Celebrating National Mentoring Month: How Mentorship Powers Career Growth

Have you ever had a mentor in your personal or professional life?

If you have, take a moment to think about what that person did for you and what it meant to you. Maybe they helped guide you through a difficult situation in life that you didn’t know how to navigate on your own. Or perhaps they helped you make an important decision that changed your future for the better. Whatever it was, they likely made a profound and lasting impact on your life.

National Mentoring Month is observed each year in January to promote mentoring and mentorship programs in the United States. Decades of research has shown that mentoring can provide a variety of benefits for youth, including lower school dropout rates, improved self-esteem and self-confidence, and stronger relationships with parents, teachers and peers. However, mentoring continues to be extremely valuable into adulthood, especially when it comes to career growth and development.

At Cummins, we believe mentorship is an important part of our employees’ growth. That’s why we partner all our new care providers with a coach to help them get acclimated to their role. In honor of National Mentoring Month, we spoke with Yolanda Ursery, our Director of Orientation and Onboarding, to learn how mentorship empowers career growth and what that looks like at Cummins Behavioral Health.

The Benefits of Workplace Mentorship

As the Director of Orientation and Onboarding, Yolanda Ursery oversees all new employee coaching at Cummins

How can mentoring help someone progress in their work and in their career? First, for individuals who are new to the working world, it can help them learn indispensable professional skills.

According to Yolanda, “A mentor may be able to demonstrate understanding of a role, or the techniques or methods that providers need to implement with consumers, but they’re also teaching professionalism. How to come to work on time, how to organize your day, how to interact and collaborate with other staff persons, how to interact and collaborate with community personnel—our coaches are mentoring and demonstrating that as well. So not only are our providers learning how to interact with consumers, but they’re learning how to be a professional person, and how to continue to self-direct their learning.”

Aside from modeling basic professional skills, coaches and mentors also help new employees get acclimated to their role. More importantly, they can help someone determine if the role is truly a good fit for them. “When new providers come to Cummins, the orientation process is really their first entryway into our services and to who we are as an organization,” Yolanda explains. “I like to use this time with them to confirm whether or not they’re getting ready to embark on a role and a career that makes their heart sing. My hope is that as we’re coaching and mentoring, our staff is helping them verify that this is what they want to do. If they are doing that thing which makes their heart sing, they will want to join the chorus of other providers who are also moving toward the rhythm of their heartbeats.”

Once someone has adjusted to their work role and confirmed that it’s the right role for them now, continuing mentorship can help them discover what the right role might be for them in the future. Yolanda says, “We want to teach them and help them, but we also want them to be encouraged to grow and expand independently. As they’re working with a coach, they have an opportunity to experiment, to find or verify what role it is they’re really looking for. They have that mentor, that person to talk to, to bounce ideas off of, to ask questions, not only about that role, but about the role in general and how it impacts society.”

What Mentorship Looks Like at Cummins

At Cummins, mentorship for new employees begins as soon as they’ve finished their initial training and orientation. “Once they have completed that orientation, they are then connected to a coach—who we call an onboarding specialist—who provides mentoring and coaching to them over their initial onboarding period,” Yolanda explains. “My role in that regard is that I supervise the coaching.”

During this onboarding period, new providers may receive instruction on topics ranging from appointment scheduling and time management to consumer-provider interactions and problem-solving. Yolanda emphasizes that coaches work hard to establish trusting relationships with the people they coach. “From the moment we start working with them, one of our biggest priorities as coaches is to build relationships with those providers, because there needs to be a relationship where they trust the feedback we’re going to give them and they trust that we’re going to guide them in the best way possible,” she says.

According to Yolanda, these relationships founded on trust mirror the types of relationships that care providers build with their consumers:

“My hope is that we emulate with our providers the same methods we want them to use when they’re working with consumers, and helping consumers with a task, and helping consumers grow to reach their goals. For one of my coaches, one thing she really enjoys doing is teaching someone how to complete an intake assessment. She likes to demonstrate that for them so they can see how we engage with that consumer, what we say, how we handle objections and concerns, and then she lets them do that same thing, and she gives feedback and coaches them along the way. This is exactly like what we do when we’re teaching our consumers how to perform certain skills. And if we’re doing it properly, then the providers are reaching out to us, not only during that coaching period, but sometimes even afterwards. Because we’ve built that relationship with them, they want to call upon us and say, ‘Hey, I still need some help in this area,’ or, ‘Can you give me some further guidance?’ “

In some cases, these mentors might also be able to help employees with their career development goals in the future. “We may have providers who are working toward licensure, and so our coaches may be able to help them develop and understand aspects of their particular role that are required for that licensure,” Yolanda says.

