stay at the company. Bersin reports that inclusive organizations are 3.3x more likely to be high performing and 5x more likely to be agile. Organizations use diversity inclusions programs to increase engagement and retention rates among underrepresented populations.

Extended onboarding programs lengthen the window of learning for new hires. Organizations without formal onboarding programs lose a third of external hires after two years (Stein and Christiansen). By widening the learning window, employees gain deeper on-the-job knowledge, reach productivity quicker and stay at organizations longer.

One of the innovative aspects of modern mentoring is program format. The traditional 1:1 mentoring format can be adapted to incorporate more people or to accommodate shorter mentoring cycles:

Group mentoring pairs a mentor with a handful of mentees. With this format, mentees can learn from the mentor, but also from each other as they share knowledge and experiences. Group mentoring works well for new-manager training, general communication skills or a support group for new hires.

Mentoring circles are informal programs that follow a peer-to-peer format. Mentoring circles may not have one designated mentor. Participants may choose a rotating peer mentor for each meeting, and participants can control and own the group topic. This is a great format for organizations who want to enable employees to drive their own development.

Flash mentoring is usually session-based or one-time mentoring. It’s a low-pressure environment for mentoring that helps to un-silo the workplace, connecting cross-functional individuals. This method is a great those with limited time.

The Bottom Line: Modern Mentoring for Millennials

In the coming years, millennials will make up a majority of the workforce. Because of that, it’s important to realize that millennials are looking for more than a paycheck. They want to feel like they belong. They want meaningful, engaging work with opportunities for career development. If employers don’t provide these things, millennials will leave.

The good news is that mentoring has proven to be a flexible and adaptive method for developing talent and increasing engagement and retention. Organizations can leverage modern mentoring programs to accomplish a wide range of business goals in a format that best fits the organization.

Mentoring is already being used to develop, engage and retain employees, but the shifting workforce and the rise of millennials have emphasized the importance of these initiatives.

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