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7 signs you’re in a bad relationship with your mentee

Robert Half | December 7, 2015

Professional mentorship

Many problems can arise when you serve as a mentor. Here are seven common challenges and possible ways to salvage the relationship.

It seemed so promising and exciting at first. With visions of Yoda, Mr. Miyagi and Professor Xavier in your head, you had looked forward to being a professional mentor to the new hire. But several months later, things aren't going so well.

Many problems can arise when you serve as a mentor, from commitment issues (on either side) to personality clashes. Here are seven common challenges and possible ways to salvage the relationship.

1. Bad timing
The first couple of months at a new workplace can be exhausting. Perhaps the new hire is postponing or canceling mentoring sessions not because he's uncommitted, but because he's overwhelmed. There are a couple of ways to approach this situation: Allow him to get settled in his new role and pick up the relationship later or, better yet, reach out and let him know you're available to help.

2. Lack of structure
Good mentorships require planning. Have you and your advisee discussed goals, expectations and schedules, or are the two of you just winging it? If the latter, talk to the head of the mentoring program for advice on getting the arrangement back on the right foot, and then hit the restart button. At the next meeting, be sure to address topics such as how often to meet and what the mentee expects from the relationship.

3. Unclear role
Do you know what a professional mentor does? For one, you're not responsible for overseeing the new hire's day-to-day work. If you treat her as a direct report, she may be confused as to who her supervisor really is — and the relationship could fall apart. If you've overstepped your bounds, pull back and reset expectations. A good mentor gives occasional advice, not daily directives.

4. Clashing personalities
Ideally, a mentoring pair will have similar viewpoints, life experiences and work styles. The relationship can still be productive if you and the mentee don't agree on everything, but it may not work if your personalities are incompatible. In this case, it's OK to help the new hire find another professional mentor and part ways amicably.

5. Unreceptive mentee
During your first few meetings, perhaps you made all sorts of recommendations about how he could develop his skills, grow his professional network and climb the corporate ladder. But several months later, he hasn't taken any of the steps you suggested. Should you end the relationship? Probably not. Chances are he's still finding his way at work and will act on your feedback in the near future. At your next meeting, ask him for updates on what you discussed last time. However, if the new hire is unenthusiastic about being mentored, there's no use in trying to keep the dysfunctional relationship alive.

6. Your crazy schedule
As a manager, of course you're busy. But you're not so busy that you can't find time for a face-to-face meeting every other month. You agreed to serve as a professional mentor, so make the effort to follow through and nurture the relationship. Schedule each session far in advance and make it a priority. If you must cancel or postpone, get another date on the calendar immediately. A good mentorship requires dedication and frequent communication.

7. Your unrealistic expectations
A good mentor builds on the mentee's own strengths and skills. A bad mentor wants to create a Mini-Me. If you tell your advisee what to do instead of offering guidance and direction, or you think you should be constantly touching base, you're missing the point of a mentorship. Step back a little, give the mentee some space and reevaluate your approach. Then start again and see if the relationship improves.

Mentoring is a two-way street. A junior staffer should feel that the mentor gives good counsel and is not just another boss, and the veteran employee should feel relevant and helpful. No one should walk away from a mentoring session thinking it was a waste of time. As a professional mentor, you owe it to the new hire to examine your own behavior to see if you can repair or resuscitate the relationship. If the two of you are truly mismatched or the mentee has lost interest, give yourself permission to end the mentorship while maintaining a positive and productive workplace relationship.

Robert Half is the world's first and largest specialized staffing firm with a global network of more than 400 staffing and consulting locations worldwide. For more information about our professional services, visit For additional management advice, read our blog at or follow us on social media at

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