Don't let employees opt out of being mentored, new study says

Mentoring new workers can help improve performance and even encourage employees to remain in their positions for longer, but mentorship programs should apply to all workers for best results, a new working paper from Boston-based Harvard Business School suggested Nov. 9.

The researchers looked into how widespread mentoring affected 600 new hires at a call center. They adjusted the center's existing mentorship program for the 600 new employees, creating a broad mentoring program in which some employees were randomly selected to receive mentorship. They also created a selective opt-in, opt-out program in which the mentees were selected randomly from only the pool of workers who opted in.

They found that those who were randomly selected from all the new hires to receive mentoring were 11 percent more likely to stay at the company after one month. Those who received advice and wisdom from experienced mentors also performed 18 percent better than non-mentored employees. 

Interestingly, there was no difference in productivity between the employees who opted in to the mentoring program, even if they weren't selected to receive mentoring. This suggests that the positive mindset of welcoming advice, even if not received, can aid workers. 

Those who opted out of the mentoring program did not seem to have any demographic or personality differences compared to those who opted in, but the researchers suggested that "unobservable characteristics" instead may drive the decision. Shyness, embarrassment or even overconfidence may contribute to the decision to opt out. 

Thus, the researchers suggest that broad mentoring programs that don't have an opt-out option are the best way to engage all new employees and boost productivity and are more likely to generate more impressive results. 

"The evidence shows that formal, broad-based mentoring programs work even after you factor in the program costs," said Christopher Stanton, PhD, a professor at Harvard Business School and a researcher on the paper.

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