Mentor. We’ve all heard the word – but who was he? In Greek mythology Mentor was a close friend of Odysseus. While Odysseus was away fighting the Trojan War he placed his son Telemachus in the care of Mentor. When the goddess Athena visited Telemachus to give him advice, she took the form of Mentor.
Since then, of course, ‘mentor’ has become a widely used term in English and other languages, signifying an older, experienced person who imparts wisdom and advice to a younger and less experienced colleague, with the modern usage of the term going back to the 17th and 18th Centuries.
Virtually everyone who has been in business for any length of time has received mentoring in their early days – and gone on to later act as a mentor to someone younger. But since the pandemic, with so many working from home, it’s not so easy to say ‘have you got a minute, boss? I need to pick your brains…’
Will WFH spell the end of mentoring in British industry? And will we all be worse off as a result?
There’s no question that WFH will mean the next generation will not have the same easy and immediate access to expertise and experience that older workers had. So unless the knowledge is going to be lost to industry, it is vital that HR departments and senior managers find ways to teach and connect with their younger colleagues – even when they aren’t in the same room. Not only do they need to pass knowledge on for the benefit of the company or organisation, the Millennials and Generation Z cohort, now making up the majority of the workforce, consistently identify ‘personal and career development’ as one of the key things they want from an employer.
The important thing for both mentor and mentees to accept is that while a mentoring relationship can still work remotely, it is going to be different. The relationship is going to be more formal and calls will need to be scheduled – but it can (and does) still work. Both sides need to know what they want from the mentoring relationship – and, just like in the old days, it will need to suit the personalities of the people involved. Some younger members of staff will want to be free to make their own mistakes, others will want more regular supervision. Trust will be crucial, and results will gradually build.
The pandemic will change many things about the world of work, but we doubt that it will change the basics of mentoring – the need to learn from older colleagues and the rewards those mentors get from passing that knowledge on. The way it’s delivered may well change with technology and post-pandemic working patterns – and who knows, if the much-touted metaverse takes over the world of work we might all have virtual mentors in the future…