Roll camera — mentoring in the COVID era – Twin Cities

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Do people still get mentored on the job? It’s a timely question on Father’s Day, as we set about thanking male parent figures for their positive impact in our lives — while tactfully disregarding their more questionable parenting processes.

Amy Lindgren

One of the most common things we praise parents for, both moms and dads, is their advice and guidance. When that happens in the workplace, the word for that kind of relationship is mentoring. Unfortunately, while being taken under someone’s wing to learn your job is a reliable trope for movies and sitcoms, it seems to be much less common in real life.

But perhaps, like on-the-job-training and internal promotions, mentorship can make a comeback. If it does, it will likely look different than in the past. No more Mr. Grant hollering at Mary Richards on the Mary Tyler Moore show as she learns to be a news producer. That kind of paternalism is no longer in style, if it ever was.

These days, the mentoring relationship must thread the needle, leaning toward teaching and respect and away from intimidating or humiliating the mentee. It’s not a skill everyone has.

Nor is the opportunity for casual mentoring as prevalent as it was, with more people working from home or juggling duties in multiple locations to cover staff shortages. What might have been discussed briefly but poignantly while waiting for an elevator now needs to be scheduled on a Zoom call.

Well, times change. If a Zoom call is needed now for mentoring, fire up the cameras and let’s get started. Because however it occurs, we have years of statistics telling us that employees are happier, more productive, and stay longer in a job when they have a mentor.

And the market has been responding to these statistics. External peer groups, life coaches, leadership trainers — these are all variations of the same thing: Someone stepping in to offer the guidance that employees aren’t otherwise receiving. Sometimes these folks are hired by the employer, and sometimes they’re sought out by the worker, but always with the goal of providing support that will help the individual grow in their position.

Would you like to be mentored in your job? If the prospect is appealing, start by asking yourself what you would like to gain from this process. Are you seeking a sounding board to help you sort out a confusing situation? An ongoing guide who can help you navigate opportunities in your career? Someone who can literally train you in specific aspects of your work?

Your answer to these questions will help you determine where to look and what kind of mentoring relationship to pursue. Here are some possibilities to consider.

Seek an internal adviser. This could be a department head, a veteran employee, or even a recent retiree who knows how things are done in your workplace. If your company has established a mentoring program, you might start by submitting your request there. Otherwise, it may be a matter of cultivating the relationship with specific individuals.

Seek an external adviser. In this case, you might connect with someone in your industry or profession, especially if your need for guidance relates more to your field than to general workplace issues. But you might also find that a life coach or other counseling professional can provide the perspective you need — or even a wise friend or neighbor, for that matter.

Join a peer group. Meeting with others in your field can be the catharsis you need to see your own issues more clearly. These sessions can be found or formed as part of a professional association or online interest group. For those in higher roles, membership in an external leadership group might also be an option.

Create a group. The larger the organization, the more likely it is to have numerous internal groups, developed by individuals seeking support for their work or perhaps as members with a shared cultural or ethnic background. If your organization is small, you might have better success starting a group online or through a professional association in your field.

However you go about gaining your mentor(s), it’s probably not expedient to just wait for it to happen. For all the reasons already noted, this relationship isn’t likely to simply spring up. That’s especially true if you’re past the midway mark in your career, a point when others might not expect you to welcome their guidance.

And if you can’t find a mentor? Just keep looking, and consider filling that role for someone else in the meantime.

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