How to make mentorships work for gen Z in a hybrid environment 

Gen Z employees are among the most insistent on hybrid working, but many are starting to feel the loss of office experiences and the soft skills that come from it. How can organisations build mentoring programmes that can help navigate early careers?

Gen Z Mentorship

Starting a career is an exciting time but it can also be an anxious one, especially for young people. The workplace can be difficult to navigate for those just starting out, especially in the world of hybrid working where many interactions are via a screen. 

Although gen Z workers are adamant they want flexibility in their workspace, they are also experiencing some negative effects from hybrid working, with 92% stating that they’re missing out on traditional office experiences, according to research. The reduction in face-to-face interactions is leaving more and more young employees feeling disconnected from their colleagues, making it difficult to reach out for help when they need it. 

Organisations have also been struggling to understand the wants and needs of gen Z, with one-third of employers finding it difficult to motivate employees. And despite 77% of gen Z opting for hybrid working, many young employees feel unprepared to enter the world of work, citing low confidence in soft skills such as presenting and influencing. Some experts are concerned that young people are starting their careers at a disadvantage

Hybrid working can present challenges for young employees

One way that organisations typically help employees to navigate the workplace is through mentoring. Fostering supportive mentor-mentee relationships can provide safe spaces for employees to ask questions and talk through problems. 

But in a hybrid working world with less face-to-face time to build relationships and learn interpersonal skills, mentoring must be approached differently. Organisations still have a lot to learn about operating in hybrid models. 

Emma Parry, professor of human resource management at Cranfield School of Business Management, says that businesses are still experiencing new challenges with hybrid working. “We’re moving into the stage where people are experiencing some challenges that perhaps they didn’t anticipate – and mentoring and development of younger people entering the workplace is one of those,” she says.

How to make mentorships successful in a hybrid environment 

The mentor-mentee relationship can be an enriching experience for both parties. But to be effective, mentors and mentees need to be equipped with an understanding of what a successful relationship can look like and how to achieve it. 

Joanna Kori, head of people at Encompass Corporation, explains that her organisation has made mentorships a central part of its talent development strategy. Kori explains that the interpersonal interactions that come with being a mentor or a mentee are essential for career development.

The reduction in face-to-face interactions is leaving many young employees feeling disconnected from their colleagues

In addition to ensuring personal interactions, Encompass has been able to better personalise mentorship relationships by linking them to a skills and competencies framework, which sets expectations for skills development for individual employees.

Chloe Lewis is director of client management at Alight Solutions. She thinks it’s critical to maximise the time that employees are together in the office for maximum benefit. Managers need to curate activities and opportunities so that young employees can meet colleagues across the business, observe work interactions and relationships and actively learn. 

Parry has worked with businesses that use asynchronous communication as part of their mentoring programmes. While platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams are useful in day-to-day hybrid interactions, mentoring platforms such as MentorCloud and Together may be more useful for effective mentor schemes. In a workplace where one in four employees say they have Zoom fatigue and more meetings than ever, asynchronous communication reduces communication overload, allows time for reflection and feedback, and can be less disruptive during the working day. Parry emphasises that it’s ultimately about talking to colleagues and understanding what works for them.

Why senior buy-in for mentorships is essential

When it comes to building a mentoring programme, Kori advises businesses to start small. Firms first need to gauge the interest in mentoring programmes and what mentors and mentees want to gain from taking part. Kori says that firms should then start a pilot scheme. Building any kind of programme is an iterative process, and setting up small-scale schemes means that firms can quickly collate and implement feedback. Employees who take part in these pilots can quickly become your ambassadors, encouraging colleagues to come on board.

Mentoring the incoming generation can offer an opportunity for a cultural shift at an organisation towards a better understanding of what drives gen Z. As with any culture change, it’s crucial to get support and advocacy from leadership. “Leadership leaning in is what generates the right culture,” says Lewis. 

While senior leaders must advocate strongly for progressive mentorship programmes, they should also take part in them. Access to senior executives can provide opportunities to learn and build a sense of belonging and loyalty for a mentee, and vice versa.