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How to Beat Burnout During a Pandemic (and Beyond)

Employees have never been lonelier or less engaged than they are now. This initiative can help you reverse the trend.

By Laura Francis

Burned out. Stressed. Tired. These themes reflect the way employees feel today, according to a FlexJobs, Mental Health America survey. The report shows 75 percent of people have experienced burnout at work, with 40 percent saying they’ve suffered from burnout specifically during the coronavirus pandemic.

Here’s another sobering stat: Cigna’s 2020 Loneliness Index finds three in five adults (61 percent) report being lonely, a 7 percent increase from 2018. That number might not surprise you in the age of COVID-19, but this report came out before the pandemic changed everything. 

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With the need to work from home and socially distance ourselves from loved ones, friends, and coworkers, the feeling of loneliness likely expanded along with the daily burnout people experience.

So, yeah … we could all use a break.

As the Cigna report points out, loneliness has implications for the business community in a few keyways, namely:

  • Lonely workers say they’re less engaged, less productive, and more likely to quit.
  • Remote workers are more likely than non-remote workers to feel alone always or sometimes.

That last point becomes more relevant today, as the number of remote workers has obviously increased exponentially. And as many of us juggle full-time work with caring for loved ones and homeschooling our kids, the risk of burnout flares higher.

But not all hope is lost. Savvy companies have figured out how to engage their remote employees, help them feel connected with others at work, and provide a way to broaden their skills while building personal connections. And it all starts with virtual mentoring.

What Is Virtual Mentoring?

Virtual mentoring uses technology like mentoring software to help people form and manage their mentoring relationships.

“While people typically think of mentoring as a very intense, face-to-face type of relationship, employee mentoring software has been around for 20 years, helping to make the process more accessible and convenient for employees and companies alike,” says Phil George, CEO of MentorcliQ, a mentoring software provider based in Columbus, Ohio. 

Using software to provide a framework for how employees should structure their mentoring relationships gives them peace of mind that they’re following best practices. But why is mentoring so important?

Mentoring can help people build a network of mentors and advisors who can impact their careers and give them critical support they need throughout all aspects of the employee life cycle, from onboarding to developing functional skills, to finding a cohort or affinity group. Mentoring can also impact employee engagement and retention, preventing employee isolation and burnout that may occur in these unprecedented times.

The Gallup Q12 employee engagement survey identifies having a friend in the organization or being cared about by colleagues as a strong predictor of employee engagement.

Meanwhile, our research at River on mentoring’s impact on employee engagement found that 90 percent of mentees and mentors say participating in their company’s mentoring program helped them develop a positive relationship with another employee in the company.

“We know mentoring matters and that it can have a substantial positive impact on a person’s career and life,” George says. “It can also produce critical benefits for organizations.”

MentorcliQ and KeyBank recently won a 2020 Gold Brandon Hall Group Excellence Award in Talent Development within the category of Best Advance in Measuring the Impact of a Talent Strategy.

As a result of KeyBank’s MentorMe@Key mentoring program, the company saw a 76 percent decrease in employee turnover among the mentor-mentee population, with an 85 percent reduction in turnover for high job grades and a 56 percent reduction in turnover for top performers.

KeyBank also experienced a 55-fold return on investment for the mentoring program.

How to Design a Virtual Mentoring Program

Engaging and retaining employees remains most companies’ biggest need. And as employers turn to more remote work, virtual mentoring becomes even more essential. Here are three key strategies to follow as you build your virtual mentoring program.

Strategy #1: Tie mentoring to a purpose. Mentoring typically falls into a core area of the employee life cycle, such as a part of career development or focused on building functional skills and expertise, George says.

Connecting mentoring to an organizational goal or purpose, like onboarding, high-potential development, succession planning, IT skill development, or diversity and inclusion, creates a tangible purpose for the program. This means it can be assessed and measured. It also positions the mentoring program as a piece of a larger strategy that’s designed to solve a business need.

Strategy #2: Set clear expectations with participants. Knowing why you’re doing something is important, but so is knowing how you’re going to do it. Mentees and mentors want to have a clear understanding of how the mentoring program will work, what’s being asked of them, and what the expectations are for them as participants. 

Be sure to set and share clear expectations around what you’re asking of your participants. For example, let them know how long you expect the relationships to last, how much time you’re asking them to commit (is it one meeting per month or one meeting per week?), that you expect them to respond to surveys, and so on. Clearly explaining this information before employees join your mentoring program will help reduce misunderstandings and confusion. 

Strategy #3: Communicate, communicate, communicate. Then, communicate some more. You can have a great mentoring platform to support your virtual mentoring program, but without a solid plan and process in place for running your program, you’ll only go so far. Part of that process includes knowing how to communicate about your program and promote it to your organization. 

For example, who should you invite as your mentees and mentors? When should you invite them to the program? Whose support do you need at various organizational levels (executive sponsors, stakeholders, department managers) to advocate for the program? How can you market and promote your program to potential mentees and mentors? 

You must address all of these questions to have a successful and efficient program—and you need to formulate a comprehensive communication plan, too. Plus, don’t forget to tell people what’s in it for them.

We may have to stay socially distanced from one other for the time being, but that doesn’t mean we have to be socially isolated. Virtual mentoring offers a way for people to engage in interpersonal development and professional relationships that can help us combat loneliness and burnout. Make it a core factor in your company’s modern talent strategy.

Laura Francis is chief knowledge officer for River, a mentoring software company based in Denver and acquired this year by MentorcliQ. She has more than 20 years of experience focused on mentoring, writing, thought leadership, and strategic innovation.