Sep 05, 2018 in Viewpoint

Designing mentoring to boost engagement

Mentoring programs can have many positive effects for employees, including positive job attitudes and enhanced psychological safety. Yet, these benefits are only achieved when two key criteria are satisfied.

Tobias Froehlich
by Tobias Froehlich
Mentoring relationships can have many positive effects for protégés, including positive job attitudes and enhanced psychological safety.

Looking for a way to increase engagement and enhance well-being in your workplace? Forming positive mentoring relationships can do just that. Not only that, but mentoring can also draw young talent to your organization. Recent research shows that coaching is one of the most sought-after benefits by millennials. Yet, not every mentoring relationship is beneficial. Some can even increase stress and lead to negative job attitudes. But thankfully, by satisfying two key criteria, we can ensure that mentoring relationships reap rewards.

There is a solid body of evidence that has shown that mentoring accelerates career development and enhances well-being. Researchers found that a mentoring relationship can lead to greater career satisfaction, more career mobility, and more positive job attitudes. Mentorship can also boost your well-being. Researchers in China found that a good mentoring relationship boosts a protégé’s psychological safety, and increases their satisfaction with life. But this is not always the case. It has also been found that some mentoring relationships can be detrimental.

Mentoring relationship can lead to greater career satisfaction, more career mobility, and more positive job attitudes

So what makes a good mentoring relationship?

So what makes a good mentoring relationship? There are a couple key criteria that can ensure a positive mentoring relationship. Researchers have found that mentors from outside a protégé’s department have a greater impact, because they are better able to provide outside perspectives and fresh insights. It’s also important that a protégé perceive their mentor to have high status, since this will give the greatest boost to a protégé’s feeling of psychological safety. If these criteria are not met, a mentoring relationship risks becoming marginal and having a negative impact.

These criteria ring true in my experience. At my first employer, I was assigned two mentors. Both were in my department, which does not satisfy the first criterion. Similarly, despite their extensive experience, both had the same job title as me. I perceived their status as nearly equal to mine, so both criteria were unsatisfied. While I wouldn’t say these relationships had a negative impact –they certainly helped me learn the ins and outs of my day-to-day tasks - I nevertheless found myself looking for an additional mentor who could guide me in my career development. Eventually I did find such a positive mentor, but only after a longer time, and by my own effort.

With the technologies that we have available, shaping mentoring relationships between people who have regard for each other and who work in different spheres becomes easier. As individuals seeking a mentor, we can identify candidates whom we regard highly by browsing career-centric social networks like LinkedIn or an internal company site. We can further use these networks to reach out to such persons, especially through mutual connections.

If instead we’re shaping a mentoring program for an organization, we should build the criteria into our matching process. We can present protégés with a curated selection of potential mentors, all of whom are outside the protégé’s immediate work sphere. We can come to this selection by using algorithms that identify potential matches based on criteria like shared interests or similar personalities, which have been shown to lead to better mentoring relationships. Yet even if our matching process is rigorous, we should still give candidates choice in entering a relationship, to ensure mutual regard and benefit for both parties.

We now know two key criteria for positive mentoring relationships: mentors and protégés should work in separate spheres, and the mentor should be perceived to have high status by the protégé. So let’s integrate these criteria into our process for building mentoring relationships!

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