Three Years On: Mentoring at the Department of Justice and the Public Prosecution Service of Canada

1. Introduction

Informal mentoring has always existed, in both professional and other contexts such as in education, hobbies and sports. Mentoring embodies the idea of learning from someone with more knowledge and experience and often, that knowledge and experience cannot be easily learned from a textbook. In more recent decades, formalized mentoring programs have taken root in workplaces around the globe to ensure that all employees can benefit from such relationships.

Academic research from different disciplines has been undertaken to determine the benefits and costs of mentoring programs, what programs seem to work and why. In particular, several meta-analyses have documented the benefits of mentoring (Allen et al. 2004; Eby et al. 2008; Underhill 2006).

Primarily, mentoring has been shown to assist with career development (Allen et al. 2004; Scandura 1992; Eby et al. 2006a; Eby et. al. 2006b; Kram 1985; Smith, Smith, and Markham 2000; Kay et. al. 2009) and knowledge transfer (Kay and Wallace 2010; Wallace 2001; Kram 1985; Underhill 2006), two functions that are essential to both recruitment and retention of valuable employees. Most of the Canadian research on mentoring, particularly in the legal profession, has been conducted in the context of the private sector (see for example Kay and Wallace 2010; Kay and Wallace 2009; Kay et al. 2009; Kay et. al. 2004; Cooper et. al. 2004; Wallace 2001).

Some of the benefits noted in these studies (such as elevated pay (Kay et al. 2009)), have less resonance in the public sector with unionized workforces, salary grids and Performance Management Agreements. At the same time, the underlying importance of career development and knowledge retention for recruitment and retention, as well as many other benefits of mentoring, is the same in the public sector as in the private sector.

In October 2008, the National Mentoring Program (NMP) was launched for the Department of Justice (JUS) and the Public Prosecution Service of Canada (PPSC). TheNMP defines mentoring as: “… a learning relationship in which both the mentor and the associate have an opportunity to share and grow in both their professional and personal capacities” (NMP Orientation Guide 2011, 3). Mentoring is a departmental priority and the goal of the NMP is to facilitate the creation of a supportive relationship where both the mentor and the associate have an opportunity to learn, share and grow in both their professional and personal capacities. The NMP's objectives are three-fold:

  1. To foster learning through the transfer of knowledge;
  2. To create a more diverse and inclusive workplace; and
  3. To develop leaders of today and tomorrow.

The NMP is designed as a facilitated program in that while it provides some assistance and structure, responsibility for the success of the mentoring relationship lies with the mentors and associates (NMP Orientation Guide 2011, 2). Mentoring relationships can last as long as both mentors and associates see them as being valuable. In the Orientation sessions, time is dedicated to discussing “ending a relationship.”

The participation rate in the NMP has increased each year since the NMP started. In February 2009, the participation rate was 9% of the total JUS and PPSC and as of December 2010, this had increased to 16% (or 923 participants). Demographics on who is currently in the NMP will be presented in the results section.

According to the NMP's literature, benefits to individuals include:

And benefits for the Department include:

For the fiscal year, 2011-2012, the NMP is focusing on the development and implementation of an automated matching program. Out of its many indicators of success, the NMP has selected three that will guide its work in the short term. These are:

  1. Meeting the NMP 90-day matching service standard;
  2. Achieving an 80% overall satisfaction rate amongst participants; and
  3. Improving job satisfaction amongst participants.

The purpose of this project was to better understand the impact of the NMP for associates and mentors in the Department of Justice and the Public Prosecution Service of Canada.

2. Methodology

As with all research projects in the Research and Statistics Division, this project was presented to the Research Review Committee and was reviewed on its methodology and ethics. This section describes the research questions, data sources, methods and limitations. The project was undertaken from spring to fall 2011.

2.1 Research Questions

The staff from the National Mentoring Program worked with the Research and Statistics Division to develop the research questions. They were developed around the NMP's three key indicators of success.

  1. What is the overall satisfaction with the National Mentoring Program for mentors and associates?
  2. What is the overall satisfaction with mentoring relationships for mentors and associates?
  3. What are some of the benefits of the NMP (as an associate or as a mentor)? For example,
    1. Has it improved job satisfaction? If so, how?
    2. Has it led to new career development opportunities? If so, how?
    3. Has it helped mentors/associates feel more connected to JUS/PPSC? If so, how?
    4. Has it helped mentors/associates think in different ways about the issues with which you – as a mentor or associate - are dealing?
    5. Has it increased understanding of corporate values? Etc.
    6. Has it helped to keep individuals working at JUS/PPSC?
    7. Have mentors/associates broadened their network of contacts? If so, why is this important?
    8. Was the NMP a factor in a decision to join JUS/PPSC?
  4. What are some of the costs of such a relationship (as an associate, as a mentor, as both)? Examples of costs could be the time required, negative feelings (frustration, etc.) when progress is not being made or other issues.

In addition to these questions, administrative data were used to determine whether the NMP was meeting the 90-day matching standard.

2.2 Method and Data Sources

For the purposes of this project, three main data sources were used:

  1. An electronic survey that was emailed to all mentors and associates who were in a mentoring relationship at the time of the survey, as well as those who had ended a relationship;
  2. In-depth interviews with self-selected mentors and associates; and
  3. The NMP's administrative database to provide a demographic profile of who is registered as a participant and the number of associates who were not matched within 90 days.

2.2.1 The Survey

The survey was developed in consultation with the staff from the National Mentoring Program in order to determine whether the NMP was meeting its indicators of success. In addition, Professor Fiona Kay of Queen's University, an expert in mentoring and the legal profession in Canada, provided comments on an early draft of the survey.

The survey could be completed in 10 minutes. It included questions on the NMP and on participants' mentoring relationships and a few questions on demographics. For example, participants were asked about how often they met with their mentor or associate, how long meetings lasted, and how these meetings were held (in person, by telephone, email, etc.). In addition, associates and mentors were asked different questions about how they believed they had benefitted from their mentoring relationships. Participants were also asked to rank their satisfaction with both the NMP and their mentoring relationship. These two questions were intended to measure participants' satisfaction and the findings here will be presented as satisfaction with the NMP and satisfaction with the mentoring relationship.

The survey was sent on July 6, 2011, from the National Mentoring Program general email address to 403 associates and 368 mentors. Current and past matched participants, from both JUS and PPSC, were invited to complete the survey. A reminder was sent each week and again just before the survey closed on August 5, 2011. There are generally many people on holidays over the summer months and the survey was only in the field for four weeks. The participation rate was 36% which is well within the range of rates for studies with busy professionals, such as lawyers (see for example Kay et. al. 2004).Footnote 2

2.2.2 Interviews

In order to gather qualitative data, all those who completed the electronic survey were invited to volunteer for an in-depth interview. If interested, individuals provided their name and contact information and were subsequently contacted by a researcher from the Research and Statistics Division. These individuals were given a consent letter to sign to ensure they understood issues such as confidentiality and the voluntary nature of the interview.

In total, 64 individuals volunteered with 22 mentors and 42 associates.Footnote 3 The interest was far greater than the research team had anticipated and due to the short timeframe for the study, as well as holiday schedules, not all those who volunteered could be interviewed. Despite these constraints, very similar issues were raised consistently in the comments on the survey and by both associates and mentors in all the interviews. In the end, a total of 24 interviews were conducted (9 mentors and 15 associates).

All those who were not interviewed were sent an email thanking them for volunteering.

Notes were taken during the interview and all names were removed from the notes. The data were then organized by theme with a focus on the NMP's success indicators: meeting the 90-day matching standard, satisfaction with the NMP, and improving job satisfaction.

2.3 Limitations

The participation rate for the survey was 36% which is a respectable rate. A total of 64 individuals volunteered to be interviewed and we were able to conduct 24 interviews. The findings from the survey and the interviews presented in this report reflect only the experiences of those who participated and they should not be generalized to the entireNMP. As the survey and interviews were conducted over the months of July and August, there may be some individuals who would have liked to have participated but were unable to because of summer holidays.

Trying to measure indicators such as “improved job satisfaction” is difficult at best because job satisfaction is subjective and may mean different things to different people at different times. The survey asked associates one specific question as to whether their mentoring relationship had improved their job satisfaction. It should be noted, however, that many of the benefits of mentoring (broadening your network of contacts, increasing your understanding of corporate culture, providing you with a role model, etc.) may actually contribute to job satisfaction.