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Mentoring for Mental Health: Designing the Right Program for Your Employees

May 12, 2022
Frances Campbell

It might seem simple but you’d be surprised how often the end user is neglected in the design of all kinds of programs. And when it comes to mentoring, it's no different. This simple practice can be the difference between success and failure.

This Mental Health Awareness Week, we want to talk about how you can use mentoring to support mental health and wellbeing at work through thoughtful, user lead design. A well known way to reduce isolation and loneliness at work, mentoring is an excellent addition to your wellbeing at work programs.

As the latest CIPD wellbeing at work survey shows, mental health is the most common focus of wellbeing activity at work and in our post-pandemic workplace, it is more important than ever to create effective support structures for your employees. 

Let's start with the fundamentals.

How do I design my program effectively? 

Mentoring is a powerful way to improve the wellbeing of your people at work. To do this effectively you need to put the needs and goals of your end user right at the heart of your program from inception to implementation. 

First and foremost, understanding the objective of the program and who you are trying to help is fundamental to the early stages of design. A successful mentoring program is one that has a clear, achievable goal and that understands not only the motivation of the organisation, but of the participants too.

From the early planning stages, you need to ask yourself who your program is for and seek out their input on how the program is structured. Many mentoring programs fail due to a lack of engagement. Knowing the needs of your end user will help you to design a program fit for purpose that gets your target group on board and engaged.

📖 To find out more read our step by step guide to starting a mentoring program 📖

What are the benefits of user lead design?

By putting your end user at the heart of your program you can reap a range of benefits, these include: 

  • Increase uptake and efficacy 
  • Prevent dropout later on
  • Improve program performance 
  • Better ROI
  • Help more people access mentoring 

At the end of the day, mentoring is about connecting people for personal and professional development. By designing a program around the end user, you will be able to facilitate better engagement with mentoring. This means more positive impact for more participants.

Best practice:

A key element in planning your program is including your users at several points throughout the process. Below are some key areas to think about from the beginning: 

  • Talk to your end user: At the start of the design process, during and after. Gather data through surveys and use this to inform the structure of your program.

  • Challenge your assumptions: Run your planning by colleagues or gain feedback from the user group that can check your plans. Don’t let your assumptions about what people need get in the way of good design.

  • Factor in feedback: You can avoid the dreaded dropout and program fatigue by planning reviews from the start. Gathering feedback at strategic junctures in the program can give you the opportunity to make adjustments.

  • Take what you’ve learned and try again: Running a successful mentoring scheme takes practice. At the end of the program take what you’ve learned and try again! 

mentoring and mental health

Example use case: mentoring for mental health

Mentoring for mental health is an excellent example of how user lead design becomes an essential part of running an effective program. Mentoring can reduce isolation and loneliness, lower anxiety and improve self-esteem, all of which have positive impact on our mental wellbeing. The best part? The effects can be felt for both the mentor and the mentee.

At its core, mentoring is about helping someone else by coming together to talk. While it’s important to note that mentoring isn’t therapy, it can form an important pillar in your workplace wellbeing programs. 

If you want to genuinely support your employee's mental health, you’ll need to set up a mentoring program that is accessible to the people you are trying to help. Sounds simple right? 

Yet, mental health at work is a complex topic and one that has been stigmatised for a long time. Navigating this pervasive stigma and creating an environment in which people feel safe to seek support in this way can be tricky. This is why understanding the needs of your end user is so important in designing a mentoring program to support in this way.

Here are our top tips on what to think about when designing a program for mental health in particular. 

Top tips:

  • Break down barriers to entry ⛔️

These will vary depending on who the program is for, but your mentoring program needs to be as easy as possible to join and use. 

This is particularly important for mental health, where users may find joining a program overwhelming or need adjustments to help them access support. While you can’t make your program individual for every user you can break down common barriers. Offering support such as virtual mentoring is a great example.

  • Design for flexibility 🤸

For many people consistency and routine are important. However, if you are experiencing mental health problems keeping to a strict schedule can be a challenge and it’s important to acknowledge and accommodate this. 

In which case, a program that makes it easy to communicate and rearrange or pause sessions will be key to stopping participants from dropping out completely.

  • Carefully consider confidentiality 🤐

While a public-facing profile that everyone in your organisation can see fits a mentoring program designed for career progression, where participants want to show off their engagement, this isn’t the case for mental health. 

Making sure the privacy of the participants is accounted for from the start creates the right kind of safety for people to seek help with their mental health.

  • Think about where 🏡

Similarly, think about where and how participants will be accessing mentoring. For some people, talking about difficult topics may feel easier in the comfort of their own home, in which case virtual mentoring is ideal. 

For others, a private meeting room in the office or a walking/talking session could work best. Make sure participants know what locations are available for mentoring and how to access them easily.

  • Get feedback

Before, during and after the program. Feedback is important for understanding what people need, whether a program is working or not and how you can improve moving forward. 

Be prepared for things to go wrong or change. Starting an effective mentoring program can be tricky to get right the first time and feedback from users is an invaluable resource.

💡Remember, these tips can be applied to designing mentoring programs for other purposes too, such as diversity and inclusion programs.💡

Setting up a mentoring program is a great way to improve employee wellbeing and happiness at work, along with a whole host of other benefits. However, getting it wrong can be costly to both your time and budget, as well affecting your employees.

Increase your chances of mentoring success by paying attention to who you are trying to help. Whether you are supporting mental health or career progression, putting your end user at the heart of your design is essential for creating a program that works. 

Why not find out more about how Guider can help you to implement an easy, effective mentoring solution. Talk to us by booking a demo below! 👇

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