Does having a mentor really make a difference in our professional growth? And why should companies care about building supportive, effective mentoring programs? Our WDS contributing writer Cristina Georgiana Popa shares why mentoring is not only helpful as we navigate our careers in a rapidly changing digital landscape, but also simply good for business.
According to a recent study by MentorcliQ, 92 per cent of US Fortune 500 Companies have mentoring programs. And while mentoring is nothing new, such initiatives have increased over the past few years as COVID-19 brought about vast changes in the professional lives of many people, particularly with the acceleration of the digital disruption. In fact, the pandemic brought about a 30 per cent increase in mentoring initiatives in organizations. This perhaps reflects that many people were seeking a space for knowledge exchange and professional support as our working lives changed, but also, that organizations realized the need to transform and find ways to retain employees as demand increased for more flexible, online work environments.
The importance of human connection
Perhaps you already have a mentor, or are looking for one and aren’t sure how to start. Maybe you're wondering if it could really help develop your career. From a human perspective, mentoring in many ways acknowledges the importance of human connection, empathy and personal development at work.
"The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves." - Steven Spielberg
In fact, during the pandemic, mentoring provided a space for many people to receive support and encouragement during challenging times; helped enforce their belief and ability that they could be resilient and adapt to a new normal; and to receive access and advice to new opportunities for growth.
Mentoring - it's good for business
Beyond the critical human aspect, when we look at mentoring through a business lens, we see an intentional partnership where experienced professionals share their expertise to foster the development of newer, often younger, individuals. This exchange nurtures a culture of continuous learning, enhances employee engagement, cultivates leadership at different levels, and sustains a talent pipeline through the exchange of shared knowledge and support.
For these reasons, mentoring is a viable solution for addressing employee retention and engagement challenges. Having access to this kind of support propels skills development, job satisfaction and a sense of belonging. In fact, studies have shown that:
Approximately 94 per cent of workers are more likely to stay with a company for a longer duration if employers provide additional learning and career development opportunities.
In addition, 90 per cent of workers who have a mentor express higher job satisfaction; and
Employees engaged in mentoring programs exhibit a 50 per cent higher retention rate compared to those not involved, and 93 per cent of mentees perceive their mentoring relationship as valuable for their professional development.
The Challenges of Mentoring
Of course, these statistics don’t mean mentoring is easy. It requires dedication, time and consistent effort from both the mentor and mentee. Challenges like the generational gap, power dynamics and communication barriers can impact the success of a mentoring partnership, and organizations should be alert to these challenges and find ways to support and guide mentor-mentee relationships as needed. Some ways to strengthen these partnerships include:
committing to being flexible and adaptable;
focusing on continuous development;
communicating with honesty; and
regularly reflecting on and evaluating the mentorship experience.
What does 2023 have in store for mentoring? And why should organizations be prepared?
When we think of the 2023 workforce, one word stands out: QUIET. Quiet quitting, hiring, and firing. According to studies, “quiet quitting” is a real challenge for organizations and is specific to newer generations, particularly Gen Z – a generation that prefers to job hop and is extremely independent in their working style.
Gen Z and Millennials currently represent approximately 38 per cent of the global workforce; a percentage that will reach 58 per cent by 2030 – representing an enormous opportunity for organizations to change their support structures at work and find ways to engage and foster the growth and development of young workers.
Gen Z and Millennials currently represent approximately 38 per cent of the global workforce; a percentage that will reach 58 per cent by 2030.
We are also facing a shift in how we work, where the traditional 9 to 5 day at the office is being questioned, and more and more people are challenging and leaving organizations that do not address overworked employees, workplace stress and anxiety, and burnout.
Yet, there are many opportunities for organisations to inspire, support and nurture the potential of young people, including ensuring mentoring programs are taken seriously. Offering a well-developed mentorship program can help to:
Establish a clearer career journey for employees
Foster a positive work environment by showing employees that they are valued and appreciated; and
Offer a system for supporting skills development.
The Digital Disruption - why we all need skills development
Both mentors and mentees can have a critical impact on the culture of an organization in today’s digital age.
And, mentoring isn’t just for younger generations. As our working world rapidly changes, and digital skills have become critical, we see that mentorship programs rank high as one of the best ways to maximize the re-skilling of workers at all levels.
Both mentors and mentees can have a critical impact on the culture of an organization in today’s digital age. For example, tenured employees can leverage their knowledge to direct resources and strategic focus towards re-skilling opportunities for staff, while younger employees can provide insight, ideas, and energy towards this re-skilling and restructuring of work processes, tools and structures. Companies that offer re-skilling opportunities, as well as the chance for employees at all levels to contribute their leadership and ideas, will have an edge over their competition in finding and retaining talent.
Finding a mentor - how can you get started?
If your organisation doesn't have a mentor programme, don't fret - there are plenty of ways to get started. No matter which route you take to find a mentor, remember to be clear about your goals, demonstrate your enthusiasm and commitment, and take the time to explain why you believe they would be a good fit as a mentor. Respect their energy and time, and be open to their guidance and feedback. Building a mentor-mentee relationship takes effort and mutual respect, so be prepared to invest in the process!
Here are a few practical suggestions:
Attend professional networking events like industry conferences, seminars, workshops and meetups related to your field of interest. Our WDS events are a great place to start! Don't hesitate to engage in conversations and express your desire to find a mentor. You'll often find seasoned individuals at these events who are willing to share their knowledge and provide guidance.
Engage in online platforms that are specifically designed for mentorship connections like LinkedIn, Meetup and Quora. These platforms can help you connect with professionals in your field who are open to mentoring. In particular, try to find groups or communities relevant to your work or area of interest, and take the leap by reaching out to potential mentors.
Join industry associations and organizations related to your industry. These groups often have mentorship programs or can help facilitate mentor-mentee connections. Or, through participating in their programs and networking with other members, you might meet potential mentors.
Engage with alumni networks from your educational institutions. You can attend their events or join their online groups, and reach out to alumni who are working in your desired field to ask if they'd be willing to provide mentorship or guidance. Many alumni are willing to help fellow graduates in their professional journeys.
Take time to build personal connections and recommendations. Talk to your friends, family and acquaintances about your search for a mentor. You never know, they might know someone in your desired field!
Mentoring plays a critical role in paving the way for the next generation of leaders and ensures a transition of knowledge, skills and values.
By fostering growth and empowering individuals, mentoring lays a solid foundation for the future of the workforce, driving innovation, resilience and sustainable success.
Written by Cristina Georgiana Popa. Edited by Natalie Alexander Julien.