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Keep Calm and Mentor On!

Updated: Mar 30

Why don’t young employees just do what is asked of them? Why don’t they take initiative?

This past week I gave a keynote and someone approached me afterwards to pose these questions. She explained her frustration with new hires, explaining they ‘won’t pitch in to help when help is needed.’ Rather, they wait to be told what to do.

This is a common complaint among managers who assume young people won’t take initiative and lack intuition and drive. In reality, young people are expecting more guidance from their co-workers.

Here’s a brief explanation of why:

During the past several decades, major social shifts occurred, influencing how children are raised. The generations born since 1981 were considerably more protected, supervised, and provided for than previous generations. Parents started to play an influential role in their upbringing.

Raised as mini-adults, children actively looked to parents, teachers, and coaches to guide them.

Furthermore, in the aftermath of the Great Recession, parents worried about the future financial stability of their children. Suddenly, increased pressure was being placed on children to achieve excellence in something – school, sports, music, art – any talent which may lead to scholarships, job offers, and other opportunities.

As a result, the generation entering the workforce now knows how to be laser-focused and high achieving, but may also struggle with the learning process. It’s difficult for them to have a beginner mindset, and they will worry about making mistakes or letting someone down.

Not surprisingly, young professionals today are typically more interested than previous generations in finding mentors. They have grown up under the close watch of adults, and access to social media equipped them with a constant stream of information and advice from others.

From a young age, they were taught their ideas are important and valuable and they crave opportunities to learn and be challenged.

For all of these reasons, employers need to be mindful of how they onboard, train, guide, and mentor their teams.

If your organization wants to launch a mentoring effort, keep in mind that it doesn’t look the same as it has traditionally, but there are many benefits to be realized.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  1. Mentoring programs need to be multi-faceted. Young professionals want more than one mentor. They are active in many different forums and social media networks, which provides immediate access to people from all around the world. One senior person can no longer be the only place a young person turns for career support.

  2. Mentoring works both ways. Senior leaders have invaluable knowledge which needs to be shared, but so do young professionals. Today, every generation has something to learn and something to teach.

  3. Mentoring can function on a large scale to benefit entire organizations. Young employees want to be able to work on projects they are passionate about and they like the idea of having a direct pipeline to the top decision-makers. Companies like IBM, Target, and UnitedHealth Group have acted upon this insight, inviting young people to serve on think tanks, beta testers, or launch new initiatives.

  4. Mentoring doesn’t have to be time-consuming. Companies like BMO Financial and Intel have launched micro-mentoring programs, giving employees quick access to groups of mentors and skill-building opportunities. Rather than go through formal training, micro-mentoring helps professionals improve a very specific skill, such as time management.

  5. Mentoring is effective at team-building. Regardless of the size of organization, mentoring has proven effective at establishing a community, and creating empathy and trust among co-workers. It’s impossible to engage employees without understanding them, which can only come from time spent building relationships.

Support, encouragement, and regular feedback are all essential in molding a generation of future leaders. Understanding their ambitions – as well as their concerns – and welcoming their ideas will go far in developing individuals who are not only ready to take on executive roles, but also who are loyal to your organization.

Looking for more ways to boost your organization? Get in touch with us to start leading the future of work.


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