The purpose of a mentoring program is to assist with the personal and professional development of employees hungry for career progression and who are keen to improve their knowledge and skillset.
But mentoring has more to offer than just a single purpose and, in fact is key to enhancing employee engagement and retention as a result. A successful mentoring program actually has effects that ripple into all sectors of a business and it is therefore considered to be a crucial undertaking for companies worldwide.
Mentoring as a way of developing talent within the business may have a set design and desired outcome, but no two mentor relationships will be the same. This is a good thing as there is usually a lot to offer from individuals and their eagerness to contribute to success, so a mentoring program provides the necessary platform to help voices be heard and to help even the most experienced company veterans to learn to adapt to modern changes and methods. The benefit of providing a two-way learning opportunity is that it keeps employees and managers engaged, feeling valued and willing to listen, especially when all parties have something to gain from it.
Around 70% of the U.S. workforce is disengaged or actively disengaged at work. This figure tends to improve with the presence of mentoring and development programs but on average most employees feel they have no passion for their job and will quickly leave if a better offer comes along. With so many employees turning up for work but still looking for a way into something better, it is clear that there is little opportunity for them to re-engage and ignite the fires that were once present when they started.
If the opportunity is there, then the chances are it is not being sold well, advertised clearly or communicated in time. This break down in communication can be the difference between retaining a reliable employee that has been working hard for the company for 10 years, and who has great leadership potential, and losing them to a similar company who is offering them greater benefits and developmental projects that will keep them engaged in their roles with opportunity for promotion.
Time is of the essence when it comes to engaging new employees and re-engaging existing ones and not using it wisely can be costly to the business in many ways. “Time is money” as they say, and poor employee turnover costs on average a third of each employee’s salary to replace them according to a Forbes study in 2019. This can lead the total national replacement and recruitment costs up into the billions if companies don’t do enough to engage their current employees and don’t react quickly
enough to sudden turnover trends. So, it is important to understand how to engage employees, recognise talent early on and utilise resources to begin their development.
Different Types of Engagement
If someone says they are disengaged in the workplace it doesn’t automatically mean they hate their job. They can feel disengaged with their colleagues but enjoy their work or disengaged with their company but be highly goal orientated. In fact, the term ‘engagement’ can be broken down into subcategories that actually make it easier to identify their issues and work toward resolutions before valuable employees are snapped up by better offers.
Engaged with Workplace Relationships
This can mean that employees are driven by the people they work with or encounter as part of their job, but don’t necessarily take it further than that in terms of their own development or toward the success of the company.
This kind of engagement, while satisfying to enjoy working relationships may give employees a false sense of security in their engagement as people tend to move on, change departments and promote to higher levels. This leaves individuals feeling disengaged from relying on other people and the comfort they find in working alongside them.
Workplace engagement can also come in the form of developing a bond and trust between cohorts on various work projects that they wouldn’t usually have the chance to work with. This can actually be quite a positive level of engagement as it helps employees to speak to people in the same boat as them with the same goals and objectives. It allows individuals to see a greater picture other than their own and gives them an opportunity to share their own knowledge and experience on a subject. It can lead to a greater sense of purpose within their company and re-engage them in their own role or drive them to seek out further opportunity.
Engaged with the Work
Employees who are engaged with their work usually have high energy levels and are always willing to say yes to new tasks.. They are driven by their natural enjoyment for the job and problem solving and usually deliver a consistent performance.
This kind of engagement is what all employers dream of, but it doesn’t fill the entire engagement quota and can lead individuals to become complacent and stationary in their roles due to lack of engagement elsewhere, either in learning new skills or in the company itself. Employees who are engaged in their job are usually very reliable characters and the ease at which they carry out their tasks make them great candidates for coaching and mentoring but may need the push to step out of their comfort zone and into unfamiliar territory. This will involve forming new working relationships and can lead to further engagement with new contacts within the business.
It is important to keep employees who are engaged in their work challenged and motivated. Employers should be adding these individuals to talent lists and discussing development with them on a regular basis so that engagement doesn’t get replaced with resentment.
Engaged with the Company
When someone is engaged with their company they are more likely to expend their efforts in being part of its success. People are willing to work hard for companies they trust in and they are motivated by results. Being engaged with the company is sometimes not enough though and it is ultimately helpful if they are also engaged with practices and people.
Motivating individuals with reward and recognition is a key factor in keeping employees engaged and this drive can be what a company needs to ensure success, high profits and low turnovers. Just like employees who are engaged with their work, these individuals need regular praise and feedback letting them know where they stand, what their future development looks like and how they can personally be part of the bigger picture.
Studies have shown that while money itself is not the highest motivator for employees to engage with their job, lack of reward tends to be a big demotivator. For those invested in their companies and engaged with them, this factor tends to be true so although the company may be doing something right in monthly bonus schemes or quarterly prizes, it is important that they don’t just rest on this method of reward, and look toward personal development as a more thoughtful option.
