CHICAGO — Laundry and linen services, like most businesses in general, are still struggling to find employees after the past few years.
Many strategies have been suggested and put into practice, but one that might be prime for laundry operations today is the use of mentoring programs.
Yvette Lee, an HR knowledge advisor at the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), says that mentoring is used to help employees learn, grow and gain knowledge in their field.
“You see it more often when leadership wants to grow other potential leaders within the organization,” she points out.
“The leadership is seeing that somebody has high potential, and they want to have somebody mentor them so that they have a sounding board, somebody who’s had a little bit more experience in that particular position or industry, things of that nature.
“Usually that’s where you see mentoring utilized.”
Mentor programs can help laundry and linen services better train, promote and retain employees throughout the organization.
In July 2022, Prudential Overall Supply, a provider of work wear and safety uniforms, career apparel and casual wear, cleanroom garments and related services headquartered in Irvine, California, launched its Mentoring Achieves Pathways to Success (MAPS) program.
“It’s the structure that we’ve introduced,” says Michael Flores, vice president of human resources. “We launched it last year as a formal program, and we just completed our first cohort of this. Right now, we are kicking off cohort No. 2.
He says that, currently, it’s a limited program for a selection of the company’s employees.
“For the broader population, we have more of like a buddy system, and that’s pretty informal, but for any production employees, route drivers, we will give them an internal buddy for them to serve as an internal peer, who is not their manager, who will give some mentoring,” Flores points out.
“But for our formal mentoring, that’s really our MAPS program.”
MENTOR PROGRAM EFFECTIVENESS
“If they’re done right and they’re nurtured, I have definitely seen in my experience where (mentor programs) have worked well and people have flourished,” Lee says.
“It gives mentees an opportunity to learn from somebody who has more experience, not necessarily older but more experienced in the area.
“And that’s the key. Because sometimes you do see that there are people of a different generation who are mentoring others. For example, with IT issues, if somebody has a desire to go into IT but they don’t have that expertise, that could be a good place to start with mentoring.
“But I have seen them flourish where individuals appreciate the opportunity to learn and have some one-on-one time with somebody more experienced.”
On the mentor side, Lee says mentors can gain a feeling of self-gratification that they’re helping somebody along, that they can give back and the organization sees value in them spending time with somebody who’s not as experienced.
“So, I have seen them flourish. I have seen a couple of instances where they did not work as well, and I’ll be honest with you there, because they weren’t nurtured, and that seems to be the key,” she points out.
“Once you start, it’s got to be a gradual progression. And that’s why one of the things, starting off small with kind of a pilot program, may be the way to kind of see how things can go. Work out some of the kinks before expanding a program like that.
“In the past, when I’ve seen employer’s programs not do as well, it’s because they were all in at once, but then they didn’t monitor the program. They didn’t, again, nurture it, cultivate it. They didn’t encourage for it to continue, and people just didn’t see the value in it because it was more sporadic.
“The communication became more sporadic and the relationships with mentoring didn’t work out as well.”
Lee concludes that having buy-in from the top down is essential, making sure that once the employer starts with the program, if they really want it to flourish, they need to put some work into it.
“One piece that was critical for us that I’m still trying to digest, and I’m not sure if we got it right or if we got it wrong, but we really tried to make the mentor-mentee relationship equal in terms of job level,” shares Flores.
“For example, if we had a service manager who had raised their hand as a mentee, what we tried to do is we tried to match them up with another mentor who was also a service manager.
“If the mentee was new in the role, maybe had been a service manager for six months, a year, two years, we would try and match them up with a current service manager who had been with us for 10 years, 15 years, 20 years.
“The reason that we did that is because if we matched them up with, say, a general manager, it could complicate that mentor-mentee relationship because if they were learning things through this mentor, another general manager, and how they run their location, while we have company policies and procedures, it might cloud their current relationship with their local general manager.
“The mentee might say that through his or her mentor they learned that they do it differently over in Tucson vs. here in Fresno. Why is that, and why don’t we do it the way that they do it? Now you’ve got two general managers who are questioning one another, and we just didn’t feel that that was appropriate.”
Flores goes on to say that Prudential also learned that both mentors and mentees needed more structure.
“What we did early on is we brought everyone together and we said, ‘Listen, this is our training session for this, pay attention because this is going to this is going to make your mentor-mentee experience more valuable.’
“But what we learned is we need some kind of curriculum or guide that they can actually hold in their hands that they can use as a reference guide or reference material. And so, we are completing that as we speak for cohort No 2.
Finally, as Lee previously mentioned, Flores says the company learned its MAPS program needed more executive sponsorship.
“And so, our CEO will be part of that, will play a larger role in the kickoff for cohort No. 2,” he shares.
“So, those three things, those were learning pieces from the first cohort into where we’re headed now.”
Click HERE to read Part 1 on mentoring programs in practice. Read Part 2 HERE about starting, evaluating and improving mentoring programs.
Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Matt Poe at [email protected].