Navigating burnout in mentoring relationships

Even the best mentors can feel burnt out at times. What can a mentor do when the relationship becomes stressful or overwhelming?

Everyone has experienced burnout at one time or another. Something that was once fun and exciting becomes more of an obligation that is tiring or stressful. Too much of a good thing or sticking to the same routine for a long time can lead to mentors and mentees to feel a little burnt out. This is normal, but it is important to find a way to re-energize the relationship to ensure the burnout does not lead to early match closure.

Michigan State University Extension believes mentoring works when the relationship is long term. This is usually defined as one year, or one school year in school-based program. Ending the relationship early can result in hurt feelings and can actually be worse for the young person than it would be to have never had a mentor. Of course, all relationships hit a plateau and mentoring relationships are no different. The beginning is exciting; it is a time to get to know each other and do fun things. As the year goes on, a variety of factors can cause the excitement to dim.

External factors like an increased work or school load, busy family schedules, or other stressors can make it difficult to prioritize mentoring. When dealing with external stress, it is important to hold time for mentoring and try to leave the stress at the door. In fact, mentoring can be a time to do something to relieve stress. Use the time with your mentee to take a walk, play a game, make a craft or do something that you both enjoy that will help you unwind. You will also want to let your mentee know what is going on. Young people can often tell when there is something wrong and you do not want your mentee to think that you are upset with them.

Sometimes the burnout comes from the relationship itself. Perhaps you find yourself in a rut and always do the same thing when you are together or your mentee doesn’t have much to say. When the problem is internal to the match, it helps to identify why you are not looking forward to your visits. Once you figure out the reason, you can begin to address it. For instance, if you are in a rut, you can work with your mentee to create a list of activities for future visits and choose a new one each week. If your mentee isn’t talking much, you can give them time and find activities to share that will provide an opportunity for them to open up, but are enjoyable even if they are not ready. If your frustration comes from not seeing change in your mentee, you can schedule a time to talk to your match specialist. Often times young people are showing improvement, but it takes time to see this. Your match specialist can help you see the difference you are making. Mentoring is like gardening. You plant seeds and nurture them over time. It takes a while for them to grow and they often grow in unexpected ways.

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