Can Career Mentoring Make People Want to Leave Their Organization?

Topic(s): coaching, training, turnover
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: The “Double-Edged Sword” Effects of Career Support Mentoring on Newcomer Turnover: How and When It Helps or Hurts
Authors: H. Deng, Y. Guan, X. Zhou, Y. Li, D. Cai, N. Li, B. Liu
Reviewed by: Katherine Facteau

Mentoring is often used as an organizational strategy to help develop and retain employees. There are a wide range of benefits for mentees, and thus mentoring is often viewed in a positive light. However, new research (Deng et al., 2023) explores when and why mentoring can backfire. They find that because mentors help with general career development, it may actually lead mentees to seek career opportunities elsewhere.


The researchers collected four waves of data from newcomers (mentees) working in a Chinese IT company. Mentees were assigned mentors who were either volunteer senior employees or their own supervisors.

The researchers found that mentoring helped improve employee retention. That is, mentoring encouraged employees to socialize, proactively seek information, and build relationships, which in turn made mentees feel more valuable to the organization and interested in staying. However, mentoring also encouraged mentees to think about their careers, which made them also feel valuable to other organizations, increasing actual turnover. This relationship was especially strong for mentees who had non-supervisor mentors, likely because their mentoring strategies were geared more towards general career development rather than job-specific development.


The researchers caution that organizations must carefully consider the unintended consequences of mentoring programs, such as increased turnover. Therefore, organizations may want to give careful attention to the design of programs; for example, they may want supervisors to serve as mentors or train non-supervisor mentors to keep the mentoring relatively job-specific or organization-specific. Further, organizations should ensure that mentees are fully aware of the advancement opportunities within their own organizations, such as rewards and promotions.


Deng, H., Guan, Y., Zhou, X., Li, Y., Cai, D., Li, N., & Liu, B. (2023). The “double-edged sword” effects of career support mentoring on newcomer turnover: How and when it helps or hurts. Journal of Applied Psychology. Advance online publication.

Image credit: istockphoto/useng