The COVID-19 pandemic sent the labor market on a wild ride, from historic levels of unemployment to The Great Resignation. As the economy recovered, companies struggled to rehire the workers they had laid off or furloughed, but many employees refused to return or found higher-paying jobs elsewhere. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 3.5 million workers did not rejoin the workforce even into 2022.
In 2021, supply and demand tipped in favor of workers. Visually striking, in particular, were quit rates in the United States. These surged to the highest percentage since the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) began collecting quit rate data in the year 2000. Companies scrambled to retain and attract workers by offering extended work-from-home flexibility, pay raises, bonuses, and shorter work weeks.
However, a stronger focus on employee engagement, including mentoring programs, may have played a critical role in helping some companies retain employees. Our analysis of mentoring at Fortune 500 companies found that companies with mentoring programs had a median headcount of 26K in 2020, while those without mentoring programs had a median headcount of 19.4K.
By the end of 2021, companies with mentoring programs emerged relatively unscathed from The Great Resignation and even slightly increased their median headcount, while companies without mentoring programs saw their headcount decline dramatically. The median number of employees at Fortune 500 companies without mentoring programs dropped 33% YoY, down to around 12.8K.
Pandemic-weary workers were not only looking for more money and work-from-home flexibility but also new ways to connect and grow in their careers. Companies that offered a variety of engagement and growth options, such as upskilling and reskilling opportunities and inclusive Employee Resource Groups, were better positioned to attract and retain workers.
The rapid growth in visible mentoring programs at Fortune 500 companies likely indicates that executives and HR leaders recognized the importance of engagement and development programs in retaining employees.
After staring at large piles of exit survey data, HR leaders at many Fortune 500 companies likely “read the tea leaves” and rushed to implement or expand their mentoring programs and other engagement and retention initiatives. Since these company leaders talk to each other, it’s not a wild guess to suggest that they also leaned into their own professional networks and heard similar stories pointing to mentoring and engagement.
The data strongly suggests that companies that maintained or launched programs designed to engage and grow their employees in 2021 shielded themselves from the worst effects of The Great Resignation. It also ties into what we already know about what employees want from their employers: strong communities and connections, autonomy, and learning and development opportunities.
Mentoring is proving to be the type of innovative catch-all strategy that solves the biggest and most pressing employee engagement issues of our day. In business, as goes the Fortune 500, as goes the world. Given 92% of the Fortune 500 now leans into mentoring, that’s as big a hint as any that structured and thoughtful mentoring is now a must-have and proven standard.
Laura Francis is the Mentoring Community Director for MentorcliQ. She has more than 20 years of experience focused on mentoring, writing, thought leadership, and strategic innovation. The proud mom of a child with disabilities, she enjoys writing about the connections she sees in her personal life and professional life, and sharing practical advice on how to embrace and engage in meaningful mentoring relationships. A prolific writer, Laura co-authored a chapter in ATD’s Handbook for Training and Talent Development (3rd Edition). She has also written numerous articles (under her own name and as a ghost writer) that can be found on ATD, T+D, Training Journal, Chief Learning Officer, Training Industry, and on MentorcliQ’s website.