Why Mentoring is (not) a guarantor for professional development


Currently, in companies there is an increasingly number of mentors who guide their mentees (aka. protégés) and accompany and support them in their personal and professional development. Who really benefits from mentoring programmes though – the mentee, the mentor or the company?

By Maria Frick

Mentoring programmes are enjoying increasing popularity both in professional and private life. Although mentoring can be used in different situations, this BION is focusing on the professional sphere, i.e. business mentoring. Mentoring here is characterized by a relationship between an experienced and a rather junior employee. The aim is to give the inexperienced mentee support and to enable him or her to gain learning experiences. A mentor reflects rough edges and therefore supports personal development (Biemann & Weckmüller, 2014).

As early as the late 1990s, U.S. scientists concluded from their qualitative studies on predominantly female top managers that mentoring should be mandatory as the format was classified as “critical for the success of one’s own career development” (cf. Ragins et al., 2000). In their meta-study including 43 individual studies, Allen and colleagues (2004) examined different effects of mentoring on mentees. The career paths and individual assessments of employees who participated in mentoring programmes were compared to participants which were not. Results indicated that both, the objective success, i.e. the externally visible, developmental success and the perceived success were higher in groups with mentoring than in those without it (Allen et al., 2004). The highest correlation occurred between mentoring and promotion as an objective criterion (r=0.31). Results differed regarding the subjective performance measurement. Thus, career and job satisfaction (r=0.21 and r=0.18) and individual promotion expectations (r=0.26) were higher than in the control group. There was a weak positive but non-significant correlation (r=0.06) between mentoring and the intention to stay in the company (Allen et al., 2004).

Another meta-analysis measuring the effect of mentoring was carried out by Eby and colleagues in 2008. Their analyses also refer to studies comparing participants in mentoring programmes and non-participants however they complemented the research design with further measures. Their results showed a weak positive effect of mentoring. Examples here are performance (r=0.06) and motivation (r=0.26) (Eby et al., 2008).

The aforementioned suggests that mentoring programmes support mentees positively in their development, albeit mostly with a weak effect. But what about the mentor, does he also benefit from the programme and what could that imply for the company?

The analyses by Raggins and colleagues from the 2000s confirm findings that above all the perceived leadership quality, one’s own career success and satisfaction are improved by mentoring (Chun et al., 2012). Objectively measured result variables have not yet been sufficiently scientifically analysed and validated. Companies, in particular their learning and development functions, are increasingly advocating mentoring programmes as the format generates lower costs compared to traditional development measures (Biemann & Weckmüller, 2014).

However, when evaluating the results of the meta-analyses from an economic perspective, it should be noted that its effects on important metrics, for example the intention to stay, has turned out to be extremely weak. In addition, although the increased chances of the mentee to be promoted offer a clear advantage for the mentee, from the companies’ point of view this is not a criterion for the success of the programmes. The higher salary is paid by the company, “so that the promotion can only be regarded as an advantage if the mentee is actually better suited than other applicants, i.e. the promotion was not only controlled or sponsored by the mentor” (cf. Biemann & Weckmüller, 2014).

Finally, there is evidence that encourages companies to allow or promote particularly informal mentoring. The tandem that comes together in mentoring is more successful if it is organised informally, according to Underhill and colleagues (2006). Rough company guidelines are sufficient to enable effective mentoring. The content and achievement of goals are in the hands of the tandem.