A structured programme requires commitment from mentors, mentees and management. At present some instructors are disinclined to enhance their role further when they feel it would not be recognised by management. For their part management would have to commit to allowing both parties to come together, probably necessitating release from operational duties. Where mentees choose their mentors this creates further problems. This is an essential prerequisite of the structured approach but release of staff from duties has traditionally caused major problems to the “bums on seats” approach of the operational management.
Another aspect is the hierarchical influence of the workplace. Strictly speaking, as a station officer I am my mentees line manager. Luckily in the operational ambulance workplace discipline seldom takes a great role in the crew dynamic because by necessity informality rules. A structured programme typically recognises mentors as having special qualities such as wisdom, counselling and guidance skills and professional authority. (Murray & Owen 1991) P 56) Selection of mentors can make some staff feel pressured to volunteer for the role even though they may not be suited to it.
A valid screening process must therefore take place, to ensure that those selected have the interpersonal skills discussed earlier. Andrew Gibbons suggests: “There are too many “Be like me and you’ll be okay” people out there, and mentoring relationships can be abused by those who see it as an imprinting exercise.” ( Coaching ; Mentoring Network 2002). The insular setting of the ambulance workplace creates an environment in which this sort of abusive dynamic could flourish Mentorship can be seen by some as a form of elitism Mentees also bring a responsibility to the relationship. In the ambulance workplace these may not be enshrined in a contract but are implicit in the working relationship.
Mentees have commitment to their own progress because their own inexperience becomes obvious to them in an immediate and challenging way Ambulance mentorship is therefore unstructured, and open ended. Nevertheless it does have clear and obvious benefit to those involved. The mentor clearly provides teaching, sponsors and encourages the mentee by protecting them. He also uses core counselling skills to council and befriend. In short the generic conditions which apply to all mentorship, described as: “support given voluntarily by one person to another” (Coaching ; Mentoring Network 2002) are found in my workplace.
But my workplace “mentoring” is informal and patchy. Working alongside your menteee in ambulance conditions can make boundaries very hard to maintain and at worst the unsupervised crew dynamic could lead to abuse and manipulation with mentees pressured to adopt the style of their mentors. A formalised scheme would not necessarily prevent this but could better identify it. For all its inherent faults my mentoring does at least take place in a very natural way.
When it works, it works very well. Gibbons suggests that “mentoring will only work well within supportive, rewarding organisations” (Coaching ; Mentoring Network, 2002) Unfortunately the ambulance service could not be described in this way. In an environment where operational needs are given prime importance setting up a structured mentorship scheme takes low priority. Hence the current situation will continue and where it works it will continue to work well. Perhaps that is not such a bad thing.
“A deep irony is that often, the more organised and structured we make mentoring, the less likely it is to work” (Gibbons, Coaching ; Mentoring Network, 2002) He adds, “even the best intentioned efforts to make mentoring work can founder as it will have its most positive effect when it evolves naturally, often without consciously considering mentoring is happening at all” This describes my workplace well. Despite a haphazard approach the natural approach works very well when it does happen. Were the ambulance service to set up a structured approach I would be worried that formality could have a negative effect.
Undoubtedly the introduction of such a scheme would be given a low priority, mainly because we have unique problems with access of the participants to each other. Other than as crews of two we are a very disparate group of workers who have always found it hard to come together. A method which allows mentees to choose their mentors though necessary would be difficult to support. A potential solution would possibly be the introduction of I.T. as a means of enhancing communication. The service is due to introduce networking to stations across the county soon. Its possible that this will facilitate communication in a way which we have not seen before.