Are learners a source of energy and inspiration, or are you in a spiral of fatigue? Working with newcomers and helping them to learn can be highly satisfying. Many people would say that learners add vibrancy to a workforce and help people to keep up to date. A workplace lacking in new blood soon becomes stagnant.
Nevertheless, mentoring and supervising take time and energy. Perhaps instead of taking a coffee break you help a learner to fill in a part of their portfolio of evidence. Maybe you need to find time in your day to meet with a representative from the education provider. Perhaps your student is anxious about making mistakes and demands a lot of your attention. And what if you have a ‘high-confidence, low-competence’ student who you feel you can't entirely trust? These time and energy demands are all legitimate and important.
I’ve brought together a few useful ways of thinking about the pressures and rewards of mentoring. To support you to look after yourself, I discuss ideas around self-regulation, stress and trust in the workplace. ‘Professional will’ is an invaluable personal resource that can help carry you through the challenges.
- Do you sometimes sacrifice your own needs for food or recuperation, in order to complete tasks or maintain work relationships?
- Do you sometimes notice you are regulating your emotions and behaviour when you are heavily pressed? This might be when learners or colleagues challenge you directly. Or you might feel frustrated by lack of personal time.
Ensure there are sufficient opportunities for your mentors (and other staff too) to take breaks during a working day. Mentors may need some respite from mentoring over the longer term.
Mentors may need additional provision for emotional support during challenging periods.
- Does your mentee’s livelihood depend on them achieving goals or outcomes under your supervision?
- Are there professional requirements for the standard of your mentoring?
- Is it difficult or time-consuming to obtain all the information you need about a mentee a) in order to support them to meet their objectives or b) to judge or assess the quality of their work?
- Do mentoring responsibilities threaten your ability to complete work in acceptable timescales, or make you feel emotionally exhausted?
It can take much effort to building a complete picture of a learner. The information you need might appear in fragments, over time, by consistently working with a student. Also, you might need to look in several different places to locate the records you need access to. Other people who can give you information may be difficult to contact. Fragmented information can emphasise a mentors’ susceptibility to work-related stress. Also, job demands such as physical workload and time pressures can initiate a spiral of energy loss, making it increasingly difficult to engage productively in work.
Stress and fatigue can clearly create situations where you need to seek support in your workplace.
Be aware of any pressures associated with professional regulation to which your mentors may be subject.
Ask whether your mentors are finding it difficult to obtain all the necessary information about either their mentees or their learning and assessment needs.
Offer a sympathetic ear if a mentor appears to be challenged by job demands.
- Do you ever feel personally vulnerable when working closely alongside a learner?
- Do you ever feel protective towards your customers or service users when you are mentoring?
It helps if managers recognise the skills, attributes, commitment and vulnerability of mentors. Such open recognition, along with paying attention to mentors’ well-being, has the additional potential to strengthen mentoring practice.
Consider how you might promote psychological safety in your organisation.
- Are mentees a stimulus and source of inspiration that carries you forward as a mentor?
- How do you manage if the opposite happens?
Employers and managers need to be prepared to facilitate an atmosphere that values, inspires and supports mentors. Take an active interest and make time to talk to mentors about their work. Try celebrating the work of your mentors in staff newsletters or through mentor awards.