Yes, It’s Possible to Be a Mentor Without Burning Out

How to pay it forward when you’re stretched too thin.

Photo by Pexels
Photo by Pexels

Managers frequently work longer hours, experience disruptions during the workday, and must figure out how to lead and inspire their teams while balancing their own workloads. With so much on their plates, it’s no wonder it can be hard to fulfill another important job role: being a mentor.

But the truth is, the value of mentoring is not one-sided; everyone benefits. Amy Su, M.B.A., an author, CEO coach, and co-founder of Parvis Partners, tells Thrive that many managers find mentorship to be one of the most rewarding parts of their job. “It can feel great knowing that you contributed to another person’s growth and found ways to bring out their best self,” she says. 

Of course, to prevent mentoring from becoming a burden, there are a few best practices to follow. Use these tips to mentor others while still tending to your own well-being.

Shift your mindset on mentorship

One of the most important steps a manager can take to make time for mentorship is changing the way they look at their job description. “For a manager, the expectation to be a mentor can lead to stress and burnout, especially if they see it as something ‘extra’ they have to do — versus viewing it as a key part of their job.” Moreover, “Don’t confuse mentoring with rescuing, enabling, or taking on the work of an underperformer. Mentoring can mean providing clarity or direction, offering advice, or asking great questions to help someone else discover their own answer or way of solving a problem,” says Su. “It doesn’t mean swooping in and doing the work for someone else.” 

Hack your schedule 

If you’re struggling to carve out additional hours of your workday to devote to mentorship, get creative. Su recommends using the time you already have with team members to give leadership advice and guidance on how to build their skillset. “Let’s say you have weekly check-ins with your direct reports, which tend to be about current tasks and projects. At least once per month, spend some time during one of these meetings to focus on the person’s broader development,” Su says. 

Set clear boundaries

It takes two to foster a strong mentor-mentee relationship. In other words, if you find yourself doing all the work and prioritizing the time more than the person you’re helping, it’s time to pull back. Su says mentees should come to mentorship meetings prepared with questions, and should make it clear when they are in need of extra guidance. Likewise, managers should be clear about their own boundaries and availability. “All great mentorship relationships are ultimately a shared give-and-take,” Su says.

Switch up your routine

If the idea of mentoring still seems stressful, you can use a tip from Lisa Bottomley, M.A., a senior specialist of volunteer administration at Michigan State University Extension: Use your mentoring time to do something that actually relieves stress. In other words, think of an activity that could serve as a mini break from the workday or help you unwind, and invite the young entrepreneur along. Taking a walk, for example, won’t just give a change of scenery — you’ll get a little movement and may even provide an opportunity for your mentee to open up in new or unexpected ways.

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