How to mentor an employee: 7 techniques from mentors & mentees

Written by: Nora St-Aubin | Illustrated by: Officevibe team
Published on: August 9, 2021 |  Reading time: 7m

Have you ever had a great mentor who helped you advance toward your career goals, develop your skill set, and excel in your role? If you have, you know how impactful it is to have someone supporting your development. We spoke about employee mentorship with Camille, Client Experience Consultant at Elo Mentoring, a software that simplifies workplace mentoring.

Camille Detouillon, Client Experience Consultant at Elo Mentoring

“With a mentor, we learn not just how to be, but how to become.”

Camille, Client Experience Consultant at Elo Mentoring

“Our professional lives aren’t linear, they’re filled with different pathways and obstacles. When we face a new role, a new challenge, or a new project, a mentor can accompany us. They accompany us not just in our professional development but also our psycho-social development. A mentor helps us to develop soft skills and relational intelligence.”

Wondering how to mentor an employee to help them grow and shine? Keep reading to learn from experiences of real mentors and mentees.

Why is professional mentorship important?

Employees want to grow, learn, and continuously develop through their work. They want to expand and level up in their skill sets, and for their role and responsibilities to evolve with them. But employees can’t be expected to get there on their own, which is where a mentorship relationship can have a real impact. And the workforce needs more mentors.

1 in 3 employees say they don’t have someone at work who helps them grow & develop.

Officevibe’s Pulse Survey data

Having a workplace mentor can help us feel like we’re getting somewhere, and like we have further to go. This not only strengthens employee engagement but also impacts employee retention and can help reduce employee turnover. It’s a win-win for any organization and the people who work for it.

How to mentor an employee: 7 techniques from real people

First and foremost, “a mentoring relationship should be voluntary, sincere, and structured,” says Camille. Both people should want to have a mentoring partnership, and they should clearly establish what they want to come from it. From there, meeting regularly in one-on-ones is a great way to continually touch base, address challenges, and track progress.

We spoke with real people about their experience of mentorship, and drew from their stories to bring you their most impactful techniques. Some have been mentors, others have had mentors, and some have been on both sides of the mentor mentee relationship.

1. Make space for failure and learning

Learning is often a product of failure, and employees need the space to have their efforts flop sometimes if they’re going to grow. An effective mentor can help them uncover the learnings from their mistakes and see them as opportunities to build.

“I want to encourage people to challenge themselves and provide an environment where failure is a learning moment and not discouraged.”

Megan, Program Coordinator & Community Organizer at Girls+ Skate 613

“I try to use the strengths people already have and help build their confidence and encourage them to challenge themselves. The best quality that my mentors have had is allowing me to be myself and fail without consequence.”

2. Respect who your employee is

As a mentor, you need to drop any preconceived notions about what the employee should do, how they should work, or what their career path should be. People want to be lifted up for who they are, and not moulded into the image their mentor has for them.

“Differentiating your way of seeing the world from teaching moments is really important.”

Ana, Digital Marketer at Officevibe

“I had a mentor who struggled with the fact that I’m not very structured, or I’m not a ‘type A’ person like they are. And it made me feel like my personality wasn’t enough to be successful. You don’t want your mentee to feel like they need to change something about themself to get to where they want to get.”

3. Have your mentee explain things to you

Just like in math class, employees should understand not just what they’re doing, but why they’re doing it. Ask your mentee to explain their reasoning or how they came to their conclusions. Talking it through will help them strengthen their certainty and in turn, their confidence.

“I had my mentee share her screen with me and walk through the code she’d written. Sometimes when you’re learning you copy and paste snippets but you won’t necessarily understand line-by-line what you’re doing.”

“I was asking her, ‘what are you trying to achieve with this line of the code?’ to make sure she understood.”

Francis, Web Developer at Officevibe

4. Work to dismantle a sense of hierarchy

Make it clear that you and your mentee are on equal footing. Time and again, people expressed that a mentoring relationship is a give and take from both sides. If someone has more seniority, if one of you has been at the company or in the role for longer, or if there’s an age gap between you, it doesn’t mean that you can’t learn from each other.

“I often feel unqualified and like an imposter, especially in an environment where I’m on the younger end coaching people who are older than me.”

“I remind myself that everyone’s opinions matter, including my own.”

Megan, Program Coordinator & Community Organizer at Girls+ Skate 613

5. Empower your mentee to take risks

Calculated risk taking helps us learn quickly and grow to trust ourselves. But we need to have someone backing us up, and pushing us forward. A good mentor can help an employee take a leap of faith, and then either celebrate a win or learn from failure.

“We had one of the most high-performing articles on our blog, and the website traffic we were getting from it was dropping. Updating it was a risk because we didn’t want to lose even more traffic. My mentor asked me, ‘are you scared?’ and I was like, ‘yeah, I am.'”

“He pushed me to go for it, and it performed super well. That probably would have never happened if he didn’t dare me.”

Laurent, SEO Specialist & Digital Marketer at Officevibe

6. Ask questions to help guide them

Asking your employee coaching questions is a powerful way to help them find answers on their own. Guiding people towards their own solutions empowers them to be more proactive going forward. It helps them see that they knew what they needed to do all along.

“Walk them through it. Get them to list the steps that got them to where they are.”

Julie, Engagement Expert & Head Researcher at Officevibe

“Reflect on questions like what happened, what had they hoped would happen, and what got them away from their desired result? And then again, the power of questions for moving forward. What would make them happy, what does an ideal outcome look like, and how can they get there?”

7. Take an active approach to being a mentor

Rather than simply checking in on how employees are progressing towards the goals you set together, great mentors take an active role in finding opportunities for employees to grow. This shows your personal investment in your employees’ career development and being a part of their journey.

“She was always actively looking for opportunities to teach me something.”

Ana, Digital Marketer at Officevibe

“Looking at things I wasn’t good at and making sure she was helping me grow in those. And then making a point of bringing up things that she admired in me. But always being active in it. It wasn’t just saying ‘good work,’ or ‘you made a mistake, fix it,’ but analyzing what my strengths and weaknesses were and building on them.”

A final word from our mentorship expert

Mentoring employees is such a special role to take on in your career, and will leave a lasting impact on those you mentor.

“No matter what career stage someone is at, a mentor can really enrich their professional life.”

Camille, Client Experience Consultant at Elo Mentoring

We all have something to learn, and having someone to encourage us, back us up, and give us a push when we need it makes all the difference.