Why Mentoring is Essential Today


The New Industrial Revolution

Not since the First Industrial Revolution, have we seen such a dramatic change to the world of work. Prior to 1760, most employed people worked in agriculture with some family cottage industries producing goods for themselves and for sale. Then the steam engine and increased mechanization of spinning and weaving in factories, drew the population to larger towns for employment. There men, women and children worked in demanding and dangerous conditions.

The second revolution involved science and mass production, and the third was the rise of digital technology. The last couple of decades we thought the robots were coming for our jobs, but it turned out a virus flipped our world upside down in 2020. The Illness, death and economic crisis of CoVid19 impacted on everyone, everywhere.

Job losses, lockdowns, working from home (WFH), home schooling, and the need to lead dispersed teams, became and will remain features of work. Like previous industrial revolutions, there’s no going “back to normal”.

Workers are affected by the physical, emotional and mental stresses of the sudden, dramatic changes to their lives and work. Yet they have largely coped with using new technology for meetings and managing work. They’ve dealt with the issue of less-than-ideal work set-ups at home and 24/7 confinement, with or without loved ones. Productivity has generally remained high. Here in Australia 85% of workers say they are as productive or more productive working from home[i].

There are benefits of working from home, like no commute, casual clothes, good coffee anytime, and productivity measured in outcomes rather than hours at work, but there are also costs. Many people enjoy WFH, but not everyone is happy and some long for the office. 72% of knowledge workers say they’d prefer a hybrid mix of both WFH and the office, 12% want to go back full time[ii]. WFH can be isolating, make people feel unable to switch off, and craving social contact.

Some people cannot work from home. Retail, hospitality, personal care, and manufacturing are amongst the industries that closed or operated on a skeleton staff. Where people have returned to work in these areas, it is a very different environment where physical distancing, extended hygene protocols and personal protective equipment are required.

People miss interacting freely with co-worker friends, the banter in the break room, conversation at the water cooler or in the corridor, collaboration on a project, role models, peers to bounce off, the random interactions that make work-life interesting, and the day-to-day encouragement of colleagues and leaders.

Working differently, with flexibility and technology can overcome most problems, but what we need to remember is that it is relationships that keep people engaged, help less experienced workers develop and provide the social support that people need.

Work offers us a community where we can be a part of something meaningful. It’s a place where we contribute, add value and (hopefully) are rewarded for our effort. It is part of our identity and vital to our self-worth. This latest industrial revolution has given us the opportunity to realize that and build it into the way we work in future. That’s why we need to increase the amount of informal mentoring that we do.

How Does Mentoring Help?

Mentoring means different things to different people. Here, I’m thinking of it as an approach or philosophy that you apply to communication and relationships. A natural way to have a positive influence on those around you. A style that respects and empowers people as independent, intelligent, autonomous individuals.  The three pillars of this kind of mentoring are connection, conversation and compassion.

Connection: Initiating even casual and informal mentoring means developing some rapport, reaching out and finding common ground and building a closer relationship. Making contact and strengthening connections with others will overcome the isolation felt by working from home or in an environment where physical distance must be maintained.

Conversation: A mentoring conversation is a two-way exchange. It is above and beyond normal workplace communication. It is not about instructing or informing or gathering input. It may not be about anything directly related to work; it is one person with another fulfilling a very human need to talk.

Compassion: A common phrase in 2020 was “we’re all in the same boat”, but it might have been more accurate to say “we’re all in the same storm” because some people had it a lot tougher than others, to continue the metaphor, some of us were in great ocean liners while others were flailing around in the water without even a life raft in sight! A mentoring conversation brings compassion, the ability to hear another person’s experience and perceptions, accept and validate their feelings. Compassion allows us to be kinder, gentler, less judgmental of others and ourselves. It enables us to offer assistance, be that simply a safe space to vent, words of support and encouragement, or a conversation that explores practical ways to improve the situation.

After revolution, a re-created world must be built on trust, stability and hope. We can help build it. We don’t need to have a particular title or designated role, just evolve our style. We can become more skilled listeners, more empathetic, a little more deliberate in what we say and do and the way we say and do it. We can be mentors in so many ways at work, at home and in our communities.

Informal Mentoring Opportunities

  1. Peer Mentoring: a colleague who can listen and understand, shed light on an issue or offer a different approach to a work challenge
  1. Reciprocal Mentoring: a friend, relative, co-worker or community member with rapport and empathy who will mentor and be mentored in turn
  1. Mentoring Moments: a spontaneous conversation that becomes reflective and creates insight or ideas that can be actioned
  1. Casual Coaching: an impromptu collaboration where someone with greater or specialist experience assists another’s skill development
  1. Mentoring Style: deliberately choosing to have a positive influence, when appropriate, by incorporating mentoring conversations into regular behaviour
  1. Mentoring Conversations: two-way communication that causes:
  • Reflective, critical and creative thinking
  • Focus on outcomes
  • Action planning
  • Development of an individual’s talents and strengths
  • Follow-up, feedback and support for change

The Personal Impact of a Mentoring Style

At work your mentoring style will improve engagement and enjoyment at work – for others and yourself. You can build work relationships that are mutually satisfying and rewarding. You can help others learn and grow and develop yourself at the same time. You can be instrumental in making work, no matter where it takes place, a more humane and beneficial experience.

If you do happen to be a manager or team leader, this approach is going to be vital for the future because keeping the best employees, maintaining a culture that brings out their best, and excellent communication are not only basic necessities for productivity, they are what your performance will be judged on.

At home, your mentoring style may allow disagreements to become more open and honest discussions to resolve or reduce conflict. An increased ability to talk about feelings could deepen and strengthen relationships. You’ll think more about your own values and principles and develop the ability to incorporate them into your life.

In your community, a mentoring style enables constructive conversation and collaboration for problem-solving. lt stimulates creativity and will help mobilise action when needed to achieve collective goals. You may become a role model, a leader, wise counsel, or a behind-the-scenes influencer for better outcomes.

I’m going to focus on mentoring in the workplace because that’s where expertise lies, but you can easily translate, adapt and apply all my suggestions to other spheres of your life.







[i] https://ia.acs.org.au/article/2020/australians-more-productive-working-from-home-.html

[ii] https://slack.com/intl/en-au/blog/collaboration/workplace-transformation-in-the-wake-of-covid-19

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About Ann Rolfe

Ann Rolfe is internationally recognised as Australia's leading specialist in mentoring, and is available for speaking, training and consulting. Here Ann shares her knowledge and allows you to ask your most pressing questions about mentoring.

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