Mentoring with a twist: Plugging the generational gap at work

Milko van Duijl

There is renewed pressure on the importance of creative thinking and collaboration in the workplace.

Yet in times of rapid change, it can be difficult to create an environment that allows diverse teams to thrive, despite the fact that teams with greater diversity produce better results.

Mentoring programmes are an effective method of bringing diverse teams closer together. They motivate employees, improve retention, and create better avenues for employee collaboration.

CA’s diversity and inclusion team recently initiated a reverse mentoring programme. This is a mentoring scheme with a twist: it’s a reversal of the traditional role of mentor and mentee. The high potential employee with less experience gets involved in coaching, advising and sharing his or her diverse personal and professional experience with the senior professional. Both parties can benefit because each can draw on the experiences of the other.

Here are four ways it can help companies gain a much-needed fresh perspective in business.

Closing the skills gap

A recent study by PwC highlighted that, while there is an opportunity for older employees to help boost the UK economy by closing the current skills gap, there’s a growing concern about the generational divide in many workplaces. It proposes reverse mentoring as one effective method for addressing this issue, which could involve younger employees coaching over-55s on social media and thereby enhancing their digital skills.

Promoting diversity of thought

Every employee should feel comfortable and confident, bringing their whole selves to work, and social programmes play a powerful role in championing inclusion.

When Angela Ahrendts was chief executive of Burberry, one of her first moves was to adopt reverse mentoring. She not only said that seasoned executives should listen to their younger team members, but also empowered those young people to advise the moves Burberry would make.

Breaking down barriers

Reverse mentoring is a unique opportunity for junior members to develop leadership skills, giving them the confidence to have crucial conversations with leaders in the company and increasing visibility among senior management. This exposure to colleagues at different levels of the business helps to break down stereotypes and bring people closer together through the sharing of experiences.

Putting reverse mentoring into practice

The programme should have a clear set-up in order to be effective. When I undertook the programme with my colleague Patricia, a high-potential employee of a different gender and ethnicity, our first confidential meeting was about getting to know each other. We started by talking about our respective roles in the company, what was on our minds and how we each deal with the complexities we face.

From that, Patricia was able to share invaluable advice, bringing an entirely different perspective to my thinking. Her ideas were invariably not a line of thought I had considered.

For leaders, it can be lonely at the top. Reverse mentoring breaks down this barrier, providing a completely different perspective on the feedback I would traditionally receive from my senior peers. By sharing a diverse personal and professional insight, it can help provide greater self-awareness.

More organisations need to focus on the generational divide that exists in the workplace, and reverse mentoring is a practice that has obvious benefits from the outset.

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