Trusted to care: role of trust in mentoring

Wilson, Anthea and Patent, Volker (2011). Trusted to care: role of trust in mentoring. In: Searle, Rosalind and Skinner, Denise eds. Trust and Human Resource Management. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, pp. 139–156.



Mentoring is a relational process in organizations which shapes the development of employees during different stages in their tenure with their employer (Kram, 1985). Mentors play a variety of roles depending on the stage of the mentee’s career development and the formal mentoring roles they have been assigned by their organization (Noe, 2006). The type of mentoring mentees receive is dependent on the type of organization (e.g. education, health care, management) and its particular concerns in developing future and current employees (Donovan, 1990; Putman, Bradford, & Cleminson, 1993; Yonge, Billay, Myrick, & Luhanga, 2007). There has been a lot of work focussed on what makes a good mentor-mentee relationship, and on the perceptions and experiences of mentors in their work environments, however there has been very little work on the role of trust in mentors experience of mentoring.

In this chapter we will examine trust in mentoring relationships with specific attention to a sample of nurses who were interviewed during a period in which they mentored pre-registration nursing students. Trust emerged spontaneously in many of the interviews, suggesting that it is a salient feature of the mentoring context. In the chapter we explore the immersion of mentors within a complex network of overlapping dyadic relationships that manifest at different stages of their mentoring activity.

Our chapter contributes to the literature on mentoring and trust. Firstly, we highlight the ways in which mentors use trust to provide students with safe environments in which they learn and develop a capacity for reflective practice, Secondly, recognising that mentors are themselves vulnerable we expose their vulnerabilities that arise from contact with students and the wider collegial network they are part of. Thirdly we draw a link with third party trust (Burt & Knez, 1995, 1996; Ferrin, Dirks, & Shah, 2006) and show how vulnerabilities arise through the actions of third parties, through what we refer to as trust by extension. Finally we highlight a process of amplification which mentors use to enable them to manage multiple high stakes present in their context.

The chapter is organised into five sections. We begin by providing a short analysis of the organizational context of nurse mentoring in the UK, before looking at trust as an issue that is central to both the professional and mentoring roles of nurse mentors. Focussing on the data from our interviews we then discuss the use of trust as a tool for developing learning, as well as the implications arising from the role of mentors as learning facilitators and assessors. We then consider the extension of trust by third parties using examples from our interviews to illustrate the idea that threats to perceived trustworthiness in this context originate outside of the respective dyadic relationships that mentors form with students and others. Next we look at strategies that are employed by mentors which involve their sense of trust in a student, that enable them to make difficult assessment decisions. Finally we reflect on the mentoring context and suggest ways in which mentoring practices and workplace assessments could be transformed to take a greater account of trust.

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