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Formal vs. Informal Mentoring

Posted In: Business News, Nonprofit Management News

Female manager in business attire offers feedback to male colleague.

Only 33 percent of employees in the United States feel engaged in their workplace, according to Gallup’s 2017 State of the American Workplace Report. This is a 3 percent increase from recent years, a finding that has attracted comments that “not much has changed” for this metric. Since 2000, when Gallup first began measuring and reporting on U.S. workplace engagement, less than one-third of Americans were engaged in their jobs.

There are plenty of reasons for low employee engagement. Gallup’s research shows that managers account for at least 70 percent of variance in employee engagement scores, and given these figures, “it makes sense that most managers are not creating environments in which employees feel motivated or even comfortable.” Forbes cited lack of employee recognition, lack of transparency and disconnection for peers.

One way to develop and maintain talent is to establish mentoring in organizations. Mentors can provide their peers with leadership, guidance and support, which can make a difference in employee engagement, loyalty and production.

The following sections explore formal and informal mentoring.

Informal Mentoring

“Informal mentoring is a natural component of relationships that occurs throughout the society, in the workplace, as well as in social, professional, and family activities,” according to the Journal of Leadership Education. “Informal mentoring occurs in a relationship between two people where one gains insight, knowledge, wisdom, friendship, and support from the other. Either person may initiate the mentoring relationship, the mentor to help the other, the protégé to gain wisdom from a trusted person.”

A study in the Academy of Management Journal found that organizational informal mentoring is more beneficial than formal mentoring. Mentors in this type of relationship were more likely to engage in positive psychosocial activities like coaching, facilitating social interactions, role modeling and providing friendship.

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One major finding is that people who were informally mentored were much happier with mentors than those who had formal mentors. This is likely a result of the structure of the relationship. Developing an informal mentoring relationship involves both people identifying with each other and the person wanting to emulate the mentor. And due to the selective nature of the relationship, an informal mentoring relationship can last for years.

Formal Mentoring

Formal mentoring differs from informal mentoring as it develop within a program and process established for mentoring to take place. It’s usually short-term (one year), with the hope it will develop informally for longer. Mentors are usually volunteers, but they’re still chosen, and both parties of the mentoring relationship may not choose each other.

There are many benefits in formal mentoring. Employees who are mentored are impacted in terms of professional growth, career advancement and mobility. Mentors take pride in the other person’s accomplishments and the mentor is invigorated and renews his or her commitment to the job and the profession.

Large companies across the country have established formal mentoring programs. Here are a few examples of formal mentoring programs, according to Monster.

  • Time Warner Cable matches mentors and mentees for a year and provides mentor/mentee training, quarterly meetings with HR, executive-level sponsors and other mentorship programs.
  • Intel matches employees with mentors (in-person or virtual) based on skills and interests. A questionnaire is used to help the company determine the best fit for teaching skills the prospective mentee wants to learn.
  • GE has a two-year program that develops employees’ sales and marketing skills.
  • Deloitte has a mentoring program that pairs employees from under-represented populations with mentors from the partner, principal or director level (who commit for at least two years).

Benefits of Mentoring in Business

Organizations benefit in tangible and intangible ways, according to the Journal of Leadership Education.

  • More employees successfully complete probationary periods.
  • It creates enthusiasm, camaraderie and professionalism.
  • It impacts the entire culture of an organization, promoting organizational values, norms and standards.
  • It helps organizations achieve their strategic goals and prepares a leadership team to accomplish its objectives.
  • Improves employee performance, increases commitment to the organization, improves flow of organizational information and supports leadership and management development.

Other research and experts echo these types of benefits. Inc. argues that companies need mentoring programs to show that the company cares, to contribute to a better-trained and engaged workforce, as well as decreasing employee turnover and leading to high job satisfaction.

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