How a Culture of Mentoring Improves the Whole Organization

One of the greatest benefits of professional mentorship is that it can help create a culture of learning within an organization. When mentorship is seen as a normal component of work interactions and professional development, then employees don’t worry as much about making mistakes or appearing unknowledgeable. And when this happens, team members are empowered to learn new skills, collaborate with their teammates, and become better at their work.

Yolanda illustrates this with a story from her days coaching new providers at Cummins:

“I can think of several times when I was working with a provider who was struggling to schedule enough services for their consumers to meet their care time goals. For all of our providers, there are some expectations related to their role and how much time they serve their consumers during their workweek. So, with me as a mentor, we would problem solve and look at what barriers were keeping them from meeting with those consumers. I remember one time when I made a suggestion about reaching out to some of our other team members, because maybe they had some consumers who they weren’t able to meet with that week, or maybe they needed help with some other task, like completing a treatment plan or an assessment. The provider said, ‘I can do that?’ And I said, ‘Yes, you definitely can. You can reach out and work with your team.’ So, it was really neat to talk with them and then come back the next week to see how they did, because they’d actually made a plan to manage their cancellations and to work more with their team members.”

Mentorship-inspired collaboration can be used not only to solve workflow issues, but also to help employees discover entirely new ways for completing tasks. As Yolanda explains, “Other situations may include working with a provider who is stuck on knowing what to do with their consumers from a clinical perspective—how to guide and help them. I can share my own experiences with certain situations and diagnoses, and then I can sit with that provider in session as they’re trying to implement a specific method. And afterwards they might say, ‘Wow that was really helpful,” or, ‘I didn’t think about it like that,’ or, “Hearing you say X, Y and Z was really helpful for me, now I know how to ask that question.’ “

And according to Yolanda, even those people who act as mentors can gain new knowledge and understanding from these interactions. “Even though I’m the mentor, they may be embarking on something that I’ve not tried yet,” she says. “So we have an opportunity to figure it out together, to learn together, and then come back and ask, “What do you think, did that work for you?” Because they may have some ideas as well.”

Mentorship is a powerful tool that can change the trajectory of a person’s life. In work settings, it can make the difference between an employee who simply gets by and an employee who thrives in their role.

At Cummins, we believe professional mentorship makes everyone better at what they do and fuels a culture of continuous learning and improvement. That’s why we’re proud to offer a glimpse into some of our own mentorship practices this National Mentoring Month!

For information on other topics related to mentoring, we recommend our posts on wraparound services and cyberbullying prevention below!

Wraparound Services: 360-Degree Support for Youth with Greater Behavioral Health Needs
How to Spot and Respond to Cyberbullying, a Growing Problem for Children and Teens

National Clean Off Your Desk Day: Exploring the Link Between Clutter, Stress and Productivity

Do you have a desk or dedicated work space at your job, or even in your home office? If you do, take a moment to examine it the next time you’re using it.

What does it look like? Is the surface clean and ready for use, or is it covered in dust and dirt? Is it tidy and well organized, or are there papers, writing utensils and other supplies scattered about haphazardly? Most importantly, when you look at it at the beginning of your day, does it make you feel calm and ready to get to work or stressed and ready to go back to bed?

The second Monday of every January is National Clean Off Your Desk Day, an invitation to begin the new year right by tidying up our work space. This isn’t just for the sake of cleanliness, however. Maintaining an organized desk or work space can help us focus on our work—and it can even have beneficial effects on our mental health and wellness.

In this blog post, we’ll explain how a simple task like cleaning off your desk can have a significantly positive effect on our peace of mind. A neat, clutter-free work space can be beneficial in two main ways: by decreasing stress and increasing productivity.

Clutter, the Enemy of Calm

We often associate stress—in this case, the negative form of stress, which is called “distress”—with high-stakes situations or demands on our attention. Think of an important job interview, a heated argument with a family member, or even a big date with a romantic partner, and you’ll know the discomfort that stress can create.

