Although social capital theory is a complex concept, understanding mentoring relationships through the lens of social capital theory can be an important lens to view the benefits of mentoring relationships for both mentors and mentees. This blog will provide a (condensed) introduction into the world of social capital theory and its impact on mentoring relationships.
What exactly is “Social Capital Theory”?
Social capital theory is a sociological theory that develops that social relationships are a resource which can develop human capital, such as skills and output, and therefore that relationships themselves are an asset. A common way of looking at social capital is that it is split into three different forms- bonding capital (relationships between homogeneous groups), bridging social capital (relationships between groups with some degree of difference), and linking social capital (relationships between heterogeneous groups). Based on these different forms, the relationships can have different outcomes- for example, building social mobility or developing skills. Businesses and individuals, therefore, can use social capital theory as a lens through which to view the benefits that they can extract from building positive social relationships.
Social Capital and Mentoring
Although everyone is exposed to a variety of situations in which to build their social capital, such as their upbringing or schooling, mentoring provides a formal way to develop these social relationships as resources. For example, mentoring relationships can be designed to have more or less of a linking quality based on the intention of the relationship. Therefore, individuals can build social capital through connecting with those who have different experiences and positions than them, or can find common ground through connecting with those of similar backgrounds. Through a more formalised way of building social capital, through developing a mentoring relationship, mentors and mentees can be paired in a way that best aligns with their personal skills and experiences.
Social Capital After COVID-19
Although COVID-19 changed the way that people work through catalysing the shift into remote work, it also revealed the value of the relationships as people struggled to connect without in-person interaction. Not only are relationships a tool through which to grow individual skills, but they also (as the pandemic revealed) play an integral role in developing work culture and employee well-being. Therefore, building social capital can be the most important factor in retaining employees. The way in which individuals interact within a company builds company morale and values; as the amount of face-to-face interaction within companies decreases, it is ever important to continually consider how to build higher quality relationships within companies, which in turn serve as resources for employees. If a company has turned to less in-person interactions during work hours, developing a formalised mentoring program through SUMAC can be a needed alternative to in-person office time.
Social capital theory develops an important insight into the value of mentoring programs- social relationships are an integral part of developing happiness and meaning in work, and therefore companies can encourage productivity through investing resources into developing meaningful relationships between employees. Although social capital theory provides a formal framework for considering the value of relationships, it’s not rocket science that we derive meaning and pleasure from our relationships…and when individuals feel their social web is supportive, they work harder and with greater intent.
Here's a link to learn more: