Engaging Millennials with mentoring

Millennials want opportunities to grow and connect with leadership. Mentorship provides these opportunities—but not in the way you might expect. This article will give tips for mentors of Millennials and steps organizations can follow to start a mentoring program for their millennial employees.

Matt Reeves, CEO of Together

Published on 

December 16, 2021

Updated on 

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Mentoring Millennials isn’t much different from mentoring all of your employees. People want leaders and peers in their lives to help them grow, provide helpful feedback and guidance, and an empathetic ear. 

There are varying viewpoints on what Millennials are like, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume that most employees want these things from their workplace. How to mentor Millennials, however, still gets a fair share of attention as they make up the largest share of the US workforce. 

So it makes sense to outline how to mentor Millennials. But before we do that we need to acknowledge the diverse ideas (or misunderstandings) around this popular generation.

The wrong idea on Millennials

There’s a lot of hype and varying perspectives (or generalizations) on what Millennials are like. In fact, we can’t even agree on who constitutes a millennial. The Census Bureau says it’s anyone born between 1982 and 2000 whereas Pew Research defines Millennials as 1981 to 1997. If we can’t agree on the age range, we certainly don’t agree on the generational stereotypes. 

Time Magazine characterized Millennials as the me, me, me generation. Time’s article drew from a book published almost a decade before, Generation Me, which outlined the narcissistic quality of Millennials. This book was heavily cited and fed into the negative idea of Millennials.

As we progress through the 2020s, however, our viewpoint on Millennials has changed. It’s more down-to-earth and we can now focus less on how narcissistic Millennials are and more on how to help them grow and develop as the most dominant generation in the workplace. This is where mentoring becomes key.

Why do Millennials want and need mentoring?

Mentoring is a popular method for companies to build better cultures and accelerate employee development simply by getting employees to talk to one another. Pairing up influential team members or experts with more junior employees can lead to a number of growth and development opportunities that will pay dividends to the company well into the future. 

Consider these studies:

  • Huffington Post found that around 79% of Millennials see mentoring as key to their professional success. 
  • Deloitte research showed that Millennials who intend to stay in their roles for more than five years are 68% more likely to have a mentor. 

To go along with that, Gallup outlines the change in what Millennials want from their work: they want purpose along with a pay check, a coach instead of a boss, and ongoing conversations around their development. This report speaks to the importance of mentoring.

Gallup's report on what Millennials want from their work

Without mentoring, however, employees and Millennials, in particular, may be in jeopardy. Here are some important facts that have arisen from numerous surveys across a range of Fortune 500 companies and further global companies:

  • Up to 71% of young people joining the workforce today feel they are not fully engaged in their job.
  • Over half of new workers do not expect to be with the same organization for more than 12 months.
  • Over 50% of employees felt unmotivated and were not satisfied with their career progress.
  • 28% of workers that leave an organization do so because they felt they weren’t getting the feedback or reinforcement they needed.
  • Employees are 2.7 times more likely to feel highly engaged when they believe their positive work will be recognized.

These numbers show worrying amounts of people who do not feel that their place in the company is valued. With turnover skyrocketing with The Great Resignation, more and more young workers are looking for greener pastures. It is time to take mentoring programs more seriously as a way to retain and grow existing talent—especially Millennials.

How to mentor Millennials

By now we understand the importance of mentoring for Millennials. But if you’re a mentor, what do you need to know to be a great mentor? To start, let’s define your role:

A mentor is an advisor, a guide; someone who offers encouragement as well as straight talk. The mentor is someone who has experience and insight that can help a mentee with the situation they’re in. 

To build a successful relationship with your millennial mentee here are several tips to keep in mind:

  • Set SMART goals with your mentee and hold them accountable for achieving them.
  • Demonstrate your interest in your mentee by giving them your full attention, remembering details they share with you and seeking to understand them before giving them advice.
  • Connecting often and consistently is one of the best ways to get the most from a relationship with your mentee. Consistency leads to trust and reliability. If you show up for your mentee again and again with helpful advice and encouragement they will grow and see you as a pillar of support.
  • Come prepared to each mentor meeting with notes from the previous meeting so you can follow up on any challenges they were having before or commitments they made. This is key to accountability.
  • Ask for their feedback so they know you’re there to improve as well. 
  • Recognize their growth as you continue to meet. Millennials want consistent feedback and acknowledging how they’ve grown can be powerfully motivating.

What’s behind successful mentoring in the workplace?

In the previous section, we provided several tips for mentors, but workplaces and People Leaders also need to keep in mind several things when introducing mentorship into their organization. We’ll outline more concrete steps in the next section, but consider these tips the theoretical part of a successful mentoring program.

Build a strong foundation

Think about how buildings or houses are built, they are not just built on top of land, with no structure. They go deep under, with steel structures in place and every joint is solid with no room for error. Then the groundwork is laid, and the house or building can be sturdily built on top with confidence that the structure will still stand for many years.

When it comes down to mentoring, the same practice should be applied, and it should not come down to guesswork. If you are going to be a leader or a coach, you need to build on a person’s individual strengths, by identifying their natural talents and using that as the foundation, the only outcome can be a positive one. They will not only be able to see a direct path to where they want to be in 5 or 10 years, but they will enjoy the journey as well.

A strong mentoring program is designed to build on these foundations. Help mentees find the right career path and watch as the next generation of leaders embarks on their journey.

Become a system architect

One of the larger problems organizations face in the current workplace, is that they leave the system up to chance. They have built the foundations, they have the candidates in place and their mentors ready to go. But the program becomes too systematic and more of the same. Mentees are not correctly matched with mentors, timescales become irrelevant and mentees slowly but surely become disengaged. They may even lose trust in the process and think it’s a waste of time.

This is not a good investment as it brings everything back to the initial statistics regarding employee retention and reasons for leaving a workplace. Mentees can easily recognize that they are not valued and even become put off by the idea of having a mentor by thinking they are bothering their mentor too much or they are using up too much of their time. Calls and meetings start to become a run-of-the-mill exercise and the mentee finds that they are not followed up or given feedback.

A good architect for a mentoring program learns from feedback and doesn’t leave it up to chance. 

How to start a mentoring program for Millennials

If you are introducing mentoring within your workplace, there are several key things to consider:

Choose how you’ll pair mentors and mentees

Millennials make up most of our workforce nowadays. For that reason, it’s difficult to give every millennial their own mentor. A Havard Business Review article on mentoring Millennials recognized this and suggest three different ways workplaces could design their mentorship program:

  1. Reverse mentoring to give leaders a new perspective on how younger generations see the workplace, technology, and other shifts.
  2. Group mentoring to make the most use of key leaders who are in high demand to be mentors.
  3. Anonymous mentoring.

Each of these models is a unique way to structure your mentoring program, but we’d also add a couple more options to what HBR had in mind. We’d add:

Choosing a model for your mentorship program is crucial because it dictates how you go about pairing mentors and mentees. Many mentoring programs leverage pairing software that uses an algorithm to suggest the most relevant mentors for each mentee.

The initial assessment

Why would mentoring work particularly in this organization? Is there a certain culture that needs to change? Or are they already onto a winning formula but retaining that success is where they fall down? The assessment stage is important to find out just who the people are, who the employees are that need the push to develop their talents and what the differences are between the more experienced generation and the younger millennial generation. Then work on bridging that gap in a mentoring program.

Program development

Find a program that works for you and the company, keeping in mind how learning actually takes place. Up to 70% of learning is drawn from experience, practice and prior knowledge. This is why the importance of mentoring comes from drawing upon a person’s strengths. 

20% of learning is usually social. This comes in the form of networking and learning from other people. Again, mentoring is the first thing that comes to mind.

10% of employee learning and retaining the knowledge is through formal training. This is such a small percentage when you think about it, and when you compare it to countless meetings or training courses that are similar to a classroom environment if you have ever attended them yourselves, you may start to realize that actually, the most important part of those meetings were the social aspects and the practical exercises. 

So when developing a mentoring program that could work on even the smallest scale, keep that balance in mind and see if it is possible to change the learning paths.

Build internal support for the mentoring program

You need people that will support the program and preferably higher up in the organization. It goes without saying that the HR team needs to be on your side, but if you have a leader providing support and resources where needed, and with a keen interest in how it is going, it will be much easier to launch your program. 

Although mentoring may seem like a grassroots effort championed by employees who want to connect with leaders, a mentoring program is sustained by leaders who are bought into its value. 

To learn more about getting leadership by in for your mentoring program get our whitepaper on building a business case for mentoring.

Measuring your program’s outcomes

Much of the value that mentoring programs provide are intangible. Employers gain advice and guidance from their mentors that give them a new perspective or mindset. These shifts undoubtedly help them in their day-to-day work but it’s hard to quantify in a report. 

That being said, there is still much you can do to gauge and report on the success of your program.

Here are several things you can keep track of in your mentorship program

  • Signups - How many registrations you’re receiving signals the demand for your organization’s mentoring program. 
  • Mentee and mentor goals - Encourage your pairs to develop a mentorship agreement that outlines their goals. You can then survey them after the program culminates to check in on their accomplishment of these goals. 
  • Session feedback - Together’s mentoring software encourages mentors and mentees to offer feedback following each session. Information like this can lead to insights about the program. It’s also something that can be used to demonstrate the effectiveness of the program to executives. 
  • Business outcomes - You may need to show company leadership the connection between a healthy mentoring program and the growth or strength of the business

Begin mentoring Millennials today

You can easily get started building a mentoring program for Millennials today using Together. We've built a platform that makes it easy to encourage meaningful employee connections. Once employees join your program and create a profile, our intelligent pairing algorithm  suggest 3-5 of the most relevant mentors. In this way, every employee can find a mentor across your organization within minutes. This saves you days—if not weeks of manually matching employees. Don't take our word for it. Reviews on G2 from our customers highlight how easy it is to pair employees:

To learn more about starting a mentoring program check out our guide that breaks it all down into six steps with tons of resources to help you along the way. Likewise, if you want to learn how software can make running a workplace mentoring program easy check out how we can help.

With effective mentoring, you can be a part of this exciting cycle and look forward to finding out who the next big leaders will be!

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