Mentoring programmes in the workplace have long been championed as a means of supporting junior colleagues, but research conducted across English police forces found that senior officers had reduced anxiety levels when acting as mentors.
Michael Gill, co-author of the report and associate professor in organisation studies at Saïd Business School, attributed the results to the communication that takes places during the mentoring process.
“Mentoring is a way to formally get people talking to one another when typically they don't have the time,” Gill told HR magazine. “Formalising [mentoring] creates an organisational mechanism to prompt supervisors and their colleagues to interact and talk among themselves. Just having those conversations is an incredibly powerful way to improve mental health, particularly anxiety.”
The research also found that sharing their own experiences of managing anxiety reminded senior officers of how to cope with similar stresses themselves, as well as the reasons they got into policing in the first place. “Many senior officers have more paperwork and meetings and less on-the-beat interaction than junior officers,” notes Gill. “[Mentoring] reminded them of when they started in their careers and the sorts of issues they had to face, but it also reminded them that they have a meaningful job.”
Gill said one of the most interesting research findings was that the action of helping a junior colleague made the senior staff member feel good about what they were doing. “[At a senior level] most of our work is indirect. To have that positive impact on a colleague so quickly made them feel good about what they were doing, and showed them that it wasn't just them who was anxious – many people in the workplace are anxious,” stated Gill.
Gill hopes to expand the research to a corporate environment, explaining that the potential benefits for employee wellbeing are still largely untapped. “Many organisations have issues of turnover or issues around sick leave that are heavily driven by mental health. In the scheme of things mentoring is a pretty low-cost way of addressing mental health issues within an organisation. I would encourage HR directors not just to implement it but to participate themselves.”