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Hybrid Workplaces Need Mentors, Not Bosses

Rangam Aug 1, 2023 7:28:35 AM
A woman and a man engaged in a discussion about the importance of mentors, rather than bosses, in hybrid workplaces

COVID-19 had a far-reaching impact on workplaces. While remote working has existed for more than a decade, hybrid workplaces have become more of a norm in major organizations as a post-pandemic epiphany. Considering these changes, companies have begun to realize that effective leadership should be about mentoring and not micromanaging. The traditional hierarchy system that involved managers controlling given tasks is almost certain to give way to mentoring as more digital natives join the workforce, and the mean age of employees comes down.

Challenges of Remote Work

While remote working has the undeniable advantage of flexibility that helps workers strike a better work-life balance, it isn’t free from challenges. The pandemic has revealed that working remotely has its fair share of downsides. Working from their homes, employees can feel overlooked, isolated, and lonely. They may lose connection with the organization and even miss out on important information. Since informal networking is more difficult to achieve in a remote working environment, it can lead workers to feel left out.

According to the 2021 State of the Global Workplace report by Gallup, 45% respondents said their life was affected ‘a lot’ by the pandemic. The report revealed that employee engagement decreased from 22% in 2018 to 20% in 2020, with daily stress levels reaching a record high of 43% (2020) from 38% (2019). Seven out of 10 people surveyed claimed that they are suffering or struggling and may quit their jobs. The report highlighted that leaders needed to adopt mentorship roles as opposed to continuing with the traditional command-and-control approach.

Why Hybrid Workplaces Needs Mentors

Mentoring connects employees outside of the formal hierarchical system and focuses on key performance indicators (KPIs). It provides both the mentor and the mentee a space to communicate about the concerns and challenges of working in a hybrid environment. Mentees are able to gain a deeper understanding of organizational dynamics and the importance of network building. Mentors, at the same time, get to know what’s happening in various departments of the organization and gain valuable insight on how to become better leaders and drive more employee engagement. Most importantly, the idea of mentorship is based on collaboration and not on compliance. Collaboration leads to better productivity and creativity. Compliance alone, on the other hand, can stifle both, resulting in a culture of doing “just enough” to get the job done.

DE&I and Mentorship

Ever since COVID-19 broke out, companies have started addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) issues afresh. Mentoring programs provide development opportunities to all employees, particularly those who may not be well represented in the workforce. Organizations with hybrid workplaces are facing additional complexities in addressing DE&I challenges. A mentorship program for workers from underrepresented communities can be a key tool for career development. The importance of DE&I can never be overemphasized, and companies that commit to inclusion in the re-imagined workplace will be able to reap long-term benefits from effective mentorship programs.

In some industries, mentorship programs have proved to be far more effective in promoting diversity than any traditional method. According to a report on corporate diversity programs and gender inequality in the oil and gas industry published by the National Library of Medicine (NLM), minorities and women who participate in mentoring programs are retained and/or promoted more than twice as often as those who aren’t mentored. Leading global consultancy firm Deloitte launched a mentorship program in 2021 to directly support women professionals to pursue their career in economics and policy. The program includes hybrid workplaces and is carried out both in-person and virtually.

Mentorship and Networking

Networking in a hybrid workplace is much different than in an in-person environment. Mentors can help workers build networks and advance their careers. Remote work often poses a major hurdle for workers to organically build their professional network. A mentor can help them establish meaningful relationships, foster an environment where they are heard and create a space to learn even when they make mistakes.

Bringing It All Together

Workplace mentoring yields two major outcomes. First, it builds collaboration; and second, it reinforces a clarity of purpose. Both have a positive impact on employee retention. This is especially true for hybrid workplaces, where teams are 1.27 times more vulnerable to disconnect compared to fully onsite workers, claims a Gartner report. While hybrid teams have the flexibility in working, challenges like digital distractions, virtual overload, and an ‘always-on’ mindset can trigger fatigue and burnout. Empathy-based mentorship is what businesses need and business leaders can play a major role in this regard.

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