Kirsten Lazaruk-Griffiths remembers her first days as an addictions counselor with brief and social detox. “I think I was pretty nervous to start,” she recalls. But she signed up for the New Co-Worker Mentorship program at her orientation and found her colleague and mentor Don Johannesson. “I had book smarts. But Don counsels from the heart and does programming from the heart. He just always has the best interests of the client in mind,” she says. “He always encourages me to look beyond what’s on the schedule and to get to know the clients in a different way.”

Kirsten Lazaruk-Griffiths and Don Johanneson have been paired for the past year.

Lazaruk-Griffiths has learned a lot about the job and about herself through the mentorship experience. Johannesson says he’s also gained from the experience. At first he wanted to become a mentor to improve service for clients by making sure new staff “learned the ropes.” But after meeting Kirsten, he says he learned to see the relationship as a way for him to also benefit.

Both Lazaruk-Griffiths and Johannesson attended the recent gathering of mentors and mentees from their program as well as the nursing mentorship program. They heard inspiring speakers and took away some refreshing ideas for making their relationship work well.

Colleen Stewart, mentorship consultant, wants to see more people like Johannesson and Lazaruk-Griffiths involved in mentorship. “Mentorship is part of transforming the work experience and a way to achieve excellence in our work,” she says. “Both mentor and the mentee get re-energized from the experience. There’s a reciprocal learning experience for both.”

When a new employee signs up for the mentorship program, they meet with the mentor and go through a process to help them develop an agreement about their relationship. “They talk about how they want the relationship to work, how much time they want to dedicate to it,” she says. They create an agreement that respects their time. “Many people choose to meet in person at work, some outside work, some people use e-mail and others connect on Facebook,” says Stewart. “We respect peoples’ family-time and want to make sure the mentorship program doesn’t take away from that.” She adds that many relationships take more time at the beginning and less later as the mentor and mentee get to know each other and the mentee adjusts to the work environment.

Mentors, mentees and others interested in the New Co-Worker Mentorship program attend the mentorship symposium on February 24, 2010.

The New Co-Worker Mentorship program is about a year old, a result of the 2005 employee opinion survey.. Already more than 200 people are involved in the program and another 500 are involved in the two-year-old nurse mentorship program.

Stewart encourages managers to support the program by letting staff know about it. “Mentorship is an excellent recruitment tool as many new employees now ask for mentorship. It has become an expectation not an extra,” she says. Stewart is also looking for feedback from managers who have staff involved in mentorship.

For Lazaruk-Griffiths and Johannesson, the relationship is positive. They plan to stay connected for as long as possible.