What Is a Mentor in the Workplace?

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Saphia Lanier
Saphia Lanier

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Having someone whom you can look up to and reach out to for advice is valuable for any entrepreneur. Yet only 22% of small-business owners had mentors when they first launched their companies. 

what is a mentor in the workplace

A seasoned professional’s guidance isn’t just invaluable to entrepreneurs; it’s also beneficial to employees looking to climb the corporate ladder. A mentorship program can help your workers advance more quickly in their careers and build a collaborative workplace culture.

What is a mentor in the workplace?

A workplace mentor is an employee who’s been in the same position and has a higher level of experience than the person they’re mentoring. 

It may be a supervisor or someone else in the organization with no direct ties to their mentee. A mentor will help their mentee navigate challenges they face in the workplace and encourage their success. Some offer job-specific guidance, alongside personal development advice. 

What does a mentor do?

A mentor is an expert in their field and viewed as an inspirational teacher. Mentors provide mentees with wisdom and knowledge gained through their own experience. They can also provide emotional support and help build the mentee’s confidence.

Mentors may perform various duties to help their mentee succeed:

  • Shares their knowledge and expertise
  • Listens to their mentee’s concerns and questions
  • Offers constructive feedback and advice
  • Helps their mentee navigate the workplace culture and environment
  • Helps their mentee set goals and develop a plan for achieving them
  • Celebrates their mentee’s successes and helps them learn from failures
  • Acts as a role model for professional behavior and ethics

Note that mentors don’t have to be physically there to help mentees. Remote teams can also receive mentorship via regular video calls, emails, and instant messengers. 

What are the benefits of mentorship for younger employees?

Providing mentorship to younger employees sets them up to succeed in their careers. 

The top benefits of mentoring young (and even older) workers include:

  • Accelerated careers: With insights from a mentor, mentees are better prepared to meet the demands of their jobs. Conversely, one-third of Americans say a lack of mentorship from a professional network stalled their careers. 
  • Increased performance: Having mentors guide young workers gives them the resources to excel in their roles. A survey shows 68% agree it improves organizational performance. 
  • Improved personal development: Mentors don’t just shape workers’ careers; they also help shape the workers themselves.
  • Help for small businesses: Entrepreneurs can use mentors to help them avoid common mistakes that can lead to failure, from finances to hiring. Roughly 92% of small businesses agree mentors directly impact their growth and survival.
  • Happier workers: According to a CNBC survey, 90% of workers with career mentors are happy in their jobs. 
  • Higher employee retention: If you’re worried about mentored workers leaving, research shows 83% of mentors and mentees say their mentorship positively influences their desire to stay with their company. Mentorship not only helps you keep your younger employees but also keeps seasoned mentors around too. 
  • Better profits: Creating a mentorship program in your business can potentially grow your sales. According to a Mentorcliq 2022 report, having one led to 18% greater performance than the average YoY profit for all American Fortune 500 companies in 2020. 

What is reverse mentorship and how does it work?

Reverse mentorship is like any other type of mentoring, except the mentor is typically a younger or less-experienced employee mentoring an older or more established employee. For example, a Gen Z could mentor a Gen X human resources manager to improve their recruitment process to attract younger candidates. 

However, reverse mentorship isn’t just about age — it can also happen when a new employee mentors a senior employee. For instance, offering mentorship for using a new technology they’re more familiar with.

“Anyone can be a mentor and mentee,” says Julie Salomone, vice president of people operations at SmartBug Media, a digital agency. “Each mentor and mentee [at our company] comes to the program with different goals, and we foster an environment where resources are provided, but not directed.” 

How employers can encourage mentorship and build a mentorship program

The benefits of mentorship are numerous, but how do you build an environment that encourages mentorship?

One option is to develop a formal mentorship program. Here’s some advice from Omer Usanmaz, co-founder of Qooper, a mentoring automation software.

Step 1: Build your mentorship program 

Here’s an example of the stages in building a formal mentorship program:

  1. Planning Stage: The company takes a conscious step toward organizing a formal program for mentees. This is where critical decisions regarding the type of mentoring program, participants, resources, etc. are made for optimum results.
  2. Initiation Stage: The program participants are introduced to each other in this stage and can interact professionally. Mentees and mentors decide on the goals and timeline of the program based on their corporate experiences and needs.
  3. Mentoring Stage: In the mentoring stage, mentors and mentees meet at frequent intervals to share knowledge and achieve their predetermined goals. Based on the mentorship model selected, the participants indulge in regular training sessions to advance their careers in a structured manner.
  4. Evaluation Stage: Mentors provide an honest assessment of the mentees’ progress and decide whether the formal program should continue or end. 

Step 2: Identify and pair mentors and mentees

“It is essential to decide how the mentoring relationship is established,” explains Usanmaz. “It could be based on the skill sets, projects, or teams.”

You could create user profiles based on interests and demographics to understand the potential participants and match them to a mentor based on their parameters.

You could either use a software program that helps with matching, or you can do this manually by learning about the mentors and mentees and then conducting meet-and-greets to see if there’s a fit.

Or you can get your people involved in the matchmaking process. For example, you can create a request form, where potential mentors and mentees share what they’re looking for and what their goals are. 

Step 3: Encourage participation in the mentorship program

A mentorship program is only successful if it’s used and embraced by employees. There are a few key ways to promote participation in your mentorship program:

  • Spread the word: Promote the mentorship program through various channels, such as at company forums, newsletters, and major announcements. Highlight the benefits of participating in the program, such as gaining valuable skills and insights from experienced colleagues.
  • Make it attractive: Offer perks and rewards to program members, such as gift cards or special recognition awards. “Serving as a mentor in our company is a privilege, as it is considered a significant step in one’s career progression,” says Iryna Kutsevalova, marketing specialist at Warmdevs, a webflow development agency.
  • Provide resources: Equip your mentors with useful resources, such as mentorship literature, webinars, and other training materials, to help them get started and stay engaged in the program.
  • Celebrate achievements: Celebrate the successes of mentors and mentees in the program, both publicly and privately. This will help motivate others to participate and stay involved.

    Warmdevs goes the extra mile to make its program prestigious and well supported:

    “The responsibilities of a mentor are taken into account during salary reviews, and they’re exempt from technical tests as they’re involved in creating them,” says Kutsevalova.

Step 4: Measure your mentorship program’s success and improve where needed

Keeping a close eye on your mentorship program does two things:

  1. Determines if your employees are benefiting from it
  2. Identifies where to make improvements

Measure the success of your mentorship program by gathering data. Things you want to measure include:

    • Employee satisfaction score: Are they happy with the mentor and the results they’re getting?
    • Attrition rate: Are employees leaving because they feel like they’re not progressing?
  • Retention rate: Do you find workers sticking around longer?

It’s also ideal to collect feedback from the mentors and mentees directly. 

“We conduct a baseline survey with all participants to identify satisfaction and determine whether goals have been met,” says Salomone. 

Building, growing, measuring, and enhancing your mentorship program is critical if you want it to be successful. It’s an ongoing process, but well worth it if it means improving your employees and business.

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