However, even a chaotic environment can cause us stress if we spend a lot of time in it. For example, one scientific study found that women who described their homes as cluttered also had heightened levels of the stress hormone cortisol. In addition, “Women with higher stressful home scores had increased depressed mood over the course of the day, whereas women with higher restorative home scores had decreased depressed mood over the day,” the authors wrote.

Living in a state of chronic stress is not only unpleasant, but it can also have negative long-term effects on physical and mental health. According to the Mayo Clinic, chronic stress may lead to anxiety, depression, digestive problems, headaches, heart disease, sleeping problems, weight gain, or impairment of memory and concentration.

Finally, a cluttered home environment can even negate the psychological sense of well-being that our home normally provides. “We conceptualize psychological home as a reflection of one’s need to identify self with a physical environment,” wrote the authors of one research study. “Findings reveal that…Clutter had a negative impact on psychological home and subjective well-being.”

This last point is especially relevant for the home offices and work-from-home environments that have become more common since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

How Chaotic Environments Affect Productivity

Working in a messy environment doesn’t just make us more susceptible to stress; it can also affect our ability to concentrate on our work. This can make us less productive than we would otherwise be in a clean, well-organized work space.

Human beings can only pay attention to so many things at once. For example, it’s often said that people can only hold 5–9 items or ideas in our short-term memory. According to the authors of a study on visual working memory, we can typically remember the details of three or four visual objects at a time, but this number decreases when other objects in our visual field distract us.

In short, items in our work space that are unrelated to the work we’re doing can pull our attention away from the things we ought to be focusing on. Some people are naturally good at ignoring these distractions, but other people aren’t quite so good at this. As the authors of the above study write, “Individuals [with high working memory capacity] actively suppress salient distractors, whereas low-capacity individuals are unable to suppress salient distractors in time to prevent those items from capturing attention.”

Whether you have a relatively large or small visual working memory, there’s a simple way to improve your focus: by removing unimportant items from your view. Another study on attention and the visual field found that “attentional modulation was greatest when neural competition was little influenced by bottom-up [stimulus driven] mechanisms.” In other words, it’s easiest to focus our attention on a task when there are fewer objects in our line of sight.

As it turns out, then, there is some truth to the old adage, “Out of sight, out of mind.” Fewer items in our view means fewer distractions and a greater ability to focus on our work.

Tips and Suggestions for Cleaning Off Your Desk

So you’ve decided that your desk or work space could use some tidying up, but what should that look like, exactly? How can you transform something that makes you feel stressed and distracted into something that makes you feel calm and focused?

Here are a few simple steps you can follow to put your work space in order:

  1. Remove everything from your desk or work space. While it’s cleared off, use a rag and cleaning solution to wipe away any dust, dirt and grime. This will ensure that your new work space is not only organized, but also clean!
  2. Take stock of everything that was on your desk. Think carefully about what you actually need on your desktop and what you don’t need.
  3. Replace all items that you truly need on your desktop each day. As you do so, wipe down hard surfaces with your rag and cleaning solution. You should also be sure to organize the items so you’ll know where to find them later. Group similar items into categories such as writing utensils, paper documents, and office supplies, and place them on your desk neatly.
  4. If there are any items that you still need for work but don’t necessarily need on your desktop, file them away in a drawer or other storage area. Again, clean each item before you put it away, and try to store everything in a logical, organized manner.
  5. Throw away any items that you no longer need for your work. If you don’t need them anymore, there’s no sense hanging onto them!
  6. Finally, if you use a computer for your work, take the time to clean off your virtual desktop, as well. Group your application icons neatly, consolidate infrequently used shortcuts into folders, and delete any shortcuts that you no longer need.

Any environment that we spend considerable time in can have an effect on our mental health, and our work environment is one that many people encounter frequently! Cleaning off your work space is a small thing anyone can do to decrease the amount of stress and distraction they experience in their work environment. We encourage you to start your year off right by tidying up your work space and seeing if you notice a difference in your peace of mind. You might be surprised!

Looking for more tips to help you manage and bolster your mental wellness? You might enjoy our blog posts on “flow” and WRAP below!

Explaining Flow: How “Getting in the Zone” Can Help with Mental Wellness
The Wellness Recovery Action Plan: Creating an Instruction Manual for Your Mental Health