This story is a guest contribution from Together Software, a company that builds software to help enterprise companies run effective mentorship programs within their organizations.
Employee engagement ranks on every HR team’s list of things to improve. That’s no surprise, given Gallup's research shows that 85% of employees worldwide are not engaged. Employee engagement is a complex problem with a myriad of contributing factors.
The point is, improving employee engagement is a massive challenge for organizations, and there’s no silver bullet that HR teams can employ. But there’s hope.
Mentorship is an idea that’s been around since antiquity, and it’s still relevant for organizations today. Mentoring programs can motivate employees by connecting them with those who have more experience and are enthusiastic about passing on their hard-earned knowledge and career advice.
We’ll outline and explore five ways mentoring can skyrocket your employee engagement.
Factors Impacting Employee Engagement
Several factors impact the engagement of employees at organizations. A study of engineering interns participating in a mentorship program in Hong Kong found these to be the deciding factors for employees considering staying or leaving a company.
- Organizational outcomes: How well the company is doing has an impact on employee morale. A company restructuring or unrealistic expectations can lead to employees leaving.
- Recognition and rewards: While promotions and salary increases are one way to make employees feel valued, there are more intangible rewards like recognizing employees in a meeting for their hard work and dedication.
- Compensation: This one is obvious. People will rarely stay at a job that doesn’t meet their compensation and total rewards expectations.
- Leadership: The reality is that no one wants to work for a bad boss.
- Career and professional development: Employees engaged in learning and development opportunities at their workplace are less likely to leave. Opportunities to grow and learn can help employees develop new and valuable skills, making them feel valued.
Mentorship impacts most of the factors listed above. While it doesn’t directly affect salary or how the company performs, it can positively influence how recognized employees feel and direct their career development.
5 Ways Mentoring Increases Engagement
1. Mentoring kickstarts learning.
Mentors will kickstart employee learning which will, in turn, get them more excited about applying what they learned. Employees who want to enhance soft skills like communication or presentation skills may have to go to an external career coach for this kind of training. In this situation, the onus is on the employee for their learning. It doesn’t build much loyalty to their organization.
Instead, a mentor is an ideal resource to offer this type of learning and development. They have institutional knowledge, which can prove invaluable for a junior employee trying to build their career. They’ll have the opportunity to ask their mentor questions like how to approach a particular problem their facing or more profound questions like how to determine what kind of career they want to lead.
Mentors can be the sounding board that accelerates employee development. As employees get the satisfaction of learning, they’ll be more engaged and eager to apply it to their work.
2. Mentorship gives employees a voice.
Consider your experience being a junior employee. Having someone else — especially a leader — dedicate time to listen can make a big difference in how we feel about our work. When an employee feels heard by company leadership, it shows them they’re valued.
Workplace mentoring programs are a unique opportunity for leaders to connect with more junior employees. In some work settings, junior employees feel lucky to briefly introduce themselves to executives or more senior employees at a work event. Imagine what kind of impact it could have on a new employee’s career and confidence if they could sit down with them once a month for 30 minutes to get feedback and ask advice?
Breaking down silos and connecting leaders with employees is also important for diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. A report by Deloitte found that 69% of executives see diversity as an important issue in the workplace. And they have good reason to recognize its importance. According to McKinsey, companies with more racial and cultural diversity in leadership roles are 35% more likely to have higher financial returns.
Organizations can increase the visibility of employees from diverse backgrounds for future leadership positions through mentoring programs. Doing so will also increase engagement because companies will be showing their teams that they value diversity. And employees want to work for a company that prioritizes diversity, according to a study by Harvard Business Review.
3. Mentors and mentees develop strong ties.
Workplace relationships play a significant role in employee engagement. And in siloed organizations, barriers can crop up between employees from different departments and levels of the organization. These barriers lead to poor communication and create an atmosphere that lacks transparency and fosters disengagement.
A study by the University of Southern California identified that “job embeddedness” as a key to retaining and attracting talent. They defined job embeddedness by how many social ties employees had in the organization, how well their role fits their aspirations, and what they’d lose if they quit.
The study underlined that the importance of workplace relationships. Organizations can break down barriers that stunt engagement by creating safe spaces for team members across the organization to connect and learn from each other. Companies can do this through traditional mentoring relationships (senior-to-junior employees) or peer-to-peer learning where colleagues mentor and support one another.
4. Mentorships instill accountability.
One of the main benefits of mentors is they help their mentees choose goals for the mentoring relationship. Mentorship gives people a standard to aim for and a shared expectation that they’ll work towards it.
Partners In Leadership, a culture management consultancy, identifies that workplaces that lack accountability experience:
- Low team morale
- Unclear priorities
- Less engaged employees
- Inability to meet goals
- Lower levels of trust
- Increased turnover
To avoid these characteristics, instilling accountability in the workplace needs to start at the top with leaders. Organizations can make accountability a core part of their culture by pairing exemplary leaders with employees who influence their teams. Their mentoring sessions can focus on developing leadership skills which the employee can then bring back to their team.
In this way, the leader develops their mentee’s leadership skills and holds them accountable to put teach those same skills into practice with their team. Over time, a culture of accountability will grow, and employee engagement will increase. But it all starts with the mentoring relationship.
5. Mentees will chart their own path.
Kellogg’s School of Management at Northwestern University researched the results of having a mentor. They reported on the “performance records of tens of thousands of scientists worldwide from 1960 to the present.” They found that highly prized researchers (those dubbed as having a “hidden talent” to produce high numbers of prize-winning research papers) produced the most successful mentees if they encouraged them to do their own research rather than following in their footsteps.
Their findings are contrary to what many believe about mentorship. We think that mentees should follow their mentor’s path. But for mentees to become truly exceptional, they need to chart their own path using what they learned from their mentors.
High potential employees need mentors so they can direct their energy towards future leadership positions within the organization. Without mentors, high performers will have a harder time finding the challenge they need to continue growing. They’ll look for other opportunities, and their engagement will plummet as they grow complacent in their current role.
The key takeaway is to ensure every employee has a mentor because:
- It will make their learning more impactful
- They’ll have access to leaders and their wealth of experience
- They’ll develop stronger ties with their teams
- They’ll be held accountable and,
- They’ll be motivated to continue growing their career (within their current company)
All these outcomes contribute to employee engagement. By giving one employee a mentor, they can transform their entire team.
While research shows that employee engagement has risen over the past year, less than 40% of employees report being engaged in their jobs. Disengaged employees will look for different opportunities, and in the time of The Great Resignation, employers can’t risk having 60% of their employees considering other options. Starting a workplace mentoring program can be an effective and proven way to increase employee engagement.