Workplace resiliency initiatives are missing one key opportunity to increase employee engagement: mentoring.
Look at most modern employer-sponsored resilience initiatives, and you’ll find free access to meditation apps, on-site therapy, leader trainings about emotional intelligence, or resources about work-life balance. These benefits get buried in an avalanche of “sign up for this new free resource” emails. They are perceived as yet another item to check off on a busy individual’s to-do list because they seem unrelated to the day-to-day tasks of their job.
HR practitioners developing workplace resiliency initiatives will be more successful if they ask what solutions are impactful and directly related to employees’ work. A practical example comes from a distribution center in Michigan. To reduce injury and errors, managers focused a shift meeting on a model of awareness where employees were encouraged to focus intently on their immediate surroundings and not go into “zombie mode.” In reality, they connected mindfulness with driving a forklift. This was promoted as part of the job rather than a separate activity, such as suggesting use of a meditation room during breaks. Both have similar outcomes—increasing mindfulness—but the former represents the missing link: It’s directly related to employees’ jobs and is championed by their supervisor. To choose not to engage becomes less of an option, and the practice begins to seep into day-to-day employee life.
Similarly, this is where mentoring can make big waves in your well-being strategy.
A typical well-being index includes a check box for social well-being, often sub-bulleted with a “teams steps challenge” or “work-life affinity group.” What’s surprisingly missing is an opportunity for mentoring.
Mentoring programs are one of the only employee-focused solutions with the exact objective of bringing people together for a greater connection and personally driven professional growth. It offers a balance of professional development with personal conversation, and matches can be made to address a variety of interests, personalities, and goals directly related to an individual’s job or career path.
The question, then, is how can it support resiliency? Consider these impacts of social capital and employee well-being:
- Loneliness as a source of work stress reduces productivity, well-being, and happiness and is becoming more prevalent as work demands increase, remote work becomes more normalized, and technology solutions replace human interactions. This pattern is expected to increase during the next decade following the recent needs of social distancing.
- Those who report strong social connections have higher self-esteem, stronger well-being, and a greater sense of comradery with their colleagues.
- The closer the friends, the more engaged the employee. According to Gallup, “women who strongly agree they have a best friend at work are more than twice as likely to be engaged (63 percent) compared with the women who say otherwise (29 percent).”
While a mentor may not become a “best friend at work,” they will expand an employee’s network, which will increase their social connections and reduce pangs of loneliness. And, if you think of the factors that define work friends (according to Shasta Nelson, leading expert on healthy relationships and work; consistency, positivity, vulnerability) a mentoring relationship fits the bill.
The well-being impact doesn’t stop there. The opportunity for peace of mind can’t be overlooked as a significant way mentoring increases resiliency. In one study, mentoring was connected to lower levels of employee burnout, emotional and cognitive fatigue, and a greater sense of meaning and confidence. Other than addressing social needs like those listed above, this is likely because one identifier of a great mentoring relationship is experience sharing. A good mentor should share their personal experiences to help the mentee reflect—the good and the bad. Hearing from a mentor that they too have made a costly mistake or approached a conversation poorly reinforces the idea that employees are allowed to be human. A conversation can be had about finding and learning from the lesson rather than dwelling on the perceived failure—a mantra that could benefit the increasing anxieties that burden the workforce—inside and outside of their jobs.
To get started, here are three easy ways to begin breaking down the silos between your well-being and talent development practitioners:
1. Connect your well-being and mentoring program managers to review your organization’s well-being strategy and create an objective for mentoring. If you don’t currently have a mentoring program manager, now is a great time to identify one.
2. When promoting emotional, mental, or social well-being benefits within your organization, include your company’s open mentoring program.
3. If you’re applying for well-being awards or recognition, include mentoring under social well-being initiatives. If social well-being isn’t a measure of wellness in a particular application, include it under the “What other initiatives . . . ” section.
One of the hardest-to-argue critiques of corporate wellness is when participants question their employer’s role in their day-to-day choices made outside of work, like what to eat or if they should meditate. What if organizations could act on that feedback and still meet their metrics? If it’s possible to offer meaningful programs that are directly related to an individual’s employment and simultaneously addressed stress, loneliness, and burnout why wouldn’t we explore that missing link in our workplace resiliency strategy? Especially since the solution is right next door in your organization’s talent development mentoring programs.