Human Resources

Mentoring to Improve Engagement and Retention

By Hugh Tonks

In yesterday’s Advisor, we presented research suggesting that the much-studied Millennial generation highly values career growth and learning—an environment where mentorship becomes important for organizations. Today, guest columnist Hugh Tonks, CEO of Thymometrics, has advice on how to ensure mentoring improves engagement and talent retention.

According to research from employee engagement consultants, BlessingsWhite, a main factor that impacts whether an employee feels engaged or disengaged in the workplace is how much clarity and ownership he or she has towards the job—obviously, no one likes to feel out of his or her depth, but neither does he or she want to be just a cog in a machine. Right next to ownership in the list of employee priorities is career development and opportunities for training.

While it’s all very well for employees to demand these two things—ownership and career development—it can sometimes be difficult to meet these in practice. For one, employees often don’t know exactly what their career goals are yet. Or otherwise, they know, but there is no way for them to gain the experience and guidance they need to progress.

Mentoring is one of the most effective ways to ensure employee expectations fit in with the wider company culture and vision. Mentors can offer practical workplace advice and can help to steer a younger employee’s career path, giving it shape and direction above and beyond what they may have considered themselves.

Avoiding Common Mentoring Pitfalls: Mentors

Becoming a mentor can be quite a daunting prospect for your more experienced employees. It’s an additional commitment on top of general workplace pressures, and, if not pitched correctly, may not seem like it’s worth their while.

Many executives, for example, are asked to become a mentor simply for organizational benefit, which can be highly demotivating. Personal enrichment and the notion of “giving back” can be a much more powerful and durable motivator. In fact, executives should never feel pressured into becoming a mentor, but they should feel like it’s entirely voluntary.

Avoiding Common Mentoring Pitfalls: Protégés

Protégés, meanwhile, are usually more keen to go ahead with a mentoring program. However, protégés are often unclear about exactly what is they want to get out of mentoring. Without clear goals and expectations defined at the start of the program, mentoring sessions can easily lose focus and end up being a waste of time for both parties.

It is normal for younger employees to crave direction, but most lack the experience and self-awareness to identify specific limitations. Mentors aren’t necessarily going to have all the answers. One effective solution is to suggest focus areas based on common issues people face at similar points in their careers. New protégés should also seek counsel with HR business partners or program managers for professional perspective on worthy goals from mentorship.

Making Mentorship About Talent Retention

According to a recent global survey from Robert Walters, just a third of employees have been part of a mentoring program, despite 83% claiming that they would benefit from one. With employee engagement and retention being such an endemic issue in the U.S. workplace, it seems like a good idea to start utilizing the best resource you have: your own people.

Mentoring programs can provide the access to training and ownership that so much of the workforce currently craves, and they can also be an important factor that determines whether employees choose to stay on and continue to perform at their best. Talent retention is key to improving your company’s bottom line. After all, a mentoring program takes relatively little financial investment to set up.