The annual expenditure on healthcare for mental illness is 18 billion dollars (LSE CEP, 2012). Additionally, mental illness reduces the United States’ gross domestic product by 70 billion dollars each year, reflecting the loss of output from individuals who are unable to work or to work to their full capacity (LSE CEP, 2012; Centre for Mental Health, 2010). As such, mental illness is a serious concern not just for individual employees but also for their employers and for society-at-large.
One approach to address mental health issues in the workplace is mentoring. Mentoring is a trusting relationship where a more experienced individual (the mentor) provides guidance and support to a less experienced person (the mentee) (Kram, 1985). Mentoring theory (Ragins & Kram, 2007) suggests that mentors can provide their mentees with two types of support: career-related and psychosocial (Kram, 1985; Noe, 1988; Ragins & McFarlin, 1990). Psychosocial support typically takes the form of counseling, coaching, friendship, or personal and emotional guidance (Fowler & O'Gorman, 2005). Career-related support in mentoring relationships can assist mentees in “learning the ropes,” leading to higher job performance ratings and enhanced satisfaction (Scandura & Williams, 2004). Collectively, psychosocial and career support can build mentees’ trust with their mentors, which is also thought to produce socio-emotional benefits (Young & Perrewe, 2000). These two types of support indicate that mentoring has positive implications for the mentees’ mental health. Relatedly, a meta-analysis of mentoring research demonstrated that mentoring programs could reduce mentees’ stress and strain (Eby et al., 2008).
Mentoring provides a unique context for individuals to discuss and normalize their concerns, share ideas for managing anxieties, and learn how to build healthy relationships. In a context of increased pressure, relatively inexpensive organizational practices such as mentoring can play a critical role in supporting employees and therefore the wider society that they protect.
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