Despite the latest figures showing an acceleration in the U.S. labor market, the share of workers leaving jobs is at its highest level in more than two decades. Reasons vary, but anecdotal evidence points to a search for new opportunities and different life experiences.
Would better employee engagement retain them? How can employers give workers what they need when many never plan on stepping foot in an office again? One solution may be connecting employees with others in the organization to offer support, guidance, and a sense of belonging.
“Mentoring is the best tool we have for connecting a virtual workforce and for helping underrepresented employees gain connection and community in the organization,” said Jenn Labin, author of several books on mentoring, and chief diversity officer at MentorcliQ, a mentoring software platform. “It is one of the most effective ways to support people where they are and where they want and need to be.”
The concept of mentoring has existed in the U.S. for decades, and much longer than that in Europe, but has evolved more recently into a cornerstone of employee engagement, development, and retention.
“Today’s workforce expects to have the ability to connect across functions, reporting lines and interests,” Labin said. “The appetite for mentoring as part of a holistic employee development strategy has grown significantly. It isn’t about a leader anointing a successor and getting them ready for that position. There are far-reaching applications, and companies are asking themselves what else they can use mentoring for.”
Here are some ways mentoring is being applied today, and how to use it to keep employees happier and more engaged.
Mentoring increases engagement, retention and resilience
Employee engagement may be the buzzword du jour, but many employers are still struggling to keep their workers happy, involved, and productive. A Gallup survey showed a paltry 35% of employees report being engaged on the job.
At the same time, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says average annual voluntary turnover in the U.S. is 25%. Business leaders are all too aware of the high costs associated with this: recruitment, training, onboarding, etc. However, businesses that prioritize employee engagement grow faster, have higher retention rates, and have a more productive and effective workforce.
As noted in Harvard Business Review (HBR), “Mentorship and sponsorship are critical to employee retention and satisfaction … on the retention side, mentorship supports employee development and progression. Mentorship helps individuals connect their deeper human motivations and values to their careers, and aligning these two will pay dividends to employers and employees alike.”
When employees — at any stage in their career but particularly entry and mid-level — are mentored, they feel invested in, valued, and more in control of their career trajectory. HBR says this is especially true for people of color and women, both of whom are more likely to report mentoring as very important to their career development.
Better mentoring is a powerful way to meet DEI goals
Since the death of George Floyd prompted a national reckoning, there’s been much greater focus on diversity, with many large organizations disclosing, for the first time, a more granular look into their diversity makeup.
There’s a lot of work to do. A just-released study of 240 large tech companies, for example, noted that many lagged behind their Black Lives Matter pledges.
The NeuroLeadership Institute, a cognitive science-based research consultancy, notes that, “the erosion of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives endangers our modern workforce. Mentoring can provide opportunities for skill development and networking that can minimize some of these challenges as employees make their way into leadership positions or new responsibilities within an organization.”
Mentor programs support DEI initiatives by investing in people that have been historically underrepresented.jenn labin, author of several books on mentoring, and Chief Diversity Officer at MentorcliQ
Indeed, mentoring programs boosted representation of underrepresented groups at the management level by 9%-24%.
Further, more sophisticated matching technologies help all employees connect with mentors who can support their career journey.
“In the past, diversity meant gender, race and sexual orientation,” said Labin. “But people are so much more complex. What about a Black trans woman, for example? Mentor programs support DEI initiatives by investing in people that have been historically underrepresented.”
Finally, a data-driven approach to better mentoring
Until relatively recently, many organizations subscribed to an old-school mentality about mentoring. It was simply a way for young professionals to learn the ropes and, with any luck, advance in their careers. They’d get randomly paired up with a more established person and would shadow them and/or have regular check-ins.
The global market for mentoring software is expected to grow from $377 million in 2020 to $1.1 billion by 2026.360iresearch
“It used to be a random happenstance when you found a person who was a good fit,” said Keegan Walden, a clinical psychologist and co-founder of Torch Labs, a tech company focused on leadership development. “Today there is far more sophisticated matching.”
Like most things, mentoring has become digitized, with apps and programs that use artificial intelligence (AI) AI to facilitate perfect matches, set goals, and track progress. This has become more essential as the pandemic upended where and when we work. And organizations are investing in their mentoring programs with ad hoc technology. The global market for mentoring software is expected to grow from $377 million in 2020 to $1.1 billion by 2026.
At the same time, companies are now measuring return on investment in their mentoring programs, mining and analyzing data to track success, identify problems, and create the best matchups.
“The programs are also much more sophisticated in how they measure success,” Walden said. “The ROI (return on investment) piece is new.” Torch’s product, for example, applies the Kirkpatrick Model to measure success, which has four escalating levels of provability. It examines:
- Whether people like it
- Whether people are learning and are applying what they learn to their job
- Whether they have changed their behavior as a result
- Whether there has been business growth or cost savings as a result
Mentoring is a key element of employee engagement
There is now broad recognition of the importance of investing in and prioritizing employee experience. A study by Willis Towers Watson found that 94% of executives said it will be a top priority over the next three years. That’s a huge jump over the 54% who said as much pre-pandemic. Deloitte has identified five attributes that will drive engagement and make organizations “simply irresistible” to work for. One is growth opportunity enabled by training, a high-impact learning culture, and organizationally-supported talent mobility.
Mentoring, which experts say is replacing other forms of development like workshops, in-person training, and event-based learning, is a key piece of that puzzle.
“A few years ago there wasn’t the broad-based recognition at the C-suite level that mentoring is something to benefit the company,” said Walden. “That’s all changed.”