When Will Employees Leave Bad Mentors?

We know that mentoring provides both mentors and protégés with benefits such as greater job satisfaction, greater organizational commitment, and lower turnover intentions. But the fact is, not all mentoring relationships run smoothly. So why would someone stay in a mentoring relationship even when things go wrong?


The authors of this study (Burk & Eby, 2010) note that negative mentoring relationships can include general dysfunctionality, mismatch between the mentor and protégé, manipulative behavior, distancing behavior, and lack of mentor experience (e.g., the mentor lacks interpersonal or job-related skills). When it comes to negative mentoring relationships, this study suggests that when protégés experience general dysfunctionality, lack of mentor expertise, or mismatch with the mentor, they are more likely to leave their mentor. In some negative mentoring relationships, intentions to leave may decrease if protégés believe they have few mentoring alternatives or if they are afraid that the mentor will retaliate.


Organizations can take this research into consideration when designing formal mentoring programs. Specifically, mentoring programs can provide back-up mentors so that protégés don’t feel trapped in dysfunctional relationships. Formal mentoring programs can also build accountability systems and offer safe exit strategies if the relationship doesn’t work out.


Burk, H. G., & Eby, L. T. (2010). What keeps people in mentoring relationships when bad things happen? A field study from the protégé’s perspective. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 77(3), 437-446.