International Journal of Training and Development. 2021;00:1–17.
Effects of mentoring on work engagement: Work
meaningfulness as a mediator
© 2021 Brian Towers (BRITOW) and John Wiley & Sons Ltd
Graduate School of Economics and
Business Administration, Hokkaido
University, Sapporo, Japan
Ligui Lin, Graduate School of Economics
and Business Administration, Hokkaido
University, Sapporo, Japan.
This study examined the relationship between career men-
toring and work engagement from the mentor perspective,
by estimating work meaningfulness as a mediator. The
research model used quantitative survey data from 309
employees who mentored their junior colleagues in the on-
the- job training programmes of Japanese companies. The
results demonstrated that career mentoring had an indirect
effect on the work engagement of mentors by enhancing
the psychological meaningfulness of their work. In addi-
tion, learning goal orientation positively influenced career
mentoring; this may subsequently facilitate the work en-
gagement by increasing the perception of the meaning of
work. Learning- oriented individuals who act as mentors
find psychological meaningfulness in their work, which in
turn enhances their work engagement. By setting acceptable
meaningful goals for mentoring programmes, practitioners
can minimize the negative outcomes of mentoring. The re-
sults contribute to the existing literature by examining how
mentoring experiences affect the behaviour of mentors.
career mentoring, learning goal orientation, work engagement, work
Mentoring is identified as the career development relationship between experienced senior employ-
ees (mentors) and less- experienced junior employees (mentees) (Hunt & Michael, 1983; Noe, 1988;
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Wang et al., 2014). The contributions of workplace mentoring to individual growth and organizational
development have been explored for over five decades (Allen et al., 2017). Early studies have shown
that the benefits of mentoring to mentees include monetary rewards and job promotion (Scandura,
1992), but also well- being and psychological empowerment (Spreitzer et al., 1997; Wen et al., 2019).
In recognition of these positive outcomes, modern organizations have widely implemented mentoring
programmes to achieve talent development and skills transfer (Noe, 1988) and have thus cultivated
potential mentors (Ragins & Scandura, 1999).
Effective mentoring occurs only when both mentor and mentee benefit from the relationship
(Ragins & Verbos, 2007). However, most studies have focused on the influence of mentoring on
the career advancement of mentees, while largely overlooking the experiences of mentors (Eby &
Robertson, 2020; Ragins & Kram, 2007). Ragins and Scandura (1999) showed that individuals who
had acted as mentors gained satisfaction and fulfilment from the mentoring relationship, whereas
those who did not were unable to appreciate the potential benefits and assumed that it was not worth
their time (Ragins & Scandura, 1999). Other studies have focused on the objective (compensation and
promotion) or subjective (job satisfaction) outcomes of mentoring (Allen et al., 2017), but few have
examined the underlying mechanisms that produce these outcomes (Janssen et al., 2016). The present
study aimed to fill this gap in the literature by examining the effects of mentoring implementation on
work meaningfulness as a psychological state that in turn motivates mentors to more fully engage in
their work (Janssen et al., 2016).
Our research examined work meaningfulness as a consequence of mentoring, based on previous
studies showing that serving as a mentor promotes intrinsic satisfaction (Chandler et al., 2011; Kram,
1988). For example, Allen et al. (1997) reported that mentors experience work- related rewards, in-
cluding supportive network building, self- satisfaction and being a co- learner with mentees. That is,
mentoring results in work meaningfulness for mentors by making them feel valuable in their work role
and providing satisfaction and motivation, which in turn confers a sense of psychological meaning-
fulness, increases emotional energy and further motivates work engagement (Kahn, 1990). However,
the relationship between mentoring and work meaningfulness has not been investigated, although the
perception of meaningful work has been shown to have a positive impact on psychological motivation
and work engagement (May et al., 2004; Salanova & Schaufeli, 2008).
Learning goal orientation has been investigated as a specific characteristic that leads mentors to
engage in mentoring (Dweck, 1986; Huang & Luthans, 2015; Rekha & Ganesh, 2019). Previous
studies have shown that individual differences are significantly related to the anticipated costs versus
benefits, which affects the willingness to be a mentor (Eby & Lockwood, 2005; Ragins & Scandura,
1999). Godshalk and Sosik (2003) suggested that people tend to concentrate on their work roles when
there are clear goals as a reference. In addition, learning- oriented individuals are more likely to be mo-
tivated by challenging work and to view overcoming the challenges as a growth opportunity (Dweck,
Against this background, we empirically investigated how mentoring enhances work meaningful-
ness and thereby influences the work engagement. We also hypothesized that learning goal orienta-
tion promotes mentoring practices as a characteristic antecedent. Learning goal orientation was also
predicted to not only facilitate mentors perceiving their work as more meaningful, but also to impact
mentors’ attitudes to work engagement. We investigated the research model by focusing on employees
who had experience being mentors in formal mentoring programmes in Japan. Specifically, data were
collected from 309 full- time employees through an online survey. Our findings extend the existing
literature on the mentoring process by highlighting work meaningfulness as a mediator, which links
mentoring implementation to work engagement.