Simon Sinek encapsulates the challenge of motivating employees in his tweet:
This is where mentoring programs can lead the way in engaging employees as they don’t promise monetary reward or instant promotion, but the opportunity for skills and knowledge growth as well as a chance to engage with different people.
How does Mentoring Help with Engagement?
So, when we’re thinking about 5 key ways that mentoring can have a positive effect on employee engagement we need to look at what type of engagement is needed or lacking the most. Mentoring can be used to help a person’s interpersonal skills, which would suggest that they are engaged with their work but less so with working relationships. Or mentoring could be used to expand knowledge in an area they are not too confident in but will need to know for future promotional opportunities, which would suggest that they are engaged with the company and its processes but less so with their own work. Mentoring can help in the following ways:
1. Informal training opportunities
It provides access to learning and training that employees wouldn’t have the opportunity to learn without it. All companies have some kind of induction program and offer training courses en masse for new initiatives or work criteria. But where do employees go when they need to learn more about presentation skills or leadership roles? These courses aren’t always available and are rarely on offer to all employees.
This kind of training is considered to be best delivered from people with real experience with it and mentoring is a great way to access this. It is a huge motivational factor and can improve engagement on an individual level (the mentee will feel valued in being presented with the opportunity to learn and also offers engagement in a subject that they may have steered clear from prior to the mentorship). Overall, employee engagement can skyrocket when the offer of knowledge is on the table.
2. Breaks down barriers in communication
People feel more valued when they have a voice and this helps with overall engagement within a company. Mentoring doesn’t specifically promise that each employee will get to speak to chief executives or directors on a regular basis but it does offer the opportunity to make connections with people who have relevant skills and goals and who can make an impact on their career.
Breaking down these barriers can instil confidence in mentees enough to have important conversations about their career path, the company and their worries. They may not be in a position prior to a mentoring program to share their voice in such a way so this would be a great motivational factor.
3. Mentorship gives people a chance to prove themselves
Many people struggling with a lack of engagement at their workplace have been waiting for an opportunity to show what they can do and have no formal method of being able to do this. Mentoring provides the opportunity on a visible level but without the constraints of a formal training program.
Training can be great for showing employees what to do, mentoring can be great for seeing what employees can do with that training! Having a mentor opens doors that were previously shut and allows a chance for higher managers to observe without interference. Being a mentee relies mostly on self-motivation and asking the right questions to get to the solution of a problem. It is not for those who wish to take a seat and be told what to do, so in giving the right people a chance to shine, it can help re-engage individuals with their passion for the job, their drive to succeed and their commitment to the company.
4. It can improve working relationships
Just like the communication barriers that exist between departments, a typical hierarchy can create unseen barriers also. Employees report to their direct supervisors, who report to their line managers who report to directors and so on. The barrier comes from not knowing what each level of responsibility is doing to contribute to their success or not knowing how much work they are undertaking to account for company success.
Disengagement can reach an all-time high when there is a lack of transparency and employees are left feeling demoralised by no recognition for their part in the big picture. Mentoring offers a visible doorway into each level and the chance to see how different people work, how they got to their current position and what mentees need to do to get there themselves. In terms of working relationships, empathy is a key part to understanding where other people in the company sit in terms of their own engagement and can improve the relationships by talking about experiences.
Improving working relationships through mentoring is important for creating and sustaining support systems of people who will be there to help as mentees climb the ladder.
5. It gives additional responsibility
Engagement in a job is ultimately about reaching job fulfilment, so all boxes need to be ticked for this to happen. Most employees wish they could up their pay for a little extra responsibility at work, but most would not accept more responsibility for no reward or extra pay. People are more likely to be engaged with their work and their company if they can experience a change in their daily and sometimes mundane tasks to learn something new or give them some additional responsibility but only to a certain degree before they being to feel used or taken for granted.
Mentoring helps to deliver these opportunities but in a way that all parties benefit, as a lot of it is self-driven so no one should feel like they are doing more work for less money. The idea of a mentorship is about support and they are already big investments for most companies who want to see their talent succeed and provide the platform for them to be able to do so.
The additional responsibility for a mentee is in setting objectives and utilising resources in order to reach them, so arranging meetings or organising their own workload. This kind of responsibility is engaging as it isn’t asking the mentee to do more than they are capable of and it brings something new to the table each day.
Overall, mentoring can help with so many aspects of employee engagement, and the opportunity to be involved in such a project means putting in the work to be recognised in the first place. Companies need to be seizing the chances to recognise their already engaged workers as well as partly engaged or disengaged and looking deeply at whether mentoring could help them. Improving relationships, having shared values and voices and offering new knowledge and learning opportunities is crucial to keeping all employees engaged and ready to take the next step in their career.