Can reverse mentoring unite the multi-generational workplace?

Reverse mentoring recognises that every employee, regardless of age, has unique skill sets others can learn from.

Technology companies such as Cisco and HP have been using reverse mentoring to enable employees from different generations to support each other’s development. Chris Merrick, business development director at Capita Resourcing, says older workers can learn from the technology-savvy younger generation.

Mentoring programmes have been used by companies for years, but they need a shake-up in order to remain effective. Historically, such initiatives have seen experienced employees mentoring junior staff who are new to the world of work, or employees who are looking to progress their career.

Today, ambitious millennials and Generation Z are entering the workforce and climbing to the top, and the balance of workplace seniority is shifting. It is important that HR teams promote a harmonious, inclusive and productive organisation. Essentially, it is time to recognise that inter-generational guidance need not be one-way traffic.

Some forward-thinking companies are achieving this by modernising the mentoring programmes that they offer to their employees. These organisations recognise that the evolution of technology in the workplace is an opportunity, not a threat.

Rather than falling victim to the digital divide between social-media savvy millennials and less digitally aware older managers, employers are pairing up these groups to work on a number of skill sets.

Not only does this help to raise the digital IQ of business leaders, but it also gives younger employees a feeling of value and purpose within their company, outside of their day-to-day role.

We outline some of the benefits to “reverse mentoring”, which can ultimately help to unite the multi-generational workplace.

Knowledge sharing

Every employee within an organisation, regardless of their age or experience, will have unique skill sets and attributes that others can learn from. Therefore, introducing programmes such as reverse mentoring is a great way to help employees recognise their true ability and understand that their skills are valuable and can be shared with others.

Millennial workers, for example, have grown up in an environment of fast-changing technology. A constant revolving door culture of new consoles, phones and social networks mean they can quickly pick up on developing digital trends. This is something that business leaders can learn from, particularly if they want their organisation to stay relevant and competitive in a market increasingly dominated by the social media generation.

Digitally savvy companies such as Cisco and HP have been running reverse mentoring programmes for their employees in recent years to ensure best practices and maximise success. Through these mentorships, younger staff have been able to show their senior colleagues how to use technology to gather resources and data, raise their social media profile to grow a following, connect with talent pools and become influential thought leaders in their sector.

On top of helping senior staff, these schemes have a number of benefits for younger people. Less experienced staff can network with influential members of their organisation, develop their leadership skills, take a more authoritative position, boost their morale and build trust with key stakeholders.

Reducing turnover of staff

Companies that have introduced and integrated these reverse mentoring programmes into regular working practices are seeing a reduced turnover rate among both younger and more senior staff, according to PwC’s Millennials at Work study.

This is because is it a great way for young, ambitious employees to feel valued and recognised for their talent, while gaining insight into what it would be like to hold a managerial position. In fact, the PwC study found that 21% of millennials feel that their personal drive can be intimidating to other generations in the workplace.

For senior staff, learning these new skills in a non-pressured environment helps them to regain a sense of control and relevance in a world that has been transformed by fast-paced digital technology.

Research from Accenture found that 69% of 18- to 34-year-olds think technology will improve their work experiences, compared to 53% of those over 45. This highlights the importance of all age groups having future-ready digital skills.

With the looming entrance of Gen Z and increasing numbers of Gen Y into the workforce, it is important that traditional workplace hierarchies are dissipated. Younger generations expect to take a more collaborative approach to their daily tasks, which is another reason why reverse mentoring programmes are effective.

Junior staff will relish being respected for their valuable skills by older colleagues, and this will make them feel more involved and appreciated early on in their career, reducing any feelings of resentment and overall staff turnover.

Running mentorship programmes both ways

Although younger workers need a different approach to their development than the traditional methods used in many organisations, it’s essential not to estrange other generations in the process.

Although the workplace is becoming increasingly digitalised, certain corporate, company and market-specific knowledge held by older staff will always be valuable, and it is crucial for older staff to share this with the younger employees who succeed them. At the same time, senior staff will want to maintain a sense of control as their younger colleagues are becoming increasingly prominent in the workplace.

It is also worth noting that less experienced staff tend to feel more comfortable receiving advice from older workers in comparison to someone their own age, due to a reduced sense of competition. Implementing these knowledge sharing sessions among the diverse generations in the workplace can help to dispel misconceptions and make employees of all ages feel valuable and respected.

Following the implementation of these programmes, it is important that organisations use the results to advise their learning and development practices. This output is especially useful in regards to building on each individual’s strengths and weaknesses.

If reverse mentoring programmes are managed properly, they can unite the multi-generational workforce and give organisations a competitive edge in attracting talent who want great opportunities from their employer. Marrying both reverse and traditional mentoring programmes in the workplace can be an effective tool for millennial leadership development.

HR plays an important role in encouraging employees of all ages to collaborate and share their skills and knowledge, and those that do will reap the benefits in terms of retaining employees and building invaluable skill sets across their workforce.


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