The pandemic has changed how we work, but it hasn’t necessarily changed the fact that employees are still interested in career development. While the opportunity for face-to-face training or coaching has been paused, companies can still take advantage of mentorship opportunities.

Employees want to advance

According to a new study by Doodle, 49% of people don’t think they’re receiving enough coaching, training, or mentoring to successfully advance their careers. And half of those respondents would describe their career development as “stalled” or “regressing backward.”

Jared Blank, CMO at Doodle, advises organizations to take note of these findings. “If companies don’t show their employees that career development is a top priority, during and after the pandemic, it’s highly likely that their employees will lose their motivation to do great work,” he explains. And that’s not the only negative implication. “They’ll become disengaged from the organization, and be more inclined to leave to work for another company that values and supports their career development plans.”

Employees connect with managers

Managers are in a unique position to positively impact workers because they work more closely with them, and have the ability to develop the type of interpersonal relationships that lead to successful mentoring. According to a study, employees trust the team they work with much more than the HR teams and senior leaders they occasionally see. And this trust extends to the area of career development.

“For example, 34% of employees feel comfortable speaking to their direct supervisor about their career development goals, and 28% are comfortable sharing their goals with colleagues,” Blank says. However, this number drops dramatically with people outside of this circle. Only 13% feel comfortable discussing their career goals with either HR or senior management.

In fact, 47% of respondents say they want their managers to play an active role in their development. “Thirty-two percent of respondents want clear direction on roles and responsibilities and 15% want guidance and support for career development goals,” Blank says.

However, without an intervention, the pandemic can cause these relationships to unravel. For example, 40% of respondents said the relationships with both their team members and managers have become impersonal or isolated and less engaged. Also, 66% say their bosses haven’t scheduled more one-on-one meetings with them since the pandemic and lockdowns went into effect.

“It’s striking that employees understand that career growth is not a one-way street — that to meet your career goals, you really need to build rapport with your boss,” Blank says. “That includes being able to have honest one-on-one conversations about what a career path looks like at the company, without making your supervisor nervous that you’re too focused on the next job, or that you’re threatening to leave if you don’t get what you want.”

And this is why a meaningful, trusting relationship between employees and managers is so important. “If employees don’t feel comfortable or safe expressing their personal goals and asking for their manager’s support in achieving those goals, the employee’s career development could get stalled or even regress.”

How managers can respond

Managers may still be adjusting to the new normal and focused on keeping their organizations afloat. However, Buck Rogers, VP of Keystone Partners' North Carolina office, says this can also be a time of mentoring — in fact, he thinks it can be an ideal environment for mentoring relationships. “That’s because we now have a new perspective of our operations today and a new vision for tomorrow.”

And he believes this has created a perfect opportunity to connect with employees on a deeper level and in a more impactful way. “We now have the ability to mentor in true real-world situations where we’re genuinely trying to challenge ourselves to optimize and even find new models, methods, systems, and processes,” Rogers says.

“As leaders, we can model, actively discuss, and lead those we mentor with a transparency that will make a lasting impact on these individuals and their impact within our organizations.” And there’s the potential to stretch and challenge managers as well. “Mentors will grow and improve right alongside those they mentor, resulting in significant ROI for the company as well as everyone involved,” he says. In fact, reverse mentorship is another option that should be on the table. “Younger employees can help longer-term staff adjust to an increasingly digital workplace.”

Regardless of what form the mentoring takes, Rogers believes it’s important to take advantage of the opportunity provided by the pandemic. “The time is now — there’s no better time, situation, or environment than what we’re experiencing today to invest in mentoring relationships.”