Mentorship in the New World of Work

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Our work with our generational think tanks here at ARCOMPANY has recently focused on the current state of the workplace, and what that workplace will look like in the future. We’ve had many conversations about how the workforce has changed since Boomers and even GenXers first entered it, and Millennials have given us insight into what the younger generation is experiencing at work.

Our Millennial Think Tank has given us the opportunity to mentor some bright, entrepreneurial members of GenY, and it has crystallized for us how important mentorship is.

Back in my corporate days in Sales Management, mentoring my direct reports was part of my job. From the early days of my promotion into management, I was coached to prepare a few prospective employees to take my position when the time came for me to move up the ladder. Of course, those were the days when employees stayed in positions for longer than 3 years.

As I watch the workforce change before our eyes, in part due to remote access and contract positions, and loyalty dwindles in both directions from employer to employee and vice versa, I wonder: what does mentorship look like now?

Miriam Webster offered this description of a mentor:


Stop for a minute and consider the sentence example Miriam chose for the verb form of the word:

The brash young executive did not wish to be mentored by anyone.

Now, if that doesn’t fit nicely with all of the negative stereotypes around Millennials at work.

The Truth About Younger Workers and Mentorship

Like most generalized assumptions about any generation, the theory that Millennials don’t want a mentor is utter garbage. The reality is that many younger workers desperately want help and instruction from more knowledgeable and experienced workers.

Back in 2010 The Harvard Business Review told us the top five things GenY wants from their supervisor:

  1. Help navigating their career path
  2. Straight feedback
  3. Mentoring and coaching
  4. To be sponsored for formal development programs
  5. Flexible schedules

A primary problem is that mentors are not that easy to find since many organizations no longer have a structured mentoring program; younger workers may not be aware of how much of the onus for finding a great mentor is on them. What is interesting is that when we have offered our Millennial Think Tank members our mentorship, every single one of them has jumped at the opportunity to learn from us.

If you’re in charge of a workforce that includes members of GenY, I encourage you to discard the assumptions about the ‘brash young executive’ and simply ask your less experienced employees if they would like mentoring.

Why it REALLY Matters to the C-Suite

With the moving pieces that make up today’s workforce, transient managers don’t always have their eye on the long-term productivity of their employees; the prosper-NOW syndrome can easily mean profits today, but trouble down the road. Those in the C-Suite need to take heed to what the lack of mentoring means to their bottom line, because solid mentoring means a happier, more fulfilled and, therefore, more productive employee.

If you want an example of an enterprise mentoring the right way, look no further than IBM. MH&L’s post gives a detailed account of how and why the program works, but here are the most pertinent pieces of knowledge:

The focus of mentoring should be guidance; using experience to help an individual succeed in the company and in life.


…an employee should look left and right when selecting a career path, meaning he or she should get out of his or her comfort zone and look around for opportunities.


“We encourage employees to identify people they would want to have as a mentor – role models from whom they can benefit.”


“There has to be some natural affinity around the mentor and mentee,” says Lewis-Burton. “And the people doing the mentoring have to have a passion for doing it.”


“We’ve learned that mentoring is an important retention tool for us,” she says. “It’s important for us, as leaders, to be visible with this population [future leaders] and for them to know we care and take leadership seriously.”

Exploring Further

Every member of the ARCOMPANY team has grown tremendously under the tutelage of our own mentors; the fulfillment we get from mentoring our younger community members has already been touched upon.

Because we see mentorship as such an important part of the way forward for business, we are going to continue with this topic next week when we hear from a younger worker as to what she needs from a mentor.

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Photo credit: UX Help via photopin (license).

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