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Employee Engagement

10 Expert-Backed Ways To Run Employee Mentorship Programs

Rebecca Noori

Question: What do Mark Zuckerberg, Oprah Winfrey, and Barack Obama have in common? 

Answer: Each of them once had a mentor. 

Mark Zuckerberg, Co-Founder of Facebook, was mentored by Apple CEO Steve Jobs. Memoirist Maya Angelou guided TV talk show host Oprah. Former President Obama was assigned a mentor named Michelle Robinson during his time as a law firm summer associate — she later became the First Lady.

But it's not just high-profile individuals that benefit from mentorship; a formalized coaching program may support employees at any career stage, in any industry. And from a company point of view, offering mentorship improves your employer's value proposition by demonstrating your commitment to employee growth and development. 

In this guide, we'll learn more about the breadth of mentoring arrangements available and their benefits. We also provide some on-the-ground examples of how successful companies approach mentoring and provide expert-backed strategies to inspire yours.

What Is An Employee Mentorship Program? 

An employee mentorship program is a structured learning relationship between mentors and mentees. The mentor takes the mentee under their wing and provides them with knowledge, advice, and guidance on career development and job success. 

This isn’t a new arrangement — mentoring has been around since Homer’s epic poem, “The Odyssey,” when Odysseus placed Mentor in charge of guiding his son. More recently, mentoring has been used throughout the corporate world to develop talent and create a more agile workforce. 

According to the LinkedIn Workplace Learning Report, mentorships now top the L&D program priority list for 2023, and they're constantly evolving to support more employees with their professional growth.


9 Types Of Employee Mentorship Programs 

Although mentorship is a popular model for pairing junior protégés with more experienced employees in an apprenticeship-style arrangement, this isn’t the only option. Here are nine ways to design and implement a mentorship program that could be a hit in your workplace.

Onboarding Mentorship

Employee onboarding is a critical time as new hires acclimate to their role, and an effective onboarding process can boost employee commitment by 18x. Introducing a mentor with relevant organizational experience can help new hires better understand their role and build relationships with their colleagues.

Company Example: Unstoppable Domains is a remote-first company that prioritizes cross-team collaboration when new hires join the team. Each employee is matched with a mentor during onboarding, and when they have been with the company for six months, they become a mentor to continue the mentorship cycle.

1:1 Coaching

There's nothing like having your own coach to push you to take on new challenges and stay focused. Regular one-on-one coaching lets the mentor understand the mentee's goals and career path. During their time together, the mentor can help the mentee identify growth opportunities and create actionable plans to achieve them.

Company Example: Salesforce offers Trailblazer One-on-One Mentorship, where employees work individually with their mentor using a professional development plan based on their career goals.

Group Coaching

Mentorship can extend beyond one-on-one interaction to a larger group of employees. Group coaching sessions enable colleagues to share insights and feedback that can benefit everyone involved.

Company Example: Thornburg Investment Management offers a small group mentor program designed for employees of a mix of tenures and seniority levels to build relationships and career opportunities in a friendly environment. The program uses a mentor-mentee ratio of 1:3-6, meeting every six months.

Remote Mentorship

Working remotely has eliminated the ability for junior employees to catch a few words of wisdom from a senior leader by the water cooler or in the elevator. In a distributed team, virtual mentoring programs enable employees to build relationships, get feedback, and ask questions. Sometimes, remote programs work well before employees have joined the workforce. 

Company Example: The D-180 digital mentoring program gives recent university graduates virtual access to Deloitte volunteer professionals. The aim is to prepare mentees for the world of work and support them in starting their professional journey, regardless of their location.

An employee sitting in a chair with a laptop on her knees working.

Reverse Mentorship 

Tammy Allen, author of “Designing Workplace Mentoring Programs,” describes reverse or upward mentoring programs as when “junior employees take the role of mentor and members of upper management are the protégés. [This] can be an effective way of bringing new knowledge and expanded awareness to senior leadership within the organization.” 

Company Example: Kinesso offers its BRIDGE program, which unites its Senior Leadership Team members with employees. The aim is to empower the company's future leaders to share their experiences and opinions with current executives, who gain greater visibility into providing an inclusive, collaborative work environment.

Project-Based Mentorship

Mentoring on the job allows for real-time feedback and guidance by pairing a mentor with a mentee on a specific project. As an aspect of project-based mentorship, Samir Parikh, Founder of NamanHR, explains that, "Shadowing can be a powerful way for new mentors to observe experienced mentors in action and learn from their examples." 

Company Example: Buffer is keen to ensure that regular knowledge sharing supports the quality of its codebase. The Buffer Mentorship Program allows any of its engineers to gain new project skills — for example, a senior backend engineer who wants to learn frontend could become a mentee. Experienced mentors become mentorship champions and support fellow mentors with any blockages or frustrations they experience.


Peer Mentorship 

Peer mentorship allows employees to work together, identify areas of improvement, develop new strengths, and discuss any challenges they face. Every team member brings individual skills, project experience, and qualifications to the table when they join an organization. Who better to learn from than the person sitting next to you?

Company Example: Autodesk ensures employee engagement by encouraging team members to build a learning mindset. Mentorship opportunities include peer-to-peer learning, where mentees close skills gaps and enhance their personal development before paying it forward by becoming a mentor themselves.

Parental Leave Mentorship 

Working mothers returning from maternity leave may face challenges balancing their career and home responsibilities. Parental leave programs support the employee transitioning back into work, helping them stay connected and providing guidance and the necessary resources.

Company Example: JP Morgan Chase created its Women on the Move initiative by pairing new moms with experienced working mothers to discuss topics such as childcare, career goals, and tips on balancing work and family life.

Career Mentoring

Support in developing and achieving career goals is one of the primary benefits of mentoring. Many organizations offer a formal career development program to give employees access to mentors, coaches, and other helpful resources that ensure they reach their career goals. 

Company Example: IBM offers the Pathfinder Mentoring Program, which pairs IBM professionals with university students to receive customized career guidance. In this mentor-mentee relationship, students receive the advice required to make informed career decisions before entering the work world.

An executive sitting at a desk in front of a laptop.

6 Benefits Of Mentor Programs in the Workplace

Employee mentorship is entirely customizable for the needs of any organization. Here are six benefits of introducing a program into your workplace: 

1. Improves Employee Retention 

When companies commit to their employee's career development, it gives them a sense of purpose, leading to higher job satisfaction and improved retention rates. 

A Gartner and Capital Analytics at Sun Microsystems study found that 72% of mentees and 69% of mentors are more likely to remain loyal to a company after participating in a mentoring program. The contrasting retention rate for employees who aren't involved in corporate mentoring programs is 49%.

2. Fosters A Culture Of Continuous Learning 

Mentorship programs create an environment that encourages employees to take proactive steps in their development and keeps them learning. HR teams must take advantage of this by providing mentoring programs with resources and workshops tailored to employees’ needs. 

The Sage Changing Face of HR Report 2024 ranks "coaching, mentoring, and training facilitation" within the top three skills HR teams need, proving the drive to formalize mentorship for growth and development.

3. Reduces Recruitment Costs 

Attrition is a corporate cost that companies can do without. Recruiting someone externally to fill a vacant position can cost as much as 90 to 200% of that employee's annual salary. 

Example: If a departing employee earns $75,000, replacing them could cost between $67,500 and $150,000. 

Internal mentoring is a way to retain your existing employees and support them in achieving their professional goals within your organization rather than outside of it. A mentor may pave the way for lateral moves, secondments, promotions, or simply enhance skill development in an existing role.

4. Nurtures Future Leaders

If key players such as specialists or senior leaders leave suddenly, succession planning offers reassurance that there’s an effective transition plan for people moving into leadership positions.

Not everyone involved in a mentoring partnership will be earmarked as a succession candidate. But the Gartner and Capital Analytics at Sun Microsystems study found that mentees were promoted five times more and were also five times more likely to advance in pay grade than those who did not receive mentoring. There were even greater results for mentors, who were six times more likely to achieve a promotion.

5. Supports Diversity Initiatives 

Mentoring relationships are a crucial way for minority employees to connect with senior leaders and grow their professional networks. By diversifying the pool of mentors, companies that offer formal programs can create a safe space for cross-cultural dialogue and a platform for minority employees to work on their personal development and career goals.

A study found that mentoring programs increase minority representation at a managerial level by 9 to 24% and deliver a 15 to 38% boost in promotion and retention rates for women and minority employees.

Ella Razell, Compliance Manager and Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Lead at Carrington West, weighs in on the strong link between mentoring and diversity initiatives.  

"I am a huge advocate for mentoring. As leaders, we have an obligation to mentor and support women in the workforce — to aid in their professional development, to help build their confidence, and to guide them through challenges as they advance in their careers. I strongly believe mentoring is one of the top strategies to close the gender gap in business leadership.”

6. Prevents Knowledge Silos 

Successful mentorship programs ensure that knowledge transfer is shared across the company and doesn’t get lost when someone departs the organization. 

Example: A retiring CEO may mentor their successor, or a senior employee can be paired with a junior team member to ensure their hard-earned skills and insights are passed down. 

But important information doesn't just flow between seniority levels, and knowledge silos may occur if product specialists or engineers suddenly leave your organization. Peer mentoring overcomes this by ensuring you hold on to product development or design process information, ensuring internal transitions don't impact your customers.

Two colleagues sitting down for a discussion.

10 Strategies For Acing Employee Mentorship Programs 

Deciding to embrace workplace mentorship programs is a significant move. Make yours a raging success by incorporating these essential strategies into your program.

1. Align Your Mentoring Program With An Organizational Need 

In “Designing Workplace Mentoring Programs," Tammy Allen advises: 

“Organizations should develop the program with specific objectives in mind and base decisions regarding the design and structure of the program on those objectives. The mentoring program should be strategically aligned with the organization's core values and mission. This is a simple message applicable to practically any organizational intervention.” 

What do you hope to accomplish from your mentoring relationships? Some possible company goals might be:

  • Your mentoring program may develop future leaders as part of your succession planning strategy.
  • If you're struggling with attrition, your mentoring program could be a game-changer in keeping highly-skilled employees within your organization.
  • If you want to diversify your workforce, reverse mentoring could ensure senior leaders understand underrepresented workers' needs and challenges.

2. Encourage Mentor Selection 

There's a lot of nuance involved in creating the perfect mentor-mentee match. Some organizations may rely on mentoring software, which uses an algorithm to match mentees who need specific skills with mentors who can provide them. Others verbally suggest potential mentors to mentees based on skill level, seniority, and industry experience.

Ella Razell advocates for employees selecting their own mentors. She says:

"In my opinion, the best way to choose a mentor is to find someone you admire, someone who has a professional style you want to emulate or a skill set you want to develop — then ask that individual. It can be as simple as approaching this person and saying, "I admire the way you work and the values you display. Would you be willing to meet with me regularly? I believe there is much I could learn from you."

Picking a mentor can make it challenging for some employees who need mentors, though. Some employees may feel uncomfortable asking for the mentor they need or lack the company connections to get one independently. HR or manager intervention may be necessary to route employees to the correct potential mentors if this happens. However, once you give these employees some direction, they can still be in charge of connecting with the potential mentors that you've identified.

3. Appoint Program Managers 

Have a program manager oversee the relationship between mentor and mentee. As a third party, they can provide additional support and guidance to both parties while ensuring compliance with your program's guidelines. In the rare event of a disagreement between mentor and mentee, the program manager's job is to help resolve it.

Grace He, People and Culture Director at TeamBuilding told us why she believes HR leaders are the perfect people to foster effective mentoring relationships. 

"These esteemed professionals can bring expertise and a higher level of dedication to the successful implementation of programs because of their knowledge of leadership dynamics and relationships in the workplace. Having these experts lead your organization's mentorship program can create an environment that encourages participation, facilitates quality conversations, and produces positive outcomes."

4. Clarify Roles And Expectations 

Although mentorship has multiple benefits, employees must understand that participation in your program is not an automatic path to promotion. They must also understand the difference between a leader, mentor, and coach to ensure there are no surprises down the road. 

Cathy Liska, CEO of the Center for Coaching Certification, explains:

“A program with a clear purpose is on solid ground, and you need to communicate that purpose to everyone. Clearly differentiate the roles—there is a big difference between being the leader in the chain of command, a mentor, and a coach. 

  • A leader communicates vision, provides resources for doing the work, manages accountability, and provides recognition. 
  • A mentor passes on their wisdom, helps with connections and networking opportunities, and gives advice. 
  • A coach partners to explore opportunities and strategies and support the individual in finding their own answers."

5. Build Rapport 

Getting the relationship off the ground can take time when the mentor and mentee haven't previously met or interacted. Icebreakers can inject energy into a first meeting and immediately establish a rapport.

In an HBR article, Marianna Tu and Michael Li define rapport as: 

  • Mutual trust and respect between both mentorship parties
  • A shared understanding of one another's values and perspectives 
  • Strong communication 

They also actively encourage discussions about topics outside of work/career and embrace distractions in remote mentoring conversations, such as pets or children in the background of meetings. The aim is to recognize and embrace the humans in the relationship and establish a connection.

