Dear Economist: Should I sign up for a mentoring scheme at work?

My employer has just instituted a new mentoring scheme and as a relatively new recruit I’m eligible. I can’t make up my mind whether this is an important opportunity to learn or a colossal waste of everybody’s time.
Any thoughts?
Ben Harmison

Dear Ben,

Some new research by Jonah Rockoff, an economist at Columbia University, is possibly of interest to you. Rockoff studied an acclaimed mentoring programme for New York City teachers. He adjusted for confounding factors – such as the fact that duff teachers may get more mentoring help, making it seem that mentors reduce teaching standards.

Rockoff found some evidence that the programme encouraged teachers to stay in their jobs and improved the achievements of their students. If his results apply more widely, they suggest that the thing you are most likely to learn from a mentor is how to operate in your particular company, rather than picking up transferable skills.

But the effects seem rather modest. Why, then, is mentoring so popular? Rockoff finds that teachers are convinced that their mentors have helped their teaching skills, even if the effect is not obvious from their students’ results. Overall, I’d suggest that you go for this mentoring scheme. It will make you look co-operative and you might even learn something – but even if it is useless, you’ll still convince yourself it was time well spent.

Questions to

The Undercover Economist: a guide

Publishing schedule: Excerpts from "The Undercover Economist" and "Dear Economist", Tim's weekly columns for the FT Magazine, are published on this blog on Saturday mornings.
More about Tim: Tim also writes editorials for the FT, presents Radio 4's More or Less and is the author of "The Undercover Economist" and "The Logic of Life".
Comment: To comment, please register with, which you can do for free here. Please also read our comments policy here.
Contact: Tim's contact address is:
Time: UK time is shown on posts.
Follow: A link to the blog's RSS feeds is at the top of the page.
Follow on Twitter
FT blogs: See the full range of the FT's blogs here.