WORKPLACE MENTORING: Taking Advantage of the Hidden Business Benefits Every Employer Can Use

By Jennifer Suich Frank, Esq., Lynn, Jackson, Shultz & Lebrun, P.C.
and Karina B. Sterman, Esq., Greenberg Glusker

With January being National Mentoring Month, it is an opportune time for organizations of any size or industry to consider the benefits of workplace mentoring and whether to implement a mentoring program in 2021. As the past year has shown us, now more than ever, companies need to engage their employees and continue to build their businesses for the future.
One way to do that is to consider the (sometimes hidden) benefits of good mentoring – whether it is formal or informal – within the organization for continued overall success and long-term viability. Mentoring benefits the employee as well as the employer, and also benefits the mentor him or herself. The following are areas of benefits:

  1. Increased employee engagement
    With competition for top talent, an ever-present concern for most organizations, the key is how to retain those good employees once you have succeeded in hiring them. According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace report, 85% of employees are not engaged (or are actively disengaged) in their job. Employee engagement isn’t always about compensation or benefits; it can be about employees’ opportunities for advancement or wanting to make a difference in their organization, having their voices heard, being recognized, or otherwise participating in the success of their company. Professional and organizational mentorship arrangements can help the mentees with all these areas and have a positive impact on employee engagement overall.
  1. Increased success of the organization and profitability or goal achievement
    A significant long-term study conducted by James Heskett and John Kotter, resulting in their book Corporate Culture and Performance, found that companies which either had or encouraged leadership initiatives as part of a performance-enhancing culture grew by an average of 682% in revenue. Also, a case study performed at Sun Microsystems found that employees who participated in the company’s mentoring program were five times more likely to be promoted and advance in their pay grade, with mentors themselves realizing an even higher rate of advancement. A mentoring program, whether formal or informal, can become a part of an organization’s culture and commitment to leadership and development. This, in turn, can lead to higher profitability or other measures of organizational or employee success.
  1. Improved employer brand and reputation
    It is no coincidence that almost three-quarters (3/4) of Fortune 500 companies (those United States’ largest businesses ranked by total revenue) have a mentoring program, when one considers the benefits for the company, the mentees and the mentors. Establishing a successful mentoring program can become a valuable recruiting tool, making the company an employer-of-choice and increasing the employee value proposition or “EVP” (how employees perceive the value gained by working for the organization across several attributes, including the opportunity for growth and development). And as every business knows, an organization’s reputation is key to attracting and retaining customers, clients and employees – and is necessary for survival in a competitive market and for long-term growth. Mentoring programs increase a business’ reputation by demonstrating a commitment to its employees – and ultimately – to all of its stakeholders.
  1. Knowledge sharing and business continuity/succession planning
    It is often said that “knowledge is best shared.” In traditional organizations, knowledge is typically shared from the top down. Therefore, mentoring can help newer or younger employees tap into that pool of organizational knowledge, instrumental for business continuity and succession planning. In addition, employees, regardless of their time with the company, age or job status, have knowledge to share. Therefore,
    mentors and mentees alike can benefit from sharing information with each other, and this in turn creates mutual organizational learning. Everyone wins – including the organization.
  1. Creation of a “safe place” for idea-sharing, questions and employee development
    According to social psychologist Brem Brown, workplaces need to be a “safe container” in order for innovation, growth, leadership and the development of employees’ potential to take place. A mentor-mentee relationship is ideally built on trust, guidance, sharing and feedback and provides a type of “safe place” for real development of the mentee’s potential within the organization. The mentor can serve as a resource when an employee mentee does not know where else to turn, or when the employee mentee may not feel comfortable asking a particular question of his/her manager.
  2. Increased diversity and inclusion
    Many studies have found a positive correlation between successful diversity and inclusion efforts and the organization’s success. However, many workplace diversity programs don’t end up increasing diversity and being successful – and some never even get started, even if they were initially considered. On the other hand, mentoring programs have demonstrated a positive impact on making diversity and inclusion part of the organizational fabric. Mentorship can be a great tool to build diversity, equity and inclusion – and growth – for both mentees and mentors. A study performed by Cornell University’s School of Industrial Relations found that mentoring programs increased minority employees’ representations at the management level by 9% to 24%. In addition, the study found that for minorities and women, the mentoring programs significantly improved their promotion and retention rates (15% – 38% versus non-mentored employees). Thus, mentoring can be an important aspect of encouraging and ensuring the success of underrepresented or overlooked employee populations in the workplace.

    Convinced? We hope so. We also want to emphasize that workplace mentoring programs are available to every employer, regardless of size, industry or financial resources. The first step is to determine the purpose of the mentorship, and employers are not limited to just one. The following are the most common purposes and types of mentorship arrangements:
  1. Employee Integration
    a. This is the most common approach to mentorship and expands on the typically cursory orientation and onboarding process at the time of hire. Employees who have been with the company for at least a year and are trusted to have the company’s overall interest in mind are assigned a newly hired employee mentee to help further familiarize the new employee with the company’s systems, levels of formality or informality, personnel, and available resources.

    b. The mentor is usually someone within the same department and made available for routine questions and process clarification.

    c. This is usually a temporary assignment until the newly hired employee has successfully integrated and completed some type of introductory or probationary period.
  2. Employee Promotion
    a. This is mentoring for more tenured employees and typically appropriate when a junior employee seeks to be coached and supported in expanding her or his career within the company. For this type of mentorship, it is important to make sure the mentor is well-established, supportive, and not in competition with the mentee. This type of relationship also requires that the company allow the mentor adequate room for confidentiality and time for training. A mentee and mentor are matched, either through a program or on their own.

    b. Mentee-mentor partners participate in a mentoring relationship with structure and a timeframe of their making. This type of mentorship is finite and typically concludes when the mentee obtains the desired promotion or experience.
  1. Development Mentoring
    a. This is mentoring that is more comprehensive and not limited to workplace promotion readiness. The development mentorship is a carefully calibrated relationship in which a more seasoned and well-regarded member of the organization provides feedback and a safe environment in which employees can reflect on their employment and career path without judgment. The mentors listen, collaborate, challenge, and help the mentees find ways to make choices aligned with personal, professional and company values.

    b. Typically lasting a year or more, this type of relationship requires that the mentor establish trust and open communication with the mentee. Even when the formal mentorship program ends, the mentor remains available as a trusted confidante and career advisor to the mentee on an ongoing basis.

    c. Often, it is ideal to allow the mentee to identify who would be the pref erred mentor for this type of relationship.

    Employers also have options operationally when implementing any of the above mentorship programs.

    Mentorship can take place in a close one-to-one assignment or in a group setting with an assigned mentor to lead it. The mentorship program can be the product of brainstorming and design by a company committee or under the guidance and supervision of a formal paid mentorship coach. Of course, mentoring relationships can also develop naturally without any formal set-up or program. However, no matter what resources a company may have available, there is no better time to implement a mentorship program for employees than now.

    Has your company implemented a mentorship program? If not, which one will it try first? Do you have other suggestions? Please let us know your company’s mentorship experiences or plans here:

    We encourage sharing and would love to publish a list of ideas on the Primerus website.

About the authors:

Jennifer Suich Frank is a seasoned employment attorney with over 20 years of experience advising clients on a variety of employment, labor and benefit issues. She routinely advises human resources professionals and company leaders on issues involving discrimination, harassment, disability, ADA, FM LA, wage and hour, compliance, handbooks and policies, privacy, non-competes, hiring, discipline and termination. Jennifer also responds to charges of discrimination, complaints with federal and state agencies, and handles employment -related litigation.
A creative and ardent advocate for her clients, Karina Sterman defends businesses in class action lawsuits as well as in discrimination, retaliation, wrongful termination, and other employment disputes. While she regularly defends companies in administrative proceedings in front of the EEOC , Department of Labor, California Labor Commissioner, and other jurisdictions, she leverages her significant experience in “behind the scenes” counseling to avoid or resolve pending claims

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