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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Creating spaces for mentoring relationships Alliston, Janeen


Many adults learn enhanced work skills and develop professional capacities through workplace mentoring. The perceived value of these partnerships is so persuasive that organizations wanting to use mentoring for employee training and development will often do so by implementing formal programs. Some authors suggest that the mechanistic matching and planned curricula which characterizes formal mentoring is counterintuitive. Organizations could be better served by creating physical and conceptual spaces which foster informal mentoring. Such an approach could be achieved by identifying and implementing conditions and processes that initiate and sustain informal mentoring partnerships. Of particular interest in this study was the impact of physical space on mentoring. As such, the study was structured to identify those environments and circumstances that lead to the initiation of informal mentoring relationships in the workplace, and then to make recommendations on how to create such conditions. A structured interview was used to learn about the mentoring experiences of 48 female and male faculty and staff of various ages in different departments with varying levels of work responsibility at a public post-secondary educational institution. Study participants were asked about the locations, activities, content and tone of their early and later mentoring interactions. They were also asked for the details about the influence of these variables on their partnerships. Often locations mentioned, the most valuable spaces for beginning mentoring interaction were found to be private or shared offices and food service venues; other important locations included the telephone, educational settings such as classrooms, labs or clinical training sites, and meeting rooms. When occupying these places, mentoring partners engaged in activities such as discussion, working on projects, and sharing food and drink. Discussion content was primarily work related and included issues such as education and task completion. Other discussion topics included work responsibilities, strategizing, career development and personal issues. Participants established rapport through the positive, relaxed tone of their interactions which they described as humourous, informal, challenging, focused, friendly and fun. Mentoring resulted from these interactions because of the opportunity for private dialogue, the participants got to know one another, their encounters were pleasant and enjoyable, and meaningful outcomes such as problem solving or capacity development were realized. It was discovered that mentoring relationships began and progressed similarly - irrespective of age, gender, gender composition of the partnership, the reporting relationship between the partners or the hierarchy of position held by the participants. Locations and spaces of partners' interactions - a central focus of the study - were found to have surprisingly little impact on the initiation and evolution of their mentoring relationships. As their mentoring relationships continued and evolved, the locations where the partners interacted did not change substantially. Their activities continued to be primarily work related but came to include recreational and social pastimes such as going for coffee or lunch, and playing sports. Later on, the topics discussed by partners were as often non-work related as they were work related and began to include subjects such as health, family, educational issues and career development. The positive upbeat tone of the initial interactions prevailed and became more relaxed, informal and casual. The common experiences of these participants provided information that can be used by other organizations to structure their employee environments in ways to encourage mentoring. Specifically, they can (1) promulgate policies of encouraging and supporting informal mentoring, (2) design office spaces to put people in contact with one another and to encourage interaction, and (3) provide employees with unstructured time to engage in mentoring activities.

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