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Employer Assistance & Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN): A service of The Viscardi Center.
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Workplace Mentoring Primer

The Workplace Mentoring Primer was developed for employers and employees interested in establishing formal mentoring relationships and offers specific strategies, tools and activities for implementation. The Primer is based on the premise that workplace mentoring is a strategy to increase the retention, job performance and career advancement of any employee, but it is especially critical in supporting the inclusion of employees with disabilities, women and minorities.

If you are interested in mentoring in the federal government, please visit our Federal Workplace Mentoring Primer.

Mentoring Matters

Ask most successful professionals how they got to where they are today, and they will probably tell you about the person or people who helped them get started, develop, and advance in their careers. Through sharing of resources, expertise, perspectives, and values, mentoring encourages personal and professional development, and helps participants build skills and attain career goals. Mentoring brings value to everyone involved in its practice, and can contribute to employee recruitment, growth, and retention. This can help establish an organizational culture that is attractive to candidates, who in turn bring enthusiasm, energy, and innovation to the workplace.

Four common characteristics of effective mentoring programs are: commitment, trust and respect, expectations, and communications (Timmons, J., Mack, M., Sims, A., Hare, R., and Willis, J., 2006). Trust is crucial to all mentoring relationships, not just in terms of the mentee's ability to rely upon the mentor for support and guidance, but in the mentor's ability to trust the mentee to make his or her own decisions and take actions on their own behalf. Workplace mentoring has many benefits for employers looking to attract, support, and retain talented employees at all levels. It also increases the cultural competence of employees by expanding their awareness and deepening their relationships with co-workers who differ from them. As Younes (2001) explains, "Diverse customers need a diverse workforce to serve them." Employers need a diverse workforce to appropriately respond to an increasingly diverse citizenry. Offering mentoring for and between employees of diverse backgrounds, and with various differences, helps companies foster collaborative relationships and open communication amongst employees.

To develop and retain a diverse workforce, companies need managers and supervisors with the skills to manage and mentor diverse populations. Managing diversity within the workplace means creating an environment where everyone is empowered to contribute to the work of the unit; it requires sensitivity to, and awareness of, the interactions among staff and between staff and leadership, and knowing how to articulate clear expectations. Effective mentoring in a multicultural setting involves understanding diverse learning styles and approaches to problem-solving, as well as other cultural differences, and appreciating how to use this information to serve the organization's mission. How can mentoring help your company seek and retain diverse talent? Mentoring:

  • Expands leadership abilities and understanding of diverse workers;
  • Improves awareness of personal biases, assumptions and identifies areas for improvement;
  • Extends collaboration among employees from different generations and cultural backgrounds; and
  • Creates a culture of acceptance and inclusion.

Individual talents, ideas, hard work, and persistence are essential ingredients to success, but the guidance and support of other professionals are also critical, especially for those first entering the workforce and preparing to grow into positions with greater and more complex responsibilities. It can provide the mentee, mentor and the company with a win-win relationship. Many mentees gain valuable career advice, increased confidence in their ability to establish and achieve career goals, increased knowledge in job search strategies, and are able to achieve specific career changes. Mentors build skill sets and pass on organizational knowledge, in addition to bringing value to their company's image as an employer of choice.

Another important function of mentoring is to enhance employee engagement and retention, both of which contribute significantly to individual and organizational productivity and making employees feel valued from day one. Without a formal mentoring program, new hires and less experienced employees may struggle to find other professionals to connect with or are willing to help them learn, grow, and advance in the workplace. Employees who do not feel engaged or supported are less likely to stay with their employer.

Mentoring can make all the difference in how an employee performs on the job and whether he or she decides to stay or seek employment opportunities elsewhere. Recruiting volunteer mentors is a critical step in starting and sustaining a mentoring program. To attract mentors, it is important to clearly communicate the program's goals, the potential benefits to all participants, and what is required of mentors. Workplace mentoring can help employers, who face competition, to attract, support, and retain talented employees at all levels. In an age of rigorous performance standards and significant budget constraints, mentoring aids in improving employee performance, motivation, and accountability. As large populations of Baby Boomers prepare to retire, mentoring may be most valuable as a means of transferring knowledge from one generation to the next and preparing future leaders to fill the vacancies of retirees.

While mentoring can benefit any employee, it may be especially helpful for an employee in transition. Whether it is into a new job and workplace or into a new professional role with increased responsibilities, transition is often confusing and stressful. Both types of transition require getting familiar with a new context — new expectations, policies and procedures, new people and personalities, and new daily developments and demands from co-workers and supervisors. A mentor can help the entry-level or rising professional through the transition period by acting as a guide, a sounding board, and a confidante. The input, support and encouragement of a mentor during times of transition helps the transitioning employee process new information, manage stress, gain confidence, and persist through challenges. As a guide, the mentor can help the employee choose the best path or strategies to accomplish his or her work thereby increasing the mentee's productivity. As a sounding board, the mentor can help the employee assess their interests, values, and skills, but ultimately leaves it up to the employee to define their goals. The mentor can also help the employee consider various options when faced with tough decisions and identify and remove potential barriers to success.

Various research studies confirm that the benefits to mentees are significant. In their review of research findings across multiple studies, Allen, Eby, Poteet, Lentz, and Lima (2004) found individuals who received career-related mentoring consistently reported better career outcomes, including higher rates of promotion and higher job satisfaction when compared to employees who did not participate in mentoring. Additionally, although the primary aim of mentoring is to support the mentee, mentors can also benefit from the process. According to Pardini (2006), mentors:

  • Gain personal and professional satisfaction from helping another person;
  • Gain recognition from their peers and the company for contributing their time and expertise;
  • Improve their interpersonal skills by exercising many of same skills required to effectively supervise and manage their own employees;
  • Have an opportunity to focus energy outside of themselves;
  • Gain a deeper understanding of other employees' experiences; and
  • Are prepared for taking on greater responsibilities and leadership roles within their company.

Some of the characteristics of effective mentors include:

  • Willingness to commit time to mentoring responsibilities;
  • Sincere interest in helping another employee or job seeker grow professionally and accomplish goals;
  • Strong interpersonal communication skills including the ability to listen and respond thoughtfully to others concerns and questions;
  • Willingness and patience needed to provide guidance, coaching, and constructive feedback as well as praise and encouragement; and
  • Sensitivity to cultural diversity and personal differences.
  • While mentoring is valuable for any employee, it may be especially beneficial for women, minorities, and persons with disabilities.

    • Allen, Eby, Poteet, Lentz, and Lima (2004) Allen, T. D., Eby, L. T., Poteet, M. L., Lentz, E., & Lima, L. (2004). Career benefits associated with mentoring for protégés: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 89, 127—136.
    • Pardini, E. (2006, July). Be A Mentor Program Training Guide for Volunteer Mentors. Retrieved September 13, 2010, from Be A Mentor, Inc.:
    • Timmons, J., Mack, M., Sims, A., Hare, R. and Willis, J., 2006 — Paving the way to work: A guide to career-focused mentoring for youth with disabilities)
    • Younes, N. (2001). Getting Corporations Ready to Recruit Workers with Disabilities. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation , 16, pp. 89-91.