Mentoring and Motivation

Mentoring and employee motivation are closely tied together. Here's why.

Matthew Reeves

CEO of Together

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Mentoring and Motivation

One of the most frequent topics of interest in employment is motivation. Employees want to feel motivated. Employers want to know what motivates them. Organizations rely on employees’ motivations to carry their business forward.

But it can be a difficult subject to navigate without looking into individual patterns and recognising traits that may affect motivation. Some people are simply and naturally driven and stimulated. It is written into their DNA or has even been a product of their upbringing and surroundings (people of influence/lifestyle). Others may have external driving factors that affect their motivation, such as money, possessions, or security. They may not need a pat on the back per se, to get the job done if they can see the results they want and are driven to go and get them. Then there are those driven by recognition and knowing that their contribution is valued and they will be rewarded in return for their hard work.

Motivation is a great subject for employers to delve into, especially to get the best out of each employee by finding out what drives them. Engagement on the other hand is what employers need to maintain to ensure motivation stays high. A recent study by Gallup states that engagement within the U.S. is at an all-time high since they started tracking it 20 years ago. Rising from 26 percent to 35 percent, this statistic shows positive steps are being taken to protect the motivation of employees.

One of the many steps many organizations have taken over the past 20 years is to incorporate an employee mentoring program. By showing a genuine interest in employees’ futures, motivation to succeed is increased.

Motivational Transparency and Mentoring

Understanding the motivations behind any task is usually the best way to complete it with a full buy-in. For example, an employee being told they have to submit a report with a 48-hour deadline and no further context is less likely to engage with the task than an employee who has been given greater instruction, avenues of support and an insight into why the task is important.

Mentoring is no different. As the rise of work-place mentorships becomes not just a good idea for idea’s sake, but a necessity, it is important to set out motivations from the start. Let each party know how important the role they are taking on is.

Many people have their own reasons for wanting or seeking out a mentor, while businesses and organizations usually have the same reason: To support talent within the company and to ensure practices and values are upheld while safeguarding their own future.

But the motivations behind mentoring are only part of the journey. The motivational impact that mentoring can have on individuals, groups and even the organization – before, during and after the process - are what will drive the business forward, even through the most testing of times. It comes down to what a company says it will do to further support employees’ futures and what it actually does. Following through on promises of career progressing programs is just not enough anymore, the transparency behind their motivations is what is needed to have a lasting impact.

What Effect is Mentoring Having on Employees?

In a survey conducted by Sage, findings showed that of those with a mentor 97 percent  say they are valuable, 55 percent believe mentoring can help them succeed, but 85 percent currently do not have a mentor. If the success rate in terms of positive and valuable takings from having a mentor shows figures close to 100 percent it appears that the 85 percent without one are the ones that now need focus to find out where they can benefit from the process.

It is not just employees who benefit from workplace mentoring programs. Companies will also see the upside of mentorships including improved employee engagement, lower turnover, positive company culture and even an increase in productivity.

Of course statistics can only show a small section of the business world, but the impact and effect is clear, that having a mentoring program, or opportunity for employees to work with a mentor is not only good for the employee, but the business as well.

Mentors themselves are reporting that they feel more empowered and their mentoring relationships have helped them to develop greater confidence and that the process helps to build meaningful and long-lasting connections. This is crucial in terms of progression and promotion, where networking and having a good standing with managers and executives will help them to build trust within employees, seeing for themselves what they are capable of.

The Psychology of Motivation in the Workplace

When we talk about the positive effects that mentoring can have, it can be difficult to measure motivation as a statistic as there are so many variables that can affect an individual’s motivation day-to-day.

If you think about the workplace, it would be easy to say that managers must reward all employees for all tasks completed in order to keep their drive and motivation up. But the argument could be that all basic tasks are expected to be completed – and to a good standard –  to keep their position of employment.

As discussed earlier in the article, people have different motivations in life and at work, and varied methods of keeping up their motivation. Think about exercise as an example, some people find it easier to stay motivated when on a weight loss journey with an end goal in mind, such as weddings or holidays where they want to feel and look their best self. In the workplace the end goal could be a promotion, winning a quarterly bonus or simply earning enough money to save for something important. The psychological impact of motivation is so different for everyone, that organizations must know where to find the balance in keeping employees motivated.

A study by Daniel Pink regarding the psychology behind motivation at work suggests that anticipating reward can be detrimental to the company and decrease creativity and productivity in employees. If they expect to be rewarded, they become complacent in short-term thinking and are easily encouraged to cheat their way to reward.

Another theory called Expectance Theory says that people are most motivated when they believe they will receive their desired reward if they hit an achievable target and are therefore more motivated to work harder toward it. Alternatively, Hertzberg’s theory says that organizations must assure everyone feels appreciated and supported in order to keep motivation levels high. By presenting the best possible working conditions, fair pay and supportive relationships, this will help prevent demoralisation and job dissatisfaction. This theory would appear to level the playing field amongst those who need more assurance to stay motivated and those who are self-starters and are self-driven as it is environmentally based and gives everyone the same level of comfort at work at the same time.

There are many theories about motivation in the workplace and what works best and what can be detrimental. But what about mentoring?Is motivation to succeed enough for someone to buy into a mentoring program?

Motivational Factors of Mentoring

Aside from how businesses incur higher profits or success rates in terms of employee retention, the other factor to consider is how much does an employee really get out of a mentoring relationship and not just in terms of promotion or a pay rise. The other motivational factors must be important enough for employees to want in to such a program. And this should go beyond the standard skills that are usually learned from a mentorship, such as interpersonal skills or improved management qualities.

The same goes for being a mentor. The whole process can be long and involved with additional workloads depending on the level of mentoring, so motivation has to be an equally important factor for them too.

Benefits of Having a Mentor

It’s educational – It is probable that a mentor will have already been in the shoes of their mentee. If they are at a higher level of employment, they will recognise the struggles, questions and uncertainty that have been brought to discussion. Their input can be an invaluable education into the journey up a career ladder as well as their insight into a desired field.

Mentees can hugely benefit from learning the ins and outs of the position from someone already in the role. Things like handling business meetings, juggling phone calls and emails, putting together presentations to meeting new people, problem solving and meeting deadlines. But they should also be seeing the other side of things like how they got to their position. Interview coaching, portfolio presentations, and networking are all important learning outcomes.

There should also be plenty of discussion around mistakes and learning from them. With the knowledge being shared from someone with experience, it can help calm anxieties about making mistakes, but also reassure mentees that everyone makes them.

It helps with focus – It’s normal to have good and bad days. Not everyone can be expected to fully focus 24/7 as much as it would benefit them. So, having someone to help bring focus into a mentee’s working life is one of the bigger benefits of a workplace mentoring program.

This relates to focus on a daily basis, such as tasks that are less than desirable and tend to get left to the last minute. Procrastination is always something to be worked on if it is a trait in any employee. Task completion requires motivation to do so. A mentor can help not only discuss ideas to improve focus but the mentorship itself can incite a certain drive in mentees to do better. After all mentoring somebody takes time and effort and for any party to benefit, there has to be focus on all aspects.

But a mentor can also help with long-term focus. There are so many questions that employees get asked as they juggle their career: What do you want out of this? Where do you see yourself in five years? Is this the career you really want? They can be hard to answer without focus and drive. So having discussions about the future could be the way to figure out long-term career goals.

This would help in terms of having another person’s perspective; someone who has observed their mentee, witnessed traits, strengths and areas for improvement and someone who may have lacked the same focus in their own career at one time or another. When it comes to mentoring, bringing focus to the table would end up being a great take from the process.

Benefits of Being a Mentor

It reinforces knowledge – Being a mentor can have a great effect on a person’s confidence, by reinforcing their own self-belief as well as the belief and trust from others. A huge benefit lies in knowing that the knowledge being passed on is invaluable information that could help kickstart another person’s career, without harming their own. In fact, it could end up boosting their own.

A mentor’s knowledge lies in how they do their job, which would already be assumed as great work for them to be a mento in the first place and how their own personal experiences got them there. Any uncertainties or worries that they may not have all the knowledge to pass to a mentee can be alleviated by witnessing their awareness being taken seriously.This reinforcement from an initial mentor/mentee relationship will benefit any future mentorships and relieve any self-doubt they may have.

It improves motivation – Becoming a mentor is no feat to betaken lightly. It is about being highly involved in another employee’s work life and future.It would be easy to think that mentoring someone can become tedious or even demotivating when someone else is getting the most out of a mentor relationship.

But the reality is that mentoring adds a certain drive to most mentors, especially if they have already climbed to their desired position and have come to a standstill within their career. Mentoring can open a lot more doors and provide a different perspective on their own job. Knowing that there are still other possibilities, other candidates that want their specific help to succeed and realising that the door isn’t closed on their own career progression can provide a new and exciting motivation for the future.

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