Workplace Mentoring Relationships Wordle

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

Updated 10/23/2017

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 relationship.

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:

  • Eby, L.T. (2012). Workplace mentoring: Past, present, and future perspectives. In S.W.J. Kozlowski (Eds): The Oxford Handbook of Organizational Psychology, Volume 1, pp 614-642. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

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 mentee.

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).

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 factors.

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 program.

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 accountable

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 mentor.

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 outcomes.

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 mentor.

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 organization
  • Eby, L.T. (2012). Workplace mentoring: Past, present, and future perspectives. In S.W.J. Kozlowski (Eds). The Oxford Handbook of Organizational Psychology, Volume 1, pp 614-642. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

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)

Patrick Boland discusses meaningful characteristics of mentors — open and generative, internally focused, humbly guiding during failure:

More Coetic Mentoring resources: