The Penna Mentoring report is based on a survey of around 2,000 UK workers. It suggests a lack of development opportunities is the biggest reason for employees leaving organisations (20%), while almost half (40%) report never having the opportunity to be either a mentor or mentee at their company.
Most employees (59%) see learning new skills within an organisation as the main benefit of mentoring programmes, with only 10% seeing it as a tool to help more organisations.
The top three characteristics people look for in mentors are expertise (65%), strong rapport (62%) and being challenging (59%).
Penna Talent Practice MD Penny de Valk told HR magazine employees are most likely to want "improved visibility" within their workplace for mentoring schemes. She also stressed the importance of development for retention.
"The biggest risk to retention is a lack of learning opportunities," she said. "We know now that if employees don't maintain a steep learning curve they are unlikely to stay."
The research also highlighted the high number of mentoring programmes across Fortune 500 companies. Almost three-quarters (70%) run schemes, with 75% of executives saying these play a key role in their professional development.
De Valk put the higher number of mentoring programmes in larger companies down to increased time and resources.
"Often in small companies people will know the majority of their colleagues, so mentoring may be happening informally," she said. "But one of the main advantages of mentoring is networking, so it's good learn from someone in a different department who can expand an employees opportunities."
"Either way, the most important thing is to have a clear idea what you want to get out of it when you start," she added.