Have you ever wondered where the term “mentor” comes from? So many of us in business use the term – but who precisely was this mysterious figure?
Over the festive break, I found myself pondering these precise questions… and I subsequently undertook some research. Apparently, mentor was a close companion of King Odysseus in Greek mythology.
While Odysseus was engaged in the Trojan War, he entrusted his son, Telemachus to mentor’s care. When the goddess Athena came to give Telemachus guidance, she assumed the guise of mentor.
Since then, the term “mentor” has become a widely used phrase in English and other languages, referring to an older, more experienced individual who offers knowledge and guidance to younger, less experienced colleagues. Its modern usage dates back to the 17th and 18th centuries.
Almost everyone who has been in business for any length of time has been mentored at some stage in their career – and then gone on to coach and support someone younger. But since the pandemic, with so many people working from home, saying: “Have you got a minute, boss?” has become more restrictive and difficult.
This is something that I’ve been aware of since the pandemic began and I’ve also been taking an active interest in how other companies overcome it. This has got me wondering whether work-from-home has initiated the end of mentoring in British business? And, as a result, will ‘UK plc’ ultimately be worse off? I – for one – certainly hope not.
I speak as someone who has grown professionally while simultaneously progressing through the ranks of those businesses I’ve worked for as a direct result of being mentored in the time-honoured way.
The increasingly popular trend for people to work from home will undoubtedly result in the next generation not having the same access to experience and expertise. HR departments and senior managers must now discover ways to teach, support, guide and interact with their younger colleagues – even when they are not in the same room. We need to find a way for them to pass on their knowledge for the benefit of their company or organisation.
Millennials and Generation Z cohorts – who now make up the majority of the workforce – constantly cite “personal career development” as one of the key things they demand from their employer.
The most crucial thing for both mentors and mentees to understand is that while a mentoring relationship can still function remotely, it will be different. The relationship will become more professional and phone calls will have to be scheduled… But it can – and does – work.
Both parties must know what they want from the mentoring relationship and it must fit the characteristics of the individuals involved, just as it did in the past. Some younger employees will still prefer to be allowed to make their own mistakes, while others will prefer more frequent supervision.
The importance of trust will be vital and benefits will emerge gradually. The pandemic may alter many aspects of the workplace, but we doubt it will alter the fundamentals of mentorship and the need to learn from older co-workers and the incentives that come with passing on that information.
Technology and post-pandemic working practices will surely transform how its provided – but it’s in the best interests of every business to ensure they’ve found the best way to ensure that this happens. And – who knows – if the much-touted metaverse ultimately takes over the world of work, we might all have virtual mentors at some point in the future.
Generation Next can help young professionals find a mentor through its mentoring scheme. Members can link up with the network’s cohort of mentors through an online portal, which is formalised by a professional yet flexible agreement outlined among themselves. Mentees can then learn from the experience of seasoned business leaders to boost their professional development. Companies or individuals who are looking for mentoring support can sign up to Generation Next membership here.