Three co-workers chatting at a table.

6. Define The Reporting Process 

Accountability is an essential factor in any mentorship program. To ensure that the program runs smoothly, Mariusz Michalowski, Community and Career Expert of Spacelift, recommends that HR leaders:

“Create a well-defined reporting process within your organization's mentorship program, establish tangible goals and measurable outcomes for all involved. Doing so will create an environment of accountability and responsibility, allowing mentors and mentees to track their progress better together.” 

At the start of your formal mentoring program, determine your progress report frequency and who should receive these reports. This will establish a productive environment, as mentors and mentees will be clear about expectations and timelines.

7. Encourage Mutual Growth 

The magical thing about mentoring programs is they’re not a one-way street. In the right environment, the mentor learns as much from the relationship as the mentee. James Scott, Founder of Embassy Row Project, recommends:

“Encouraging both mentors and mentees to share their knowledge, experiences, and perspectives.”

Inspire mutual career growth by encouraging mentors to be open about their learning experiences and actively involve mentees in problem-solving. This creates a balanced interchange of ideas and experiences, where both parties benefit from the relationship.

8. Analyze Mentoring Outcomes 

Mentorship programs should be dynamic, allowing for change and growth over time. Once your mentoring relationships are in full swing, you must track and analyze their effectiveness. Frederic Linfjärd, Director of Growth Marketing at Planday, agrees:

“Your mentoring program should be successful. It should be beneficial for your employees. It should significantly increase employee retention and productivity. Measuring is the only way to find out. Choose the most important goals for your company and devise ways to collect data on them.”

Identify metrics that show the impact of your programs, such as employee satisfaction and retention. Doing so will demonstrate the value of your program and help you make improvements in the future.

9. Collect Mentorship Feedback 

One essential metric to analyze is mentor and mentee feedback. As Saikat Ghosh, Associate Director of HR and Business at Technource, puts it: 

“A tight feedback loop is crucial to ace the employee mentorship program. Asking for feedback and tracking the metrics properly helps to find out whether the program was a success or failure. Ask employees questions and find out what they want; now mentor them based on their answers. This way, you can decide about upcoming mentorship programs in your organization and work on mistakes that were made in the recent program.”

Encourage everyone involved in the mentoring process to complete regular check-in surveys to assess questions like: 

  • Do you find the frequency of mentoring sessions effective? 
  • Are you enjoying the mentoring program? 
  • Do you feel like the mentor is helping you reach your goals?
  • What can be improved in the program?

However, not all constructive feedback should be survey-based. There's also significant value in strong verbal communication between mentors and mentees, as Samir Parikh explains:

“Building a strong feedback culture within your organization can help mentors and mentees improve and refine their mentorship relationships continually. This could include regular check-ins and feedback sessions, as well as opportunities for mentors and mentees to share their experiences and learn from each other.”

10. Reward Mentorship Program Participation 

Workplace mentorship programs are valuable for individuals and the overall company. But some employees may be reluctant to participate, perhaps if they lack the time or don't believe they'll achieve results. 

To get around this, Darren Shafae, Founder of Resume Blaze, recommends using incentives for both mentors and mentees to involve themselves. He told us, “This could be anything from monetary bonuses to recognition and rewards for participating in mentoring sessions or completing specific tasks related to the program.”

How To Use Nectar To Incentivize Mentorship Program Participation

Nectar’s Challenges feature is the perfect participation reward for your employees. Get started by: 

  1. Creating your mentorship challenge: Choose the frequency of the sessions and expiration date for the challenge (if applicable.)
  2. Asking your employees to self-report completion: Ask for proof, such as a photo as evidence.
  3. Selecting approval settings: Choose auto-approval or manual approval from an admin.
  4. Rewarding program participants: Your employees win points to redeem against products in Nectar's catalog.

How To Create An Employee Mentorship Challenge Inside Nectar

Launch A Successful Mentoring Program Today 

A thriving mentorship program has the potential to help employees reach their career goals, increase their job satisfaction, boost productivity, and develop a more cohesive corporate culture.

Nectar's suite of culture enablement tools is the perfect partner for your workplace mentoring program. For example, our Recognition feature allows mentors to praise their mentees for their dedication to the program. Similarly, our Challenges tool gives the company flexibility to encourage mentorship program participation.

Request a demo of Nectar today to explore how to build a supportive company culture your employees deserve to be a part of.

Create a culture people won't want to leave with Nectar

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