The remainder of this article is organized as follows. First, a theoretical background on career men-
toring, work engagement, work meaningfulness and learning goal orientation is provided to generate
hypotheses. This is followed by a methods section and then, a presentation of our findings. Finally, the
theoretical and practical implications of our results are discussed and directions for further research
THEORETICAL BACKGROUND AND HYPOTHESES
The concept of career mentoring was drawn from the three- factor definition of mentoring: career-
related mentoring, psychosocial mentoring and role modelling (Scandura, 1992). Career mentoring
has been described as the most important aspect of the mentoring relationship (Haggard et al., 2011).
The specific components of career mentoring have been described as follows (Kram, 1988; Scandura
& Ragins, 1993). Coaching has a critical function in encouraging mentees to acquire technical knowl-
edge and learn the organizational ropes. Sponsorship provides essential career- related support allowing
mentees’ promotion in the workplace. Protection refers to the actions of mentors that protect mentees
from sudden and harmful situations that impede occupational development. Visibility and exposure
refer to the opportunities created by mentors that enable mentees to demonstrate their competence and
achievements in the presence of other superiors, while avoiding overprotection. Challenging tasks
assignment helps mentees acquire management skills and attain accomplishments through vocational
training and fulfilment feedback. As such, career mentoring helps newcomers understand the opera-
tions of the organization and grooms them for career advancement.
In many companies, mentoring takes place in formal organizational mentoring programmes (Allen
& O'Brien, 2006; Janssen et al., 2016). Organizationally assigned mentoring requires highly capable
mentors who are able to establish effective mentoring relationships (Allen, 2007). Allen and Poteet
(1999) determined that an ideal mentor should have strong communication skills, patience and expert
knowledge of the organization and the requirements of a formal mentoring programme. Mentors with
these competencies are more likely to engage in information exchange (i.e. sharing of values, expe-
rience; Hunt & Michael, 1983) and to provide mentees with the interactions that lead to successful
career- related support (Chandler et al., 2011; Noe, 1988) and to the personal benefits gained from
objective and subjective career growth. As such, mentors act as transformational leaders to mentees
(Scandura & Schriesheim, 1994).
However, several factors may lead to ineffective mentoring. Hansford et al. (2002) found that men-
tors may struggle with their mentoring roles, by lacking the time, training skills and understanding of
the goals. For example, in mentoring programmes of defined duration, the frequency of interaction
will be restricted. As a result, some mentors may be unable to balance the demands of work and
mentoring such that work pressures increase. Furthermore, because mentors tend to seek similarity in
their mentees to fulfil productivity needs, a mismatch between a mentor and the mentee might lead to
less commitment by the mentor to the mentoring relationship (Allen & Eby, 2003), thus reducing its
potential through dysfunctional mentoring.
In summary, effective mentors engage in mentoring to obtain personal growth and make their
organizations more creative and productive (Scandura, 1998), whereas mentors who lack mentoring
skills or are less motivated may have a negative effect on future mentoring relationships for all con-
cerned (Allen & Poteet, 1999; Hunt & Michael, 1983; Noe, 1988). Researchers and organizational
practitioners can have a positive impact by considering the mentoring experience from a mentor's
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viewpoint. In this study, our review of the literature on career mentoring and work engagement led to
the development of five hypotheses, described below.
Work engagement is defined as a positive, fulfilling and work- related state of mind. Its underlying
concepts are vigour, dedication and absorption (Bakker & Demerouti, 2008; Schaufeli et al., 2006).
Specifically, vigour is characterized by mental resilience and a sense of power with respect to one's
work; dedication refers to employees’ involvement in their work and their experience of a sense of
significance, enthusiasm and challenge; and absorption describes a full sense of work investment
despite the demands of time and other difficulties. Thus, engaged employees tend to work with a high
level of energy, involvement and enthusiasm that together improve job performance and the work-
place overall (e.g. greater creativity; less turnover) (Bakker & Demerouti, 2008; Bakker et al., 2008).
