Being a mentor could boost your own career

Protégés aren't the only ones who benefit from mentoring programs, suggests an unusual new study by Sun Microsystems.

By Anne Fisher, Fortune senior writer

(Fortune) -- Dear Annie: I started a new job in human resources at a medium-sized company about six months ago, and one of the tasks I took on (because I had done it successfully elsewhere) was starting up a formal mentoring program here.

It's going all right so far, except for one thing. There are certain managers who I think would make terrific mentors but who are reluctant to sign on. They say they are too busy - and it's true they are swamped with work - but I'm trying to persuade them that the relatively small investment of time would be worth their while. Do you know of any evidence that mentoring benefits mentors as well as protégés? - Stumped in St. Louis

Quiz
How good a boss are you?
Are you a perceptive boss? You may think you understand what your employees want, but do you really know what motivates them?
1. If you are a direct supervisor or manager, you are probably the cause of most of your subordinates' problems at work.
True
False

Dear Stumped: Funny you should ask. Triple Creek Associates (www.3creek.com), a Colorado-based firm that helps companies set up mentoring programs, recently sent me an intriguing study that suggests mentoring is just as beneficial - if not more so - to mentors as to those on the receiving end.

Obviously, Triple Creek has a vested interest in promoting mentoring, and the full report is available on the company's Web site. But the information comes from an unbiased source: the human-resources department at Sun Microsystems where, the report says, in-house researchers "conducted a multi-year study...to measure the quantifiable impact of mentoring programs. In fact, mentoring was selected as the test case because it was perceived as the hardest HR program to measure."

The results are intriguing, and may help persuade your reluctant managers to sign up. When Sun compared the career progress of about 1,000 employees over a five-year period, it turned out that both mentors and mentees were more than 20% more likely to have gotten a raise than people who didn't participate in the mentoring program at all. But here's the surprising part: 25% of mentees got a raise, while 28% of mentors did (vs. just 5% of managers who were not mentors).

And that's not all. Employees who received mentoring were promoted five times more often than people who didn't have mentors, but again the mentors fared even better: They were six times more likely to have been tapped for a bigger job.

Of course, in any company, people who step up and volunteer to be mentors tend to be the most energetic and engaged employees, so their chances for promotion may be better than average from the get-go. And some companies may value mentoring more than others, hence be more likely to reward mentors. Still, the Sun study does offer welcome evidence that it isn't only mentees who gain from these programs.

"Mentoring champions" - that would be you - "often feel they are imposing on mentors when they recruit them, as though they are asking them to sacrifice their time and opportunities for the advancement and benefit of others," the study notes. "This is just not true."

Sun's researchers recommend that you stop short of making outright promises to potential mentors about the likelihood that they'll gain from the experience in tangible ways - but you certainly can "boldly recruit mentors knowing that solid research indicates that recruiting them into a mentoring program increases their value to the company and improves their own chances for promotion." Does that help?

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Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.