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Employee looking up to her mentor

Why Mentors Matter: A Summary of 30 Years of Research

By Lauren Bidwell

You’ve likely experienced, in some form or other, a successful mentoring relationship. Perhaps it was an older sibling who took you under their wing, a teacher at school who helped guide your career, or a more experienced colleague at work who showed you the ropes.

While the purpose of mentoring may seem common sense, you might be surprised to learn just how beneficial mentoring relationships can be, especially in the workplace. Nearly thirty years of psychological research paints a clear picture: done right, mentoring programs can positively impact the mentees, mentors, and your organization as a whole.

What is a mentor?

By definition, a mentor is a more experienced and knowledgeable person who teaches and nurtures the development of a less experienced and knowledgeable person[1]. In an organizational setting, a mentor influences the personal and professional growth of a mentee [1]. Most traditional mentorships involve having senior employees mentor more junior employees, but mentors do not necessarily have to be more senior than the people they mentor. What matters is that mentors have experience that others can learn from. For example, some companies have “reverse mentoring” programs where younger employees share their experience using social technology with senior colleagues who may not have used these tools before.

What do they do?

A mentor’s duties include developing and managing the mentoring relationship, sponsoring the mentee’s developmental activities, modeling effective leadership behavior, guiding and counseling, teaching, motivating, and inspiring the mentee[1].

Workplace mentors might be a supervisor, colleague, someone within the organization but outside of the mentee’s chain of command, or even an individual in another organization[2].

Why do they matter?

  1. . Improved career outcomes

Researchers analyzed forty-three studies comparing the various career outcomes of mentored and non-mentored employees[3]. Compared to non-mentored employees, mentored employees:

  • Receive higher compensation
  • Receive a greater number of promotions
  • Feel more satisfied with their career
  • Feel more committed to their career
  • Are more likely to believe that they will advance in their career
  1. . Employee engagement

In a survey of 170 sales and marketing professionals, employees who were part of a mentoring relationship were found to have significantly higher engagement scores than employees who were not[4]. Mentored employees:

  • Felt more positively about their organization as a place to work for
  • Felt more positively about their organization’s senior leadership
  • Believed their organization provided opportunities for career growth
  • Felt informed about the future course of their organization
  1. .  Employee retention

Mentoring has been found to reduce turnover intention[5,6] as well as actual turnover[7,8].

  • When over 5,000 newly hired sales representatives were surveyed, those who indicated that they were part of a mentoring relationship reported significantly higher organizational commitment and lower intentions to leave their organization than did non-mentored respondents[6].
  • Similarly, in a study of 1,300 U.S. Army officers, being part of a mentoring relationship was found to decrease odds of turnover by 38%[8].
  1. . Employee inclusion

Initiating a formal mentoring program can be particularly beneficial for racial and gender minority employees, who otherwise, might not be chosen as an informal mentee. The structure of a formal mentoring program can:

  • Mitigate the sexual tension related to initiating a cross-gender mentoring relationship for women[9]
  • Provide access to mentors across racial and ethnic lines for employees of color[10].
  1. . Mentor benefits

The benefits of a mentoring relationship are not limited to mentees either; compared to non-mentors, employees who act as mentors:

  • Report greater job satisfaction and organizational commitment[11]
  • Have greater career success[11]
  • Perceive increased work-related fulfillment[12]
  • Whether improving employee engagement, commitment, inclusion, or retention is your organization’s goal, mentoring may provide a valuable solution. But are all mentor programs created equal? Discover how HR technology can be used to help ensure your mentor program is a success.


  1. Hart, 2009
  2. Eby, 1997
  3. Allen et al., 2004
  4. Sange and Srivasatave, 2012
  5. Joiner et al., 2004
  6. Brashear et al., 2006
  7. Lankau & Scandura, 2002
  8. Payne & Huffman, 2005
  9. Kilian et al., 2005
  10. Kutlik, C., & Roberson, L. (2008) Diversity initiative effectiveness: What organizations can (and cannot) expect from diversity recruitment, diversity training, and formal mentoring programs
  11. Ghosh & Reio, 2013
  12. Kennett & Lomas, 2015

About the Author

Lauren Bidwell, Ph.D.
Research Scientist, Human Capital Management Research

Dr. Lauren Bidwell is an Experimental Psychologist with a specialization in Decision Making research. Her role involves driving innovative thinking and best practices around talent management and the use of technology to support effective talent decisions. Lauren has engaged with dozens of customer organizations around the world and is an active author and presenter.

About SAP HR Research

Our research team advances the art and science of Human Capital Management by studying the relationship between technology, workforce psychology, and business performance. Our researchers and psychologists uncover trends to keep you on the cutting-edge of technology and thought leadership – and help shape the design of SAP SuccessFactors HCM software.

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