How to Use Mentoring to Attract and Retain Talent



This is a guest post by Lisa Z. Fain. Lisa is the CEO of Center for Mentoring Excellence, a global speaker on mentoring, and co-author of The Mentor’s Guide and Bridging Differences for Better Mentoring.


It’s a great time to be looking for a job, and a hard time to be an employer. Indeed, everywhere you turn, you see the headlines about the Great Resignation. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 47 million people quit their job in 2021 and numbers remained steady at about 4 million monthly resignations in the first quarter of 2022. Turnover is expensive. According to some sources, it costs 1.5 to 2 times an employee’s salary to hire a replacement. Beyond the financial implications, consider the additional toll of turnover—the non-quantifiable costs like lost productivity, interview time, lost knowledge, and morale.



As employers now compete for talent, they must meet the demands of potential employees who, with abundant job openings, can afford to be choosy. It behooves employers to understand how top talent decides where to work. This requires understanding the desires of the labor force. Recent data suggests that more than 50% of the workforce consists of people born after 1981—Millennials (born 1981-1996) and Generation Z (born 1997-2012). While there are some significant differences in perspectives between Millennials and Generation Z, Deloitte’s 2022 Global Generation Z and Millennial Survey reports that these two generations mostly agree on the five top characteristics they seek in prospective employers.

Millennials and Gen Z employees ranked the attributes they desire in an employer in order of importance:

  1.     Work/Life Balance
  2.     Learning and Development Opportunities
  3.     Salary/Financial Benefits
  4.     Positive Workplace Culture
  5.     Opportunities to Progress in their Career


How Mentoring Can Help 

Undoubtedly, prospective talent will be looking for concrete evidence that employers demonstrate these attributes. With the exception of salary and financial concerns, for which employers must do an industry and job-specific analysis, a structured mentoring initiative can address all of these concerns.

Here’s how.

Work/Life Balance. Mentees can benefit from a mentor’s perspective on how to prioritize work tasks and which company events are essential. They can learn from their mentor’s own journey and past struggles and successes. Mentors can provide a sounding board to help sort through various obligations and share how they navigated such challenges in the past. If an organization has a Complementary Mentoring program (see below), “reverse” mentees will benefit by better understanding the competing demands on employees’ time, which might lead to policies and benefits that allow employees to achieve better balance.

Learning and Development Opportunities. As Center for Mentoring Excellence founder, Dr. Lois J. Zachary often says, “learning is the purpose, process, and product of mentoring.”  At its heart, mentoring is a learning relationship, in which mentors and mentees learn about themselves and their mentoring partner. I’ve seen many successful mentoring pairs create joint learning opportunities, where they identify a book or a course that they take together, discuss their insights, and plan how to apply their learning.

Positive Workplace Culture. There are many factors that contribute to a positive workplace culture. Research shows that when employees have trusting, collaborative, and positive workplace interactions, well-being at work is enhanced. They feel more connected and engaged. When employers invest in creating a mentoring culture – that is, a culture that values learning, development, and connectedness – the benefits inure to the greater workplace.

Opportunities for Career Progression. Mentoring should not be viewed as a gateway to a promotion. Rather, according to Dr. Zachary, “mentoring is not about getting promoted. It is about becoming promotable.” Often, mentors help mentees identify the competencies they need to develop in order to advance in their careers and identify goals and milestones to build those competencies. Mentors work with their mentees to set a vision for their careers and can help mentees discover additional pathways and career possibilities. They can identify potential opportunities for a mentee to increase their exposure within an organization, often becoming part of a constellation of support and championship that includes the mentee’s sponsor and supervisor.



How to Incorporate Mentoring into Your Retention Strategy

Here are three ways to harness the power of mentoring to increase the likelihood that your organization will attract and retain the best talent.

  1. Engage employees from the outset. In Zconomy: How Gen Z Will Change the Future of Business and What To Do About It (Harper Business 2020), authors Jason Dorsey and Dr. Denise Villa suggest that to appeal to Gen Z’s need for belonging, employers connect them to team members from the get-go. Beginning the onboarding process at acceptance will increase the likelihood of success of your onboarding efforts. Consider creating a mentorship initiative for new hires. These efforts will help to welcome new employees, create connections within the organization, and answer questions about workplace culture. If your organization has a cohort of new employees beginning at or around the same time, mentoring circles can be an especially effective tool.
  2. Harness the Power of Complementary Mentoring. Since Jack Welch first introduced “reverse mentoring” at General Electric in 1999 to describe a mentoring structure where senior executives were mentored by junior employees to learn about technical expertise, the concept has gained traction in various contexts. The term reverse mentoring is problematic, however, because it reflects an outdated view that mentoring is just the transferring of knowledge and minimizes the benefits of mentoring for the junior employee. More accurately dubbed “Complementary Mentoring,” this structure can be an effective way for the senior mentees to gain additional perspectives and a better understanding of what is happening throughout the organization, and for the junior mentor to gain confidence in themselves and their organization, get exposure to senior leadership, and to feel seen and heard, which leads to a greater sense of belonging and agency.
  3. Use Mentoring to Create an Inclusive Culture. Most companies agree that inclusion is essential to creating a positive workplace culture, yet existing efforts like training and celebratory events often fail to move the needle on inclusion. Because a mentoring program creates individual accountability and ongoing action, mentoring efforts focused on creating relationships across differences can be an effective tool to create inclusion. According to Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, mentoring programs increase the representation of marginalized populations at the management level more than any other diversity initiative. What’s more, when employees of color and women are mentored, their promotion and retention rates soar as compared to non-mentored employees.



For more information, see The Mentor’s Guide or Bridging Differences for Better Mentoring.





Image Credit: Medien Sturmer



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