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Dear David: What’s a Mentor?

Question:
What is mentoring in the workplace? 

Answer:
Mentoring is a professional relationship between a senior or more experienced employee (the mentor) and a newer or less experienced one (the mentee). The mentor shares their knowledge and experience, offering guidance, advice, feedback, and encouragement. The mentee, for their part, can go to their mentor with personal and professional goals, questions, and frustrations. 

Mentorship is not a replacement for management—these conversations can and should also take place between managers and their direct reports. Mentoring relationships are meant to supplement supervisory ones. They’re designed to create a more psychologically safe environment since the mentor typically has no authority to discipline the mentee or advance or deter their professional development. Mentors also have expertise and insights to share that the mentee’s manager may not possess. 

If you’re considering setting up a mentorship program, ask yourself what you want to accomplish. If your aim is to better integrate new employees into the organization, the tenure and experience of your mentors may not be critical. If your aim is to ensure that the skills and expertise of your senior employees get passed on to their possible successors, you’ll need to design a system that matches mentors with mentees who are in similar jobs. If your goal is to provide employees with someone to go to for advice on advancing their career, it will be more important to recruit your senior leaders to serve as mentors. 
 

Advice provided by Mineral. This Q&A does not constitute legal advice and does not address state or local law.

David Katz
Vice President
VMA Insurance Services

To send your questions, write to david@visualmediaalliance.org

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