Can I mentor colleagues if I am not well established in my career?

Johnny C. Taylor Jr.

Johnny C. Taylor Jr. tackles your HR questions in a series for USA TODAY. Taylor is President and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, the world’s largest professional human resource society and author of “Reset: A Leader’s Guide to Work in an Age of Upheaval.”

Questions are submitted by readers and Taylor’s answers below have been edited for length and clarity.

Have a question? Do you have an HR or professional question that you would like me to answer? Submit it here.

Question: My company is rolling out a new mentoring program. I was approached to participate as a mentor. However, I don’t feel established in my career and I don’t know if I would offer much advice to employees. Should I still consider participating in the program? –Hakim

Johnny C. Taylor Jr.: There is a common misperception that mentors need to be well established in their careers to be successful. In reality, mentees need different types of professional and personal support at different stages of their career. Mentorship programs are a great development tool, not just for the mentees, but for you as well. Before you say no to the opportunity, look at it from a broader perspective.

It says something positive about you to your organization to believe that the attributes you exhibit would be beneficial to another employee. There are many ways to effectively mentor others. Here are a few:

• Encourage exploration of ideas and risk-taking in learning

• Provide appropriate and timely advice

• Serve as a confidant and sounding board for work-related issues

• Help the mentee change their mental context

• Suggest appropriate professional training

• Serve as a source of information and resources

Your organization may also see mentoring as a vehicle for your career development. Mentoring engages your soft skills, like interpersonal communication and critical thinking, and helps you develop leadership traits. Being immersed in daily deadlines and responsibilities, you may not be aware of all the features you regularly use. Being aware of your worth boosts your confidence. Mentoring is an opportunity to advocate for others and help them on their career path. It also increases your visibility within your organization and potentially opens up further learning and career opportunities.

Mentors have indicated that their participation in these programs has stimulated professional and personal growth. At any stage in your professional career, you can be a valuable mentor. Consider your options before making a decision that’s right for you.

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Q: We suspect that one of our employees has accessed employee records and shared sensitive personal information with others. If so, what steps should we take? – Korbin

Taylor: Employers are responsible for maintaining the confidentiality of their workforce. The employer-employee pact is based on trust. That’s why employers must protect sensitive employee information and respond accordingly when that trust is breached. Although I am not aware of the specifics of your situation, the type of information disclosed would dictate the advice for a response.

At the federal level, employers are responsible under laws governing the protection of employee health information. These include the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Family Medical Leave Act, and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Employers are also required to follow state laws defining additional levels of protection.

In addition, there are also state security breach notification laws in which employers are required to notify parties in the event of a breach of personally identifying information such as name, social security number, and Date of Birth. This enables victims to take the necessary steps to monitor the impact of the breach and mitigate their risk.

If this breach does indeed stem from the actions of a single employee, a breach of this nature would be subject to the employer’s policies and practices regarding confidentiality and workplace conduct. The individual employee in this case could be subject to a reprimand from your company. When an employee is not in compliance, they may be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination. Accordingly, the process for disciplinary action would be a matter of internal company policy and practice. In addition to potentially losing their job, an employee who discloses confidential information could be subject to criminal and civil prosecution and face significant financial exposure.

I hope you can resolve this issue appropriately and restore employee confidence in the process.

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