I'm looking for:

How Mentoring Supports Gen Z

Graduation season is coming soon and with it a whole class of new workers. Gen Z is the popular moniker for these new hires. Born between 1997 and 2012, they are digitally-savvy having grown up with smartphones and social media. But this digital experience has come at a price. Due to the pandemic, this younger generation has spent most of their college years working remotely or in a hybrid arrangement. It’s taken a toll on their mental health and their social skills, according to experts. Soft skills like communication, interacting with colleagues, networking and managing conflict are harder to develop through a computer screen. That’s why many organizations are taking a fresh look at their mentorship programs.

What Gen Z Wants

With more of Gen Z entering the workforce, more research is being conducted about these workers’ needs and expectations. Here are some significant findings.

Mental health. A study by Deloitte found that this generation values empathy from their managers but less than half report that their bosses help them maintain a healthy workload and over a quarter (28%) say they have mental health issues because of their managers. In a study by GenZHealth, almost two-thirds (63%) of Gen Z respondents say that “mental health care is the number one workplace benefit they want after a 401(k).”

Work/life balance. This generation has lived through extreme geopolitical and economic uncertainty. They recognize the importance of mental health and want flexible work arrangements. 

Engagement. Perhaps more than any other generation, Gen Z wants their voice to be heard. They want meaningful work and connection to others. Consider reverse mentoring – younger employees mentoring more experienced employees – to  mine this cohort’s knowledge. It’s a way to spread skills and make them feel valued.

Personalization. Gen Z is accustomed to personalization in every digital interaction in their lives. Consequently, they also want their career journeys to be customized. Businesses will need to invest in robust training and development programs to retain these workers.

Unfortunately, research has shown that if Gen Z employees don’t get what they need, they’re comfortable with moving on. A report by Bank of America found that 25% of Gen Z workers have switched jobs in the last six months.

Mentoring is Key

We know that Gen Z both expects and needs personalized attention. All workers entering the workplace for the first time need a helping hand but especially after three years of studying and working from a bedroom in their parents’ house. Setting these employees up with mentors at the very beginning of their careers is critical. They need in-person, face-to-face connection. A mentor can serve as that guide, helping them acclimate, learn where everything is, and who is who in the organization. Some companies even choose a mentor ahead of time and involve them in the interview process, starting the relationship early. Mentoring is certainly great during onboarding but also on an ongoing basis. Here are ways to use mentoring programs to support and develop new graduates. 

Onboarding. A mentor can share corporate culture information and company practices – the “this is the way we do things here” details that aren’t covered in formal training workshops. This could be something as simple as email procedures – what emails need to be responded to instantly, or when to use “reply all” (or when not to!)? Communication tips like who prefers instant messaging or email or a phone call. Interpreting behaviors in meetings – who talks, who doesn’t talk and why. If you’ve only been working remotely, this can be overwhelming. A mentor can “translate” and help smooth relationships. Many new hires spend a lot of time sitting in training and it’s a lot of information to process. Mentors can discuss any points that might have been confusing or unclear. At the end of the day, it’s great to have someone to review what you’ve learned and tie up any loose ends before a new day begins. 

Ongoing. As employees move past onboarding and training and into the job, mentors can also offer a space to talk about challenges that people might be having related to work. It’s easier to do this with someone who isn’t your boss. Oftentimes, employees feel they can share more and be vulnerable with a mentor than they might be with their manager. For example, work/life balance issues like a new child, or an illness in the family or just figuring out how to juggle everything. Having someone to talk to can mean feeling less alone in the workplace and can improve productivity overall.

Or, of course, it can be daunting just trying to do something simple, like put in a vacation request for the first time with a new boss. Mentors can help navigate these situations and offer best practices.

What’s in it for the mentor?

Mentors frequently share that the mentoring relationship is rewarding for them too. It makes them sharper to focus on their own day-to-day processes. You can’t cut corners when you know a new hire will be observing how you do things. It’s also gratifying to be there for someone, to make sure they are enjoying the role and the company, and to make their life easier.

To lay a solid foundation, mentors should first explain their role and how they can help the mentee. It’s very important to establish consistent, face-to-face check-in times, preferably weekly. This way, the mentee knows they can count on the mentor and plan for what they want to discuss. Whether it’s simply reviewing training materials or having a deeper conversation, they know when that will happen.

Jayna Bonfini, a counselor who works extensively with Gen Z clients, has observed that friendships are difficult for many Gen Zers. They often make casual connections with people online, at work or at school, but struggle to form deep, personal relationships. This is where mentoring in the workplace can really have an impact. Knowing they have a trusted ally in a mentor to help navigate a new job or career can make all the difference.

Photo Credit: Canva