Mentoring in the workplace

Mentoring is both a personal and professional development method of team management that’s embraced by many modern workplaces. Mentors provide advice to mentees to aid their career progression and to help them find greater career satisfaction. In the process, mentors can also learn about their own work style and leadership capacity.

Here’s some advice on establishing strong mentor-mentee relationships in your workplace, and how it can benefit your organisation in an increasingly competitive job market.

The benefits of mentoring in the workplace

Offering a reputable and successful mentoring program can make you a promising employer in the eyes of candidates, which is important when you’re competing for top talent. A strong and personalised mentoring program can also increase the tenure of existing employees, who feel supported and confident that there is space and opportunity for them to develop at the organisation. Mentoring in the workplace can also boost productivity, as employees improve their skills and become more efficient from the additional guidance and training provided by a mentor.

Who can be a mentor?

There’s little restriction on who can be a mentor, as staff of all skill and seniority levels generally have something to offer other employees in their quest for career advancement. Here are three common types of employees nominated to be mentors:

  • More senior, experienced employees
    Here, a new or junior staff member is connected with a more senior staff member who may have had similar career aspirations or an interesting ascent to their current position. In this relationship, the senior staff member provides advice and shares their experiences with their mentee. They also introduce them to valuable people in their network, in the hope of providing new and exciting career opportunities for them.
  • Employees in other teams or departments
    Sometimes mentors can come from unlikely places. This might be someone more junior from a different department, or someone senior from a regional or international office. Employers should always be willing to look beyond the traditionally hierarchical mentor-mentee structure to ensure that the staff are getting the training and insights they want and need most. A senior administration team member might be eager to learn more about marketing at the organisation, explaining why a junior staff member from one department could mentor someone more senior from another. An IT manager might be mentored by the IT executive from the overseas headquarters of the organisation, providing advice on how to manage teams remotely and preparing them for promotion down the track.
  • New and junior employees, also known as reverse mentoring
    This is a strategy used to ensure that ideas and viewpoints don't just flow from the top down at an organisation. It’s a case of making newer, junior staff members mentors to more experienced and established employees, in the hope they will impart their unique perspective and knowledge onto their senior colleagues.

Setting goals for mentoring

To ensure mentoring in the workplace is beneficial for everyone, and that you see a return on investment as the employer, setting goals is critical. Whether your organisation offers a formal mentoring program or connects mentors and mentees on a case-by-case basis, the terms of engagement should always be clear. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What does the mentee set to gain?
  • How much time and commitment is required from the mentor?
  • How frequently should the mentor and mentee meet?
  • What does success look like?
  • What happens if the relationship doesn’t work out?

Set the goals and framework for mentoring in the workplace by always having open and two-way discussions with all parties. Ensure that mentors and mentees meet regularly, whether in person, on the phone or via video call systems like Skype or Zoom. They help determine whether goals are suitable and being achieved, whether both parties are happy and ultimately, whether the relationship should progress.

The benefits of mentoring are numerous for employees and employers, but the success of all mentoring relationships and programs hinge on transparency and honesty. Ensure that you’re always open to feedback on how to improve mentoring and that you implement change when it’s needed. Be sure to celebrate any wins along the way, as there’s sure to be many.