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Workplace Mentoring Relationships

Workplace mentoring relationships connect people in the meaningful work of sharing implicit wisdom and accelerating growth. Here's what the research says...

Workplace mentoring relationships are developmental partnerships.

Mentoring happens when a more senior and experienced organizational member (the mentor) and a more junior and less experienced member (the mentee or protégé) agree to participate in a developmental relationship11.

Hear a summary of research by Dr. Sharon Straus, a professor in the Department of Medicine at St. Michael's Hospital, describing factors that support positive formation of a mentoring partnership - establishing expectations together, reciprocity and mutual respect, personal points of connection, and discovering shared values:

In workplace mentoring relationships, think beyond job performance.

There are two types of mentoring support: career-related support and psychosocial support.

With career-related support, mentors help prepare their mentees for advancement through coaching, sponsorship, exposure and challenging assignments.

With psychosocial support, mentors help build their mentee’s self-efficacy and professional identity through counseling, friendship, and confirmation.

Both types of mentoring are valuable to the protégé. A recent meta-analysis found that psychosocial and career mentoring have positive and comparable relationships with job satisfaction and career satisfaction.

However, there are differential outcomes too:

  • psychosocial mentoring relates more strongly to satisfaction with the mentor
  • career mentoring relates more strongly to salary growth

Thus, research supports tailoring workplace mentoring relationships to suit the individual goals and needs of the mentee5,14.

Informal workplace mentoring relationships have advantages over formal programs.

Formal mentoring programs are arranged and sanctioned by the organization, whereas informal mentoring relationships develop based on shared interests and mutual attraction.

While both types of workplace mentoring relationships can have positive effects for the individuals involved (see our next point to learn more), informal mentoring tends to be more beneficial for mentees.

Because of these advantages, leaders and HR professionals should encourage more experienced team members to connect with junior members to spark informal workplace mentoring relationships (in addition to providing formal mentoring programs)11,15,20.

Workplace mentoring relationships have wide-ranging benefits for both the mentee and the mentor.

The experience of being a mentee is related to:

  • higher job satisfaction
  • lower turnover intentions
  • greater job and career motivation
  • less perceived work-family conflict

Mentees also have more positive career outcomes, including:

  • faster promotion rates
  • positive perceptions of career mobility
  • greater perceived career success
  • stronger career commitment

Mentors benefit too. For those who serve as mentors, benefits include:

  • recognition from the organization
  • favorable work attitudes
  • positive career outcomes

One study found that experience being a mentor uniquely contributed to variation in salary, promotion rate and subjective career success—beyond the typical demographic and individual difference factors6,8,9,10,11,16,19,20.

Formal workplace mentoring programs are desirable to job applicants.

An experimental study found that participants were more attracted to organizations that offered a formal mentoring program than those that did not.

More specifically, individuals with a higher learning orientation – meaning they are interested, willing, and able to learn new things – were especially attracted to organizations with a formal mentoring program7.

Highly structured formal mentoring programs are viewed most positively.

A common complaint in formal mentoring programs relates to lack of structure.

Mentoring programs with greater structure tend to have more positive outcomes than less structured programs:

  • provide training to both the mentors and mentees
  • clarify role expectations
  • clearly define frequency of interactions
  • hold both mentors/mentees accountable1,4,17

Providing choice goes a long way in formal mentoring programs.

Both mentors and mentees enjoy having a say in the matching process within formal mentoring programs. Choice in mentor/mentee matching links to a more positive relational experience and fewer perceived costs on the part of the mentor3,12,17.

Selection criteria for mentors influences the success of a formal mentoring program.

Selecting mentors who are interested in mentoring and committed to the relationship creates higher-quality relationships.

Mentors who volunteered for the position create more positive mentor-mentee outcomes1,3,4,11,17.

Some people are more willing than others to be mentors.

Whether or not someone is willing to be a mentor is based on personal experience and personal characteristics.

For example, people in high ranking positions are most likely to be mentors.

Additionally, people with prior mentoring experience tend to be more willing to mentor again.

Personal characteristics that influence willingness to mentor include:

  • helpfulness
  • empathy
  • positive career attitudes
  • positive affect
  • high perceived competence

There is no evidence supporting age or gender as predictors of who is willing to mentor2,11,12,18

Mentee characteristics also influence the mentoring relationship.

Mentees who tend to report long-lasting mentoring relationships have:

  • high potential
  • high motivation
  • strong interpersonal skills
  • high achievement orientation
  • strong commitment to the relationship
  • strong commitment to the organization11

Mentees value specific mentoring behaviors.

In a qualitative study, researchers interviewed 40 mentees and asked about the quality of the mentor-mentee relationships.

Practices that mentees found valuable included:

  • Learning about the organization’s policies and procedures across departments
  • Learning problem solving skills
  • Performance coaching
  • Sponsorship for promotions
  • Role modeling important behaviors
  • Exposure, visibility, and networking
  • Career planning (short-term)12 Patrick Boland discusses meaningful characteristics of mentors—open and generative, internally focused, humbly guiding during failure:


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  2. Allen, T. D. (2003). Mentoring others: A dispositional and motivational approach. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 62(1), 134–154.
  3. Allen, T. D., Eby, L. T., Chao, G. T., & Bauer, T. N. (2017). Taking stock of two relational aspects of organizational life: Tracing the history and shaping the future of socialization and mentoring research. Journal of Applied Psychology, 102(3), 324–337.
  4. Allen, T. D., Eby, L. T., & Lentz, E. (2006). Mentorship behaviors and mentorship quality associated with formal mentoring programs: Closing the gap between research and practice. Journal of Applied Psychology, 91(3), 567–578.
  5. Allen, T. D., Eby, L. T., Poteet, M. L., Lentz, E., & Lima, L. (2004). Career Benefits Associated With Mentoring for Proteges: A Meta-Analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 89(1), 127–136.
  6. Allen, T. D., Lentz, E., & Day, R. (2006). Career success outcomes associated with mentoring others: a comparison of mentors and nonmentors. Journal of Career Development.
  7. Allen, T. D., & O’Brien, K. E. (2006). Formal mentoring and organisational attraction. Human Resource Development Quarterly, 17(1), 43–58.
  8. Allen, T. D. (2007). Mentoring relationships from the perspective of the mentor. In B. R. Ragins & K. E. Kram (Eds.), The Handbook of Mentoring at Work. SAGE Publications.
  9. Bozionelos, N. (2004). Mentoring provided: Relation to mentor’s career success, personality, and mentoring received. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 64(1), 24–46.
  10. Day, R., & Allen, T. D. (2004). The relationship between career motivation and self-efficacy with protégé career success. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 64(1), 72–91.
  11. Eby, L. T. (2012). Workplace mentoring: Past, present, and future perspectives. Oxford University Press.
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  13. Eby, L. T., Lockwood, A. L., & Butts, M. (2006). Perceived support for mentoring: A multiple perspectives approach. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 68(2), 267–291.
  14. Kram, K. E. (1985). Improving the mentoring process. Training and Development Journal, 39(4).
  15. Nemanick, R. C. (2000). Comparing formal and informal mentors: Does type make a difference? Academy of Management Perspectives, 14(3), 136–138.
  16. Nielson, T. R., Carlson, D. S., & Lankau, M. J. (2001). The supportive mentor as a means of reducing work–family conflict. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 59(3), 364–381.
  17. Parise, M. R., & Forret, M. L. (2008). Formal mentoring programs: The relationship of program design and support to mentors’ perceptions of benefits and costs. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 72(2), 225–240.
  18. Van Emmerik, H., Gayle Baugh, S., & Euwema, M. C. (2005). Who wants to be a mentor? An examination of attitudinal, instrumental, and social motivational components. Career Development International, 10(4), 310–324.
  19. Van Emmerik, I. J. H. (2004). The more you can get the better: Mentoring constellations and intrinsic career success. Career Development International, 9(6), 578–594.
  20. Viator, R. E. (2001). The association of formal and informal public accounting mentoring with role stress and related job outcomes. Accounting, Organizations and Society, 26(1), 73–93.
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