According to a study by Eby, McManus, Simon, and Russell, 54% of those mentored reported being in at least one negative mentoring relationship. Mentoring, like all interpersonal relationships, is a very complex and ever changing situation. Negative events happen even in the healthiest of relationships, and are not necessarily a bad thing. The focus of this essay will be on particular behavioral patterns that have negative repercussions for an organization.
In order for a mentoring relationship to have value to the mentor, protégé, and the organization, there needs to be a certain level of trust between the parties. Sometimes this trust fails to develop due to simple personality differences or styles of work, but in other situations, it is the direct result of intentional behaviors on one or both parties.
In a 2010 Q&A with the Wall Street Journal, Dawn E. Chandler, Lillian Eby and Stacy E. McManus stated that simple neglect of a protégé, which is often unintentional, could have serious consequences that affect an organization. This often is not the intended action when someone enters into a mentoring relationship, but usually a reaction to concerns about their own career, personal life, or standing in the company, that causes the mentor to put their priorities first. “It's all perfectly understandable, but that doesn't excuse the damage it does to a protégé's ego, or wasting a protégé's time. Such neglect can lead to protégés' feeling that their mentors don't value the relationship. At worst, they may withdraw from the relationship or even leave the department or organization. At the least, they will be so annoyed or disgusted or hurt that they won't be open to accepting any guidance that might occur.”
Manipulative behavior on the part of the mentor is another way a mentoring relationship can have negative repercussions for an entire organization. In a further study on negative mentoring in 2013, Eby & Allen classified manipulative behavior as “mentor behavior that is exploitative or politically motivated. This includes inappropriately delegating work, sabotaging the protégé, and taking credit for the protégé’s hard work.” It is common knowledge among human resources professionals and management experts that these behaviors are a good way to get an employee to disengage, worry about protecting their job instead of excelling at it, or to leave the organization completely. Not only does it create an environment of distrust, it hinders teamwork and progress. People will become protective of their ideas to the point of not sharing them rather than risk having this happen to them repeatedly. Repeatedly studies have found that employee discontent always leads to decreased output.
It is both unrealistic and unfair to place all blame for failures in mentoring relationships on the shoulders of the mentor. Protégé behavior also leads to negative repercussions to ripple through an organization. “Protégés experiencing negative mentoring may prompt them to engage in affect-driven behaviors such as instigating incivility.” (Andersson & Pearson, 1999). However, misdeeds by protégés are not necessarily a reaction to a mentor’s actions. The literature on mentoring currently has some connotations of entitlement. “The implicit argument goes as follows: If mentoring is good for…