The Strength and Weakness of Mentorship


There is a perceived vulnerability in asking for help. As social beings, we want to show strength, and we hesitate to be a burden to others. Further, we want to blaze our own trails and create a personal path to success. Demonstrating capability in the workplace, especially as a new hire, is natural and often expected. Additionally, new employees may occasionally feel helplessness, frustration or even embarrassment. These are common, everyday reactions to things not turning out as expected. Not surprisingly, most new hires strive to preserve their pride and yearn for independence.

Despite these views, there is ultimately little that any of us do to succeed fully on our own. When companies design workplace mentorships, they do so with the intent of passing on the knowledge, strategies and tactics gained by years of coworkers’ experience. It is a solid practice that helps less experienced workers advance more rapidly and avoid the pitfalls that will, undoubtedly, delay growth and interrupt productivity.

So how can companies sidestep the weakness of mentorship to assure that the program will flourish, and less experienced mentees can achieve the full benefit of these valuable relationships?

The weakness of mentorship is optional

Research shows that potential mentees who opt out of a mentorship program are, often, the ones who need it the most. This is the conclusion from a study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research featured in the Wall Street Journal article “Why Mentorship Programs Don’t Always Work”.

Importantly, the study revealed that mentored employees generated 19% more revenue than certain non-​mentored ones. Also significant was that their achievements continued throughout the six months of the study. However, in the group where participation was optional, the outcome was substantially different.

The three study control groups

The study monitored results for:

  1. Mentored associates
  2. Employees who requested yet did not receive a mentor
  3. Employees who opted out entirely

Interestingly, mentored participants did not perform much better than those who asked for but did not receive a mentor. Consequently, researchers suggest that those who asked for a mentor possessed the necessary ambition and skills to succeed on their own. These employees, simply by asking to be mentored, demonstrated resourcefulness, a defined element of emotional strength.

Clearly, this leaves the poorest performance coming from team members who were the least likely to ask for support. Based on these results, the weakness of mentorship programs is in the concept of waiting for employees to step up. To ensure success, the authors suggest that managers design a mentorship program where all employees participate.

Strong mentorship improves employee retention

Your company benefits from mentoring in a variety of ways. For instance, good mentoring can lead to more rapid career success, which leads to promotions, raises and better employee retention.

According to Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, 71% of Fortune 500 companies offer mentoring programs. When correcting the weakness of mentorship, remember that you need buy-​in from the enterprise, the mentor and the mentee. For example, mentors must have the disposition and desire to help others, as well as the availability to commit real time and energy. In addition, mentees must be clear about their career goals and possess the emotional strength to ask for help. Furthermore, organizational leaders should vocally support these programs.

January is National Mentoring Month

In 2002, business leaders declared January as National Mentoring Month in an attempt to amplify the power of relationships and drive meaningful change in communities, organizations and businesses across the nation.

Beyond simple advocacy, mentoring​.org offers a Corporate Engagement Toolkit that facilitates the establishment of workplace mentorships and extends the practice to community outreach. The concept is simple and covers a wide variety of initiatives that may find their way into coaching and training plans and marketing programs and interface with social responsibility goals for your company. 

Photo by Monica Melton on Unsplash


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Tim Londergan

Tim Londergan

Tim is a research contributor at SalesFuel and he writes for SalesFuel Today. Previously, he worked as a Sales Development Manager, representing products such as AdMall and AudienceSCAN. Tim holds a B.S. from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University.