How Flexibility Will Save Your Career

Reverse Mentorship Is About Relevance, Not Ego

business-people-FB-484x252Communication among multi-generational employees can be complex. With as many as four generations working together, age differences and work sensibilities are bound to be varied. When you hear the word “mentor” or “coaching,” you may think of them as necessary tools to mobilize the younger generation to engage in the workforce.

However, sometimes older generations need mentoring, too, and it can come from an unlikely place: younger employees. Just as there are a multitude of skills older generations can teach younger ones, there is also some knowledge to be gained from the fresh outlook of millenial employees.

The Young Teaching the Old

This style of career coaching is called “reverse mentoring,” and it was made popular by the chairman and CEO of GE, Jack Welch. It serves as a useful tool to teach older employees a few tricks that they might not be able to pick up as easily on their own. Alan Webber, co-founder of Fast Company, realizes that employees in their forties and fifties may not have the same perspective on the future as the younger generation. Younger employees bring with them a fresh set of eyes and an expertise with rapidly evolving technology. Consider how reverse mentoring can help even the wiser generation:

They learn information they wouldn’t get from other places. The younger generation knows what’s hip and what’s trendy. They have new ideas and a fresh outlook, and they can teach the generation that came before how to recognize new ways of thinking.

The Millennial Perspective

Millennials are often better at explaining new technology to a generation that didn’t grown up with it. Online classes and tutorial websites are great for learning how to use new technology, but reverse mentoring provides a faster, hands-on approach. Millenials grew up using technology almost as an extension of themselves. If more veteran employees are struggling to use social media or other technology, the younger generation can provide one-on-one training.

Collaboration creates a fresh perspective. The differing viewpoints of each generation work fantastically together in this aspect. Reverse mentors bring creative new endeavors to the table, while traditional values temper creativity with practicality. Together, they can come up with well-balanced ideas to market new products or capture a new audience.

These two groups will feed off of each other’s energy. Just as veteran employees learn new perspectives and creative approaches from a reverse mentor, they millennials are learning tricks from those with years of experience. It’s a symbiotic relationship that strengthens employee engagement, and ultimately, the success of the company.

How to Do It Right

Reverse mentorship will only work if it’s executed properly. Any amount of hesitance or miscommunication on either side could send the whole thing into a downward spiral. The key is to balance two very different energies. While a reverse mentor might teach an employee with seniority how to use social media, the more senior employee may need to teach them how to maintain professionalism while using it. Emphasize the value of collaboration: new ideas, advanced skills.


Additional resources: