In a Remote World, What’s the Best Way to Mentor Young Workers?

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Building rapport with young employees in a remote or hybrid environment may seem like a tall order, but it doesn’t have to be.

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When you reflect on the earliest years of your career, you probably remember feeling excited but also a bit unsure or even overwhelmed. You may recall a few key figures who helped you find your footing. They acted as sounding boards for new ideas, shared lessons they’d learned on their own career paths, celebrated your wins, and gave you pep talks when you had a setback.

Chances are many of these interactions happened face-to-face: at your desk, in the communal kitchen, or during elevator rides. But now, with 40% of people still in fully remote or hybrid working arrangements, communication and bonding require more advanced planning (and usually a calendar invite).

This change is having a huge impact on young workers, in particular. Employee engagement took a steeper dive among people under 35 from 2019 to 2022, dropping by four percentage points to 33% compared with the two-point decrease among employees above that age. Two of the main contributing factors are not having someone at work who encourages their development and feeling less cared about. Both are crucial to cultivating relatedness, or a sense of belonging, and a lack of these sentiments can easily cause young employees to feel ostracized, leading to harmful in-group/out-group dynamics.

With more than 60% of millennials and Gen Zers contemplating a job move this year, prioritizing mentorship could be the difference between a high turnover rate and an engaged team that will stick around.

Managers need not shoulder this responsibility alone. Colleagues from different levels and departments have the potential to serve as mentors since young workers’ career interests may shift, and they may form friendships outside of their own teams over time. Here’s how to promote a culture that encourages everyone to be open to participating in mentorship in a hybrid work world.

Work one-on-one chats into your schedule

One-on-one check-ins aren’t strictly for managers and their direct reports. Regular virtual chats between mentors and mentees help build rapport in a way that isn’t possible in large groups, note nonprofit leaders Marianna Tu and Michael Li. Limiting the conversation to just two people allows you to engage in meaningful talk and show care, which not only deepens your connection but also increases daily well-being.

To make this time even more worthwhile, turn your camera on and encourage your mentee to do the same because face time is linked to greater neural synchronization and better communication.

Get to know your mentee’s hopes and dreams

During your first few meetups, ask your mentee about their short- and long-term professional goals. Then, suggest action items and set up meetings with members of the organization who can help them accomplish those goals.

This process may feel uncomfortable because you’re diving into personal topics about someone’s future. But a successful mentorship requires self-awareness, patience, and empathy. By relating to your mentee’s thoughts and feelings, you develop a better understanding of who they are and what motivates them. The SCARF® Model, which stands for status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, and fairness, can guide you on the best ways to light their spark. If having a clear timeline keeps them on track, set deadlines for when certain milestones should happen. Do they thrive on recognition and positive feedback? Compliment them when they take the initiative to get closer to their goals.

Make it personal

Your instinct on video calls may be to bypass the small talk and go straight to your agenda. But remember: A mentoring relationship is a business and personal one. It’s important to set a warm and friendly tone by spending at least a few minutes of your conversation discussing life outside of work. For example, ask about their hobbies, families, or pets. This can forge stronger bonds than only diving into to-dos.

You can also make it more fun by switching the format up. Try taking your talk on a walk, chatting over a cup of coffee, or doing a show-and-tell with an object you both have at home.

View mentoring as a learning opportunity

Research shows you can brush up on your knowledge, polish your management skills, and become more creative by taking on the role of a mentor. You may also pick up something new from your mentee: Young colleagues can teach you about newer technology and their generation’s opinions on current trends. Embracing a growth mindset and believing that your own skills can be improved, in turn, also makes you a more effective mentor.

Remote and hybrid work may have transformed the way we communicate with each other, but it hasn’t changed the fact that we crave authentic interactions. By being more intentional about creating opportunities to connect and getting the most out of the time we spend together, we can still build and maintain meaningful connections — even if it’s through a computer screen.

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