Previous research on work engagement has shown that job resources (e.g. autonomy, supervisory
coaching and performance feedback) and personal resources (e.g. optimism, self- efficacy and self-
esteem) are the main drivers of work engagement, as they foster personal growth, learning and de-
velopment (Bakker et al., 2008). In turn, a resourceful work environment provides opportunities for
employee development, such as by leader- member exchange (LMX) and other positive reciprocal re-
lationships (Breevaart et al., 2015). However, career mentoring relationships have stronger effects on
career- related outcomes (e.g. salary progress and promotion) than LMX relationships, because mento-
ring can serve as a developmental tool employed by mentors to produce desired long- term outcomes
(Chao et al., 1992; Scandura & Schriesheim, 1994). Graen and Uhl- Bien (1995) argued that transfor-
mational leadership should be the essential nature of LMX. This is consistent with the above discussed
transformational leadership role of mentors in mentoring relationships, in which the exchange of infor-
mation benefits both mentee and mentor. Previous studies have reported that mentoring may enhance
the mentor's organizationally related self- esteem and personal learning (e.g. respect and trust; Kram &
Isabella, 1985; Rekha & Ganesh, 2019), which is positively related to personal resources (Kram, 1988).
While mentoring implementation can have a positive impact on work engagement, by driving both
job and personal resources, the direct relationship between mentoring implementation and work en-
gagement has yet to be explored. Therefore, our first hypothesis is as follows:
H1. Career mentoring has a positive effect on work engagement.
Work meaningfulness is a positive psychological condition that confers meaningfulness, safety and avail-
ability in the workplace and thus significantly predicts work engagement (Kahn, 1990; May et al., 2004;
Steger et al., 2012). Steger et al. (2012) defined work meaningfulness as experiencing positive meaning
in work, sensing that work is a key avenue for making meaning and perceiving that work may lead to a
greater good. Individuals find meaning in their work based on experiences such as those identifying their
presence and sense of belonging (where do I belong?), their relationships (who am I?) and their contribu-
tions (what value am I?) (Guevara & Ord, 1996). As such, work meaningfulness makes people feel that
they are worthwhile, useful and valuable, which in turn facilitates work engagement (Kahn, 1990).
Work meaningfulness may be influenced by altruism and learning (Warneken & Tomasello, 2009;
Washington & Cox, 2016). Previous studies have shown that mentors gain an intrinsic satisfaction
from mentoring by learning with mentees (Allen et al., 1997), coaching the mentees or assigning
them challenging tasks that contributes to career development and goal achievement (Cox, 2000;
Washington & Cox, 2016). These same aspects motivate the mentors themselves (Hu et al., 2014),
because mentors not only provide, but also receive learning within mentoring relationships (Rekha &
Furthermore, several studies have shown that the perception of work meaningfulness significantly
enhances work engagement (May et al., 2004; Salanova & Schaufeli, 2008; Woods & Sofat, 2013).
Woods and Sofat (2013) found that a sense of meaningfulness is a psychological state that reveals
the extent to which an individual positively feels that his/her work is worthwhile or important. May
et al. (2004) found that psychological meaningfulness is the strongest predictor of work engagement.
Conversely, dysfunctional mentoring will prevent employees from experiencing the positive feelings
generated by mentoring relationships (Scandura, 1998). Our second hypothesis, aimed at a better
understanding of the mentoring experience (Eby & Robertson, 2020; Janssen et al., 2016), follows:
H2a. Career mentoring has a positive effect on work meaningfulness.
H2b. Career mentoring has an indirect effect on work engagement through work
Learning goal orientation
Goal orientation can be subdivided into learning goal orientation and performance goal orientation
(Dweck, 1986; Dweck & Leggett, 1988). Learning goal orientation is defined as the desire to develop
competence by acquiring new skills and mastering new situations. Performance goal orientation consists
of two dimensions (VandeWalle, 1997): to demonstrate one's own competence and have it favourably
judged, and to avoid negative judgements about one's own competence and having others cast doubt
on it. VandeWalle (1997) reported that a learning goal orientation results in the pursuance of more
adaptive responses to challenging tasks, whereas a performance goal orientation is maladaptive and
can lead to decreased interest in those tasks. Learning goal orientation may promote job performance
(VandeWalle et al., 1999), increase competence and self- improvement (i.e. job- seeking intensity) and
maintain motivation (i.e. engagement; Pintrich, 2000) when difficulties are encountered (Creed et al.,
2009). Furthermore, it can assist performance- oriented goals such that the necessary efforts are com-
mitted to learning situations (VandeWalle et al., 1999) and then, the desired personal development is
achieved (VandeWalle, 1997). It also predisposes people to believe that their abilities are malleable
through effort and experience (Klein et al., 2006), which can provide the motivation to treat challenging
tasks or obstacles as learning opportunities that lead to growth and success (VandeWalle et al., 1999).
Previous mentoring research has investigated the relationship between learning goal orientation to
mentees’ functioning and career- related outcomes (Godshalk & Sosik, 2003), but little is known about
the impact of learning goal orientation on the mentor's side. Career mentoring requires that mentors
engage in information exchange (Mullen, 1994), which promotes the development of their interper-
sonal skills (Noe, 1988) and knowledge but also forces them to overcome the challenges of time limits
or dissimilarities with mentees. In this context, a learning goal orientation is a dispositional antecedent
that requires mentors to treat these difficulties as learning cues (Allen et al., 1997) and developmental
possibilities (Matsuo, 2019), in turn motivating them to adaptively analyse and vary their strategies
to effectively overcome the obstacles (Dweck, 1986; Dweck & Leggett, 1988). Similarly, Rekha and
Ganesh (2019) identified that learning goal orientation is a prerequisite for mentors to gain mutual
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benefits from engaging in mentoring relationships. These observations together with H1 and H2 lead
to the following hypotheses:
H3. Learning goal orientation has a positive effect on career mentoring.
H4. Learning goal orientation has a positive effect on work engagement.
H5a. Learning goal orientation has an indirect effect on work engagement through ca-
Furthermore, a goal- oriented disposition is a major predictor not only of intrinsic satisfaction in
the workplace (Duda & Nicholls, 1992) but also of intrinsic interest in understanding a situation and
the task domain (Dweck, 1986; Pintrich, 2000). Hence, a learning goal orientation can have positive
effects on psychological meaning. Based on our hypotheses that work meaningfulness promotes work
engagement, we further hypothesized that:
H5b. Learning goal orientation has an indirect effect on work engagement through
In addition to the defined goals, mentors may encounter opportunities that positively influence
their sense of meaningful work (May et al., 2004). However, a variety of issues (e.g. lack of time
and technical skills, mismatching with mentees and personal traits) may arise within the mentoring
relationship that disrupt the mentor's confidence or commitment, both of which are crucial for the ef-
fectiveness of his or her actions (Cox, 2000). Accordingly, mentors with high learning goal orientation
are more likely to develop the psychological capital (i.e. psychological strength) that is needed for the
creative aspects of the engagement (Macey & Schneider, 2008) and associated with a future willing-
ness to be a mentor (Eby & Lockwood, 2005; Ragins & Scandura, 1999). Thus, our final hypothesis is:
H5c. Learning goal orientation has an indirect effect on work engagement through ca-
reer mentoring, and thus on work meaningfulness.
These five hypotheses were combined to obtain a conceptual framework of the study, shown in
FIGURE 1 Research model
Samples and data collection
An online questionnaire survey was conducted via a well- known Internet research company in
Japan. Questionnaires were distributed to full- time employees working in various types of organiza-
tions in Japan, who had participated as mentors in an on- the- job training programme for full- time
newcomers. Of the 723 distributed questionnaires, 309 employees completed theirs (42.7 per cent
Among the respondents, 64.4 per cent were male. The respondents worked in private firms (89.6
per cent) and government sectors (10.4 per cent) located in most prefectures in Japan. The age dis-
tribution was as follows: 20– 29 (18.8 per cent), 30– 39 (29.8 per cent), 40– 49 (30.4 per cent), 50– 59
(16.6 per cent) 60years and older (4.5 per cent). Their positions were as follows: no title (44 per cent),
responsible official (32 per cent), section manager (12.9 per cent), vice director (1.9 per cent), general
manager or higher (8.4 per cent) and others (0.6 per cent). Their occupations consisted of sales (24.3
per cent), human resources (4.2 per cent), general affairs (9.4 per cent), financial/accounting (2.9 per
cent), cooperate planning (4.2 per cent), information technology (5.5 per cent), engineer (16.5 per
cent), technology development (7.8 per cent), production (9.4 per cent), purchasing /procurement (0.3
per cent), internal auditing (0.6 per cent) and others (14.9 per cent).
The survey adapted the measures used in research conducted in English. However, because Japanese
was the native language of all participants, all items used in the questionnaires were presented in
Japanese and then, back translated as a quality control method to ensure a precise and comparable
transfer of the meaning across the two languages (Ozolins, 2009). We translated the survey items from
English to Japanese, and then a bilingual language professional was asked to translate the Japanese
items back to English. Any discrepancy between the translations was resolved by discussion.
Career mentoring (CM)
Career mentoring by the mentors was assessed using a 6- item scale (Scandura & Ragins, 1993). A
sample item was “I take a personal interest in junior employees’ careers”. Each item measured CM on
a 5- point Likert scale (1=strongly disagree and 5=strongly agree).
Learning goal orientation (LGO)
Six items derived from the goal orientation scale of VandeWalle (1997) were used to assess LGO. An
example is the following: “I often read materials related to my work to improve my ability”. Each item
measured LGO on a 5- point Likert scale (1=strongly disagree and 5=strongly agree).
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Work meaningfulness (WM)
Work meaningfulness was evaluation using a 4- item scale, selected from a 4- item meaningfulness
through work assessment developed by Steger et al. (2012). An example is: “I have found a meaning-
ful career”. Each item measured WM on a 5- point Likert scale (1=strongly disagree and 5=strongly
Work engagement (WE)
A 9- item scale derived from Schaufeli et al. (2006) was used to assess WE, for example, using the
statement: “At my work, I feel bursting with energy”. Each item measured WE on a 5- point Likert
scale (1=strongly disagree and 5=strongly agree).
Mentoring research has identified several dispositional (e.g. locus of control, self- esteem, affectiv-
ity and altruism) and demographic (e.g. sex, age, race and ethnicity) characteristics relevant at the
individual level (Young & Perrewé, 2000). However, there has been little discussion of the effects of
the organizational context on mentoring relationships (Chandler et al., 2011). The survey conducted
in this study addressed the organizational position, position tenure and sex of the mentors as control
variables in the analyses of the relationship between mentoring and career outcomes for mentors.
Validation in measures
Before the proposed hypotheses were tested, the recommended reliability coefficient, Cronbach's
alpha, was used to test the internal consistency of the constructs (Cronbach, 1951; Nunnally, 1978).
Cronbach's alpha for the latter was 0.70, and the values for CM, LGO, WM and WE were 0.83, 0.87,
0.82 and 0.90, respectively. Subsequently, the composite reliability (CR) and average variance ex-
tracted (Fornell & Larcker, 1981) were determined, yielding values of 0.7 and 0.5, respectively. Thus,
all scales indicated acceptable internal consistency and reliability.
Confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) was adopted to evaluate the convergent validity of the model
constructs with four factors (CM, LGO, WM and WE). The result showed that all items were sig-
nificant for the respective constructs (p<0.001). The goodness- of- fit indexes for the model were as
follows: χ2=393.63 (df=269, p<0.001), χ2/df=1.46, comparative fit index (CFI) = 0.92, root mean
square error of approximation (RMSEA) = 0.04 and standardized root mean square residual (SRMR)
= 0.05. The overall measurement model was, therefore, appropriate for fitting the data (Hooper et al.,
Assessment of common method bias
The data were collected from self- reported questionnaires measured from a single source. The issue
of common method variance (CMV) was examined as follows (Podsakoff et al., 2012). First, the CFA
marker technique was applied (Williams et al., 2010) using the UCLA loneliness scale as a marker
variable. The CFA marker technique is a correlational marker technique of controlling the method
variance using a marker variable that is theoretically unrelated to substantive variables in a study
(Lindell & Whitney, 2001; Williams et al., 2010). Loneliness is unrelated to the concepts used in the
research model, which provides an opportunity to assess the presence of the common method bias
(Podsakoff et al., 2012; Williams et al., 2010). The effect of this variable was partialed out from the
relationships between the studied variables. The original correlation matrix between variables was
found to be similar to the partial correlation matrix. The result indicates that there was no serious
common bias. As shown in Table 1, the fit indices demonstrated that the four- factor model fit the data
much better than the single- factor, two- factor, three- factor or four- factor model.
Table 2 shows the means, standard deviations, Cronbach's alpha reliability coefficients and correla-
tions among the variables included in this study. The proposed research model was tested as follows.
First, structural equation modelling (SEM) was used to validate the proposed model. The values of all
of the goodness- of- fit statistics for the model were acceptable: χ2=738.15 (df=335, p<0.001), χ2/
df=2.20, CFI=0.90, RMSEA=0.06 and SRMR=0.06. The results are summarized in Figure 2 and
Table 3, based on standardized estimates among variables and controlling for the effects of the organi-
zational position, job tenure and sex of the mentors. Indirect effects included in the model were tested
by calculating bootstrap estimates. The bootstrap analyses were performed on 2000 random samples,
and the results interpreted using the 95% confidence interval (CI) (Table 4).
As shown in Table 3, CM had a nonsignificant effect on WE (0.03) but was positively related
to WM (0.33, p<0.001). Thus, H2a but not H1 was supported. However, bootstrapping estimates
indicated that the relationship between CM and WE was indirect and mediated by WM (career mento-
ring→work meaningfulness→work engagement) (indirect effect=0.21, 95% CI [0.12, 0.31]), thus
supporting hypothesis H2b. The SEM results indicated that a LGO had a positive direct effect on both
CM (0.46, p<.001) and WE (0.24, p<.01), thus supporting H3 and H4.
H5a, H5b and H5c predict that a LGO has three indirect effects on WE (learning goal orienta-
tion→career mentoring→work engagement; learning goal orientation→work meaningfulness→work
engagement; learning goal orientation→career mentoring→work meaningfulness→work engage-
ment). The bootstrapping results yielded CIs for each one (indirect effect=0.01, 95% CI [– 0.01, 0.07]
zero included; indirect effect=0.28, 95% CI [0.19, 0.38] zero excluded; indirect effect=0.09, 95% CI
[0.05, 0.16] zero excluded). These data indicate that LGO has an indirect effect on WE, through CM,
and leads to WM. However, while H5b and H5c were supported, H5a was not.
TABLE 1 Confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) results for measurement models
Models χ2df χ2/df CFI SRMR RMSEA
4- factor model 393.63 269 1.46 0.92 0.05 0.04
3- factor model 520 .72 272 1.91 0.85 0.08 0.05
2- factor model 646.34 274 2.36 0.77 0.08 0.07
1- fa ct or mo del 778.62 275 2.83 0.69 0.10 0.08
Note: N=309 4- factor model: each variable was loaded on a single factor; 3- factor model: career mentoring and work
meaningfulness were loaded on one factor; 2- factor model: career mentoring, learning goal orientation and work meaningfulness were
loaded on one factor; 1- factor model: all variables were loaded on a single factor.
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TABLE 2 Means, standard deviations, and correlations
deviation 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
1Lear ning goal orientation 3.64 0.72 (0.83)
2Career mentoring 3.41 0 .77 0.45*** (0.85)
3Work meaningfulness 3.49 0.75 0.52*** 0.45*** (0.82)
4Work engagement 2.91 0.82 0.56*** 0.44*** 0.66*** (0.87 )
5Position 2 .01 1.23 0.19 ** 0.22*** 0.06 0.09
6Ten u re 12 .61 9.70 −0.05 0.01 0.01 −0.02 0.36***
7Gender 1.36 0.48 −0.07 −0.05 0.00 −0.02 0.36*** 0.29*** –
Note: Cronbach's alpha are shown in the parentheses on the diagonal of the correlation matrix. Position (lowly employee=1, chief manager=2, section manager=3, deputy general manager=4,
general manager or higer=5, 6=others). Gender (male=1, female=2).
*p<.05; **p<.01; ***p<.001.
Previous studies have extensively focused on the outcomes of mentoring relationships (Eby &
Robertson, 2020; Ghosh & Reio, 2013; Janssen et al., 2016), however, the current research contrib-
utes towards exploring the developmental mechanisms of mentoring experiences from the mentors’
viewpoint. The findings revealed that mentoring experience promoted WE through WM and that LGO
is a personal predictor of CM and WM. The results also indicate that LGO promotes WE through CM
and subsequently through WM.
FIGURE 2 Results of structural equation modelling
TABLE 3 Structural model estmates (N=309)
Structural path Standardized estimate t- value
Learning goal orientation→Career mentoring 0.46 6.79 ***
Learning goal orientation→Work meaningfulness 0.45 5.77***
Learning goal orientation→Work engagement 0.24 3.44**
Career mentoring→Work meaningfulness 0.33 4.05***
Career mentoring→Work engagement 0.03 0.41
Work meaningfulness→Work engagement 0.62 8.68***
Position→Career mentoring 0.18 2.94**
Position→Work meaningfulness −0.12 −2.19*
Position→Work engagement 0.01 0.23
Tenure→Career mentoring −0.02 −0.22
Tenure→Work meaningfulness 0.09 1.47
Tenure→Work engagement −0.01 −0.29
Gender→Career mentoring 0.01 0.20
Gender→Work meaningfulness 0.03 0.50
Gender→Work engagement 0.03 0.53
Note: CFI=0.90; SRMR=0.06; RMSEA=0.06; χ2/df=2.20.
*p<.05; **p<.01; ***p<.001.
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This study offers several contributions to mentoring research. First, mentoring was shown to pro-
mote WE via WM. The findings suggest that mentors may experience meaningfulness at work by
contributing to mentees’ advancement and success (Cox, 2000; Hu et al., 2014; Washington & Cox,
2016), which further results in improving the engagement in their work. As previous studies have
indicated, mentors may learn alongside mentees (Allen et al., 1997; Rekha & Ganesh, 2019), as well
as gain respect and trust from the mentees and peers by providing effective mentoring functionality
to help them attain instrumental goals (Kram & Isabella, 1985). Although these rewarding and learn-
ing experiences have been examined as the psychological dispositions that drive mentors to remain
engaged not only mentoring but also in their work (Chao et al., 1992; Warneken & Tomasello, 2009;
Washington & Cox, 2016), the current study specifically identifies in what way the execution of
mentoring may influence the mentors’ psychology facilitating their WE, which has been overlooked
previously (Ghosh & Reio, 2013; Janssen et al., 2016). Thus, this study will be of great benefit to
practitioners and organizations by extending the understanding of how mentoring experiences affect
positive psychological states that promote motivation at work.
Second, the finding demonstrated that LGO directly and indirectly promotes WM through mento-
ring. It may be interpreted that employees with high learning goals are more likely to regard mentor-
ing as an opportunity of skill development (Dweck & Leggett, 1988; Matsuo, 2019), and participate
in understanding a challenging mission intently (Dweck, 1986; May et al., 2004; Pintrich, 2000;
VandeWalle, 1997). That is, as a few existing studies have identified, individuals assigned as mentors
may be accelerated by LGO to sense the meanings within mentoring behaviours (May et al., 2004),
and subsequently adapt quickly to the difficulties and obstacles by treating them as opportunities to
learn (Dweck, 1986; VandeWalle et al., 1999). We particularly investigated the role of LGO in men-
toring from the mentors’ perspective by explaining the way goal- oriented mentors may be internally
motivated to provide necessary career- related support and function as role models. This differs from
prior literature which focused on how LGO relates to the mentee's mentoring function received and
their career development (Godshalk & Sosik, 2003; Rekha & Ganesh, 2019). Together, we provide
additional insight into mentors’ psychological process of completing self- improvement by identifying
how ideal mentoring experiences are formed (Janssen et al., 2016; Noe, 1988; Wang et al., 2014).
TABLE 4 Results of indirect effects based on bootstrapping estimates
Indirect effects Estimate SE
Bias- corrected 95% CI
Effects from CM to WE
CM→WM→WE 0 .21** 0.06 0.12 0.31 H2b
Effects from LGO to WE (Sum of
in dir ect s)
0.39*** 0.05 0.31 0.49
LGO→CM→WE 0.01 0.03 −0.04 0.07 H5a
LGO→WM→WE 0.28*** 0.06 0.19 0.38 H5b
LGO→CM→WM→W E 0.09** 0.03 0.05 0.16 H5c
Note: N=309. Standardized estimates are reported. Bootstrap sample size=2000. LGO=learning goal orientation; CM=career
mentoring; WM=work meaningfulness; WE=work engagement.
*p<.05; **p<.01; ***p<.001.
Finally, the results reveal that WM has a positive effect on WE, even after controlling the effect of
LGO. Psychological meaningfulness may boost the emotional energy required to increase work in-
volvement, autonomy and enthusiasm (Kahn, 1990), and thereafter be converted into the vigour, dedi-
cation and absorption that consequently generate one's engagement in the work (Bakker & Demerouti,
2008). These findings are consistent with previous studies reporting a positive relationship between
psychological meaningfulness and WE (Kahn, 1990; Steger et al., 2012). As hypothesized earlier,
mentors may become aware of the meaningfulness from the fulfilment of coaching and assigning
challenging tasks (Cox, 2000; Hu et al., 2014; Washington & Cox, 2016). Thus, importantly, our
study may be a first empirical study that sheds light on how sensing meaningfulness in mentoring
implementation fosters WE.
This study also provides useful insights for managerial practitioners. When mentors are made aware
of the psychological meaningfulness of formal programmes, they are more likely to invest their ef-
forts in mentoring. Thus, practical operators should strategically construct meaningful mentoring pro-
grammes for employees. This should be preceded by educating participants on the value of mentoring
programmes, which will encourage them to integrate mentoring into their work schedule (Young &
Perrewé, 2000). For example, managers should conduct introductory meetings in which they clarify
their expectations of mentors before mentoring starts. In addition, because effective mentoring de-
pends on both participants engaged in the mentoring process, periodic feedback from mentees may
promote mentors’ motivation in further mentoring.
We also showed that mentors with high- level goals will be more engaged in mentoring and thus find
higher psychological meaningfulness in their work. This finding implies that learning- goal- oriented
employees are more inspired in their work because the nature of the mentor plays a decisive role in
establishing a functional mentoring relationship (Noe, 1988; Turban et al., 2017), and motivating the
mentee to have high managerial aspirations as well as career satisfaction (Godshalk & Sosik, 2003).
Therefore, practitioners should integrate goal orientation into human resource development training
programmes. In addition, employees should be confronted with new issues, such as the culturally di-
verse workforce that characterizes today's global organizational environment (Young et al., 2018). The
adaptive and creative behaviours of goal- oriented mentors in developing personal relationships are a
critical element in the competitiveness of modern organizations (Huang & Luthans, 2015).
Limitations and future research
This study has certain limitations. First, we did not examine how the mentor experience impacts the
various aspects of mentoring. For example, in some studies, greater benefits have emerged from dy-
adic participations in informal rather than formal mentoring arrangements, but in others such as ours,
formal mentoring relationships were shown to evolve into informative mentoring relationships and
career progress (Chao et al., 1992; Kram, 1983). Moreover, technological advancements and globali-
zation have led to innovative forms of mentoring in today's workplace (e.g. e- mentoring; reverse-
mentoring; Allen et al., 2017).
Second, while we examined the power of CM in the workplace based on a quantitative survey,
qualitative assessments are required to determine how psychosocial mentoring and role modelling
LIN et aL.
may benefit mentors, as the psychological impact of serving as a mentor cannot be investigated
Third, although the results showed a nonsignificant effect of gender on the independent variables,
other variables should be considered as antecedents of CM in the research model. For example, it
would be interesting to examine and control the effects of personality traits on CM, WM and WE.
Future studies should investigate the roles of other dispositional or demographic variables (Young &
Perrewé, 2000) in examining the relationship between mentoring implementation and psychological
Fourth, according to statistical references, at least 10 samples are necessary for one variable
(Peduzzi et al., 1996). Although the sample size of the present study (n=309) matches this criterion,
a larger sample should be collected to test the invariance or homogeneity of the results.
Finally, although the response rate of this study has no serious drawbacks considering that the
average response rate for organizational studies was reported to be 35.7% (Baruch & Holtom, 2008),
future research should enhance the response rate and adopt the random sampling method to reduce
Mentors may be highly motivated within their work organization as they are likely to find psychologi-
cal meaningfulness in mentoring programmes. However, their aspirations will be influenced by their
LGO. Mentors with more experience were more engaged in their mentoring role than were mentors
with less mentoring experience. This difference may be of interest to researchers and practitioners
involved in the study and design of mentoring programmes.
This investigation was supported and consulted by Professor Makoto Matsuo (Ph.D.) from Graduate
School of Economics and Business Administration, Hokkaido University, Japan.
Ligui Lin https://orcid.org/0000-0002-8180-9308
Xuejing Cai https://orcid.org/0000-0003-2090-0922
Jun Yin https://orcid.org/0000-0003-4799-4025
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Ligui Lin (Ph.D., student, Hokkaido University) is a graduate student from Graduate School of
Economics and Business Administration, Hokkaido University. Her research interests include or-
ganizational behavior and human resource development, specifically, mentoring relationships, and
learning in workplace.
Xuejing Cai (Ph.D. student, Hokkaido University) is a graduate student from Graduate School
of Economics and Business Administration, Hokkaido University. She has interests in research of
emotional labour, work engagement and organizational behavior.
Jun Yin (Ph.D., student, Hokkaido University) is a graduate student from Graduate School of
Economics and Business Administration, Hokkaido University. Her research mainly focuses on
organizational behavior and psychology, and she is particularly interested in researching mindsets,
leadership development, as well as career development.
How to cite this article: Lin L, Cai X, Yin J. Effects of mentoring on work engagement:
Work meaningfulness as a mediator. International Journal of Training and Development.