How would those dead poet society (or highschoolers) know they liked poetry if Robin Williams as a teacher didn’t demand they stand on a desk? And how would Matt Damons’ Will Hunting ever believe in himself if Williams didn’t pop up again as a new character who boosted his confidence and assured him? Without mentorship, the desks lie empty and the apples, well they’re not all that liked.
Mentors aren’t just for Williams roles in ‘90s-era dad movies—they’re supposed to help push someone through a difficult situation and not just get through the other side, but grow through the experience. But there doesn’t seem to be enough mentors going around for the generation who needs them the most.
Just 52% of Gen Zers say they have a mentor, according to the Adobe’s newly-released survey of more than 1,000 Gen Zers. But it’s not for lack of wanting: A whopping 83% of Gen Z workers reported to Adobe that they think a “workplace mentor is crucial for their career.” Without one, the most junior employees are forced to navigate an uncertain and ever-shifting professional landscape on their own.
“Gen Z is curious, hungry for growth, and driven to succeed. But their ambition comes with a need for guidance and mentorship,” Cortney Erin, vice president of Global Talent Acquisition at Adobe, tells Fortune. Indeed, it’s a difficult time across generations to figure out how to act, as the future of work remains in flux. Everything from how we dress to where we work has been questioned since the pandemic hit. The answers to new workplace norms vary by one’s CEO, company, and even middle manager. It’s all confusing for even workers decades into their careers, much less Gen Zers who are relatively new to the game, and many of whom graduated into a world of remote work.
In fact, the rise of remote work might be one possible reason for Gen Z’s counseling desert, as it’s made forging relationships more of a concerted effort. Without watercolor chat in real life, workers are forced to put in extra time over Slack and Zoom to manufacture these same kinds of interactions. That comes at a critical time for entry-level workers like Gen Z, who, propelled by financial uncertainty and student debt, are anxiously looking to accelerate their career and land a comfortable salary. The desire for in-person connection is why some Gen Zers actually don’t mind working in office instead of the home.
“People want to grow quickly, [and] mentorship—being able to connect with the manager or director on a more personal level—is extremely important,” Oliver Pour, a 2022 college graduate, told Fortune of his generation.
Everyone needs a mentor
Either way, Gen Z is missing out on crucial help. Most (75%) executives report that mentorship was vital to their career development, per a survey by the American Society for Training and Development (ATD). And having a helping hand makes workers feel happier at their jobs; a 2019 survey found that nine in 10 workers with a mentor report satisfaction with their workplace. That said, mentorship programs can further inequity, as the Harvard Business Review points out that most executives mentor people of the same race and gender. The outlet suggests fostering “bridge mentorships” that pair people of marginalized identities together to help address this disparity.
Companies are slowly waking up to employees’ needs; research from ATD shows a growth in formal mentorship programs to the point where almost half of surveyed organizations reported having them. And 42% of organizations that didn’t provide mentorship reported that they were looking to in the coming years. But these programs might not be implemented fast enough if so many Gen Zers remain without a mentor.
It’s possible that Gen Zers also don’t have the time for mentorship, as much as they want to. Adobe found that 55% of Gen Zers participate in career development training programs less than once a month, citing a lack of time rather than a lack of interest as their top roadblock in attending these programs.
Perhaps a mentor would be able to account for the (manufactured or not) intergenerational gaps at work. The stereotype about Gen Z in the workplace is that they’re an outspoken bunch who vocally challenges leadership, demands better pay and conditions, and is willing to leave if that’s what it takes to get said goals. In reality, studies show that Gen Z wants largely what other employees of other generations have and continue to fight for. Rather than a divergence in interests, there seems to be a language disconnect at play. Mentorship could be the salve to said assumptions.
The disconnect between what Gen Z wants and what they’re being given “presents a golden opportunity for companies that want to attract and retain Gen Z talent to meet the moment,” says Erin. “By investing in mentorship programs, companies not only aid Gen Z’s success but also create a more engaged and innovative workforce.