Many are familiar with the concept of mentoring, but what happens when you flip it on its head? Reverse mentoring is a relationship where a more junior employee partners with someone more senior – tapping into the knowledge and skill sets held by multiple generations.
The concept became popular in the late 90’s when the former CEO of General Electric implemented an initiative that saw company up-and-comers paired with top executives to show them how to use the internet. Since then, many Fortune 500 companies have put these types of programs into motion and reaped the benefits from cross-generational learning and collaboration.
The concept is particularly important to consider with Gen-Z workers beginning to represent a growing percentage of the workforce, especially as baby boomers and Gen X-ers reach the later stages of their careers. How do we ensure that their skills and knowledge are passed down while retaining a younger generation of workers?
Below, we outline various reasons why implementing reverse mentoring in your organization is vital in promoting a robust, effective, and productive workplace.
Planning for the Future
With companies over twice as likely to financially outperform their peers when they have effective succession planning, in many ways, adopting a reverse mentoring program can help an organization prepare for what’s to come. When the concept is discussed, what often comes to mind is younger employees teaching older employees about technology, online networking, and social media marketing. In contrast, senior employees impart their business/industry knowledge and company history. That said, its positive effects can extend beyond the simple exchange of tools/technology and information.
A study from Moving Ahead found that 87% of mentors and mentees felt empowered by their mentoring relationships and developed greater confidence. For example, junior employees participating in reverse mentoring can develop their leadership skills and gain confidence by taking on a mentorship role. In turn, this can also improve their communication skills and increase their visibility within the company – serving as an opportunity to showcase their skills and abilities to senior leaders. Regarding senior leaders, staying up to date with trends and tools can enhance a company’s ability to remain as current and competitive as possible – leading to high-level business decisions that properly equip the organization for years to come.
Improving Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
While reverse mentoring is undoubtedly a concept that should be considered to ensure workplace continuity, it can also impact an organization’s diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts. One of the many benefits of reverse mentoring is that it allows for many different voices and perspectives to be heard. When employees from multiple backgrounds can connect on a deeper level and have more open dialogue, this can break down stereotypes and provide insight into different cultural and cross-generational norms.
Opportunities that drive mutual learning and trust across generations can help make individuals more aware of existing biases, making it easier to challenge and overcome them. It can also prepare those from minority groups – perhaps those who would have been overlooked during opportunities for advancement – to build on their skills to take on a larger role. In fact, a study performed by Harvard Business Review found that reverse mentorship programs saw an 18% increase in leadership positions for African women and a 24% increase for Asian women. There are several additional case studies where reverse mentoring has had a proven impact, such as Proctor & Gamble’s improvement of disability inclusion in workplace videos or Linklaters LLP LGBTQ+ awareness among senior leaders.
Increasing Employee Engagement
With phenomena such as quiet quitting becoming more prevalent than ever, organizations must have employee engagement at the forefront when making business decisions. With research that suggests half of Millennials and Gen Z employees will quit in 5 years if they don’t feel listened to, providing unique opportunities for growth and development is imperative. A reverse mentoring program can be a fantastic outside-the-box solution to this, as proven by Pershing, which saw a 96% retention rate for millennials participating in their reverse mentoring program.
Furthermore, younger generations are placing increased emphasis on workplace cultures which center around learning and development – some even prioritizing learning and growth opportