Scan the business section of any major media outlet today, and it won’t take long to find a reference to The Great Resignation – or its still-employed cousin, Quiet Quitting. As employers and workers tiptoe haltingly back to the office, it’s becoming starkly obvious that employees’ needs – and their willingness to go above and beyond the terms of the employment contract – are changing. Now and in the future, organizations will have to recognize that who staff members feel connected to at work is as fundamental to their satisfaction as the work they’re actually doing.
This dynamic becomes increasingly important in the context of a virtual or hybrid workspace. Without the kind of “ambient togetherness” offered by simply running into a colleague in the common kitchen, it’s hard to create the feeling of belonging. Peripheral encounters such as saying good morning by the elevator, or spontaneously joining the team for a drink after work, are not formal team-building activities. But they do contribute to a positive workplace culture that is hard to recreate when meetings mainly happen online.
In addition, organizations are suffering from the “death of expertise” that a massive cohort of retiring Baby Boomer and early Generation X employees are leaving in their wake. People under 40 now represent half the workforce in Canada; the members of Generation Z (born between 1993-2011) already make up 20% of employment numbers. These younger workers in particular have never known a time without the Internet; the youngest ones have never had to dial a rotary or push button phone. Fully integrated with social media, they nonetheless report preferring face-to-face communication with colleagues. Having grown up in a post-linear digital reality – in which an entire TV series can be streamed in one night or in random order – they are also used to accessing knowledge on demand rather than in an established, chronological fashion.
To retain the best and brightest new hires, companies need to think about what experiences these young employees are looking to gain by working for them. Mentorship is a very effective way to ensure that organizations stay on top of younger workers’ expectations and aspirations – and give them the resources to achieve them – while spurring them on in service of the corporate or institutional vision. According to Gartner, people who feel more understood, cared for, autonomous, invested, and valued in/at their place of work perceive emotional value in being employed by their organization. Focusing on mentees as a group within an organization is a key to stabilizing personnel, and moving forward.
So how does that work, exactly? There is value in meeting an employee “where they’re at.” A carefully matched, vetted mentor is the keeper of some valuable, albeit tacit knowledge: How It Really Is in a workplace. These are the “rules” that go unspoken; the invisible expectations that can be made explicit by a skilled and generous adviser. Talking through the realities of the job, sharing its ups and downs, helps both parties understand the degree to which the work does (or does not) naturally fit the person, and allows for adjustments to be made on both sides.
That’s especially important because the view from the top can be quite different from what’s seen on the lower floors. A 2021 Gartner survey found that executives feel a greater sense of purpose than employees, with 77% of them reporting feeling like they are a part of something important at work; only 59% of employees could say the same. Mentorship propagates more generosity and empathy into the system, by pairing those who have already scaled career heights with those just beginning their ascent. It’s also an extremely cost-effective way to increase employee engagement.
Numerous studies demonstrate the link between mentorship and success at work. But the mentor-mentee relationship is also an enriching source of motivation, knowledge, and self-reflection that enhances well-being and career satisfaction, according to a recent journal article. Using large-scale data dating from 1960 to 2020, the peer-reviewed scientific journal PNAS determined that in scientific fields,
“Mentorship is associated with diverse forms of protégé success, significantly increasing protégés’ chances of producing celebrated research, being inducted into the National Academy of Science, and achieving superstardom.” Perhaps the most interesting finding revealed that scientific mentees accomplish more when they diverge from their mentors’ research topics and exert “intellectual independence.”
So how do employers ensure that mentor-mentee relationships foster similar growth? If only it were as simple as finding the most grizzled veteran employee in the building (who’s seen it all and then some), and throwing them in a room with the new person. (Although there’s something to be said for a reassuring voice like that to tell you that you’re probably going to come out the other side of a tough situation.) But more such individuals opt for retirement every year. Other senior employees may only be able to accommodate so many demands on their time. Managers and HR pros may struggle to identify where fertile connections between potential mentors and mentees – who may not even know of each other – can be made.
This is where an advanced mentorship matching program such as the best-in-class Cross-Pollinate AI plays a vital role. As a recent mentee through the Dairy Farmers of Ontario Innovation Program, Steven McNaughton of Proof Line Farm enthused,
“The mentoring connection provided by Pollinate was instrumental in helping us get our project off the ground. The unbiased outside perspective offered by our mentor, coupled with their years of relevant experience, really helped us refine our plans and avoid some unidentified pitfalls. Our mentor also provided industry connections and recommendations of [others] to reach out to for additional support and expertise. Having someone to express our frustrations to, and help us work through our challenges, was tremendously valuable. We would highly recommend Pollinate’s mentorship algorithm.”
Cross-Pollinate AI employs Pollinate’s proprietary Knowledge Transfer Index, a psychometric assessment that summarizes seven elements of style, preference and ability – all of which affect how people work and learn together. In so doing, the algorithm can predict the success of prospective pairs and groups in a bespoke process that makes it simple to create fruitful mentor-mentee collaborations.
Another recent mentee, Renate Wiebe (Pollinate’s Project Coordinator), has been working for the past year with a seasoned project manager she was matched with using the Cross-Pollinate AI. Talking of that experience, she says,
“My mentor has helped me realize my goals. I am at the beginning of my career, and have been figuring out what I want to do, and how I want to develop myself. My mentor has encouraged me to think about where I want to be in the future, and provided me with many different paths I could take.”
With tension around the employment contract continuing, employee engagement dwindling, and virtual or hybrid work structures becoming increasingly commonplace, there is clearly a correction that needs to happen to put companies and staff back on the same page. Fortunately, mentorship offers a clear and cost-effective solution to this problem – and its popularity is growing amongst organizations in the know. Pollinate Networks is proud to be the standard-bearer for the Rise of the Mentee, making it easier for organizations to retain, recognize, and reward the talents of their most valuable resources: their people.
Anne Marshall, Freelance Writer & Editor
Anne is a freelance writer and editor who has been writing articles, listicles, advertorial, blog posts, interviews, profiles, case studies, assessment tools, cover letters, surveys, oral histories, “Best Of”s, newsletters, correspondence, and other prose for a variety of clients – private, commercial, corporate, non-profit, and journalistic for many years. If it needs to be written, Anne can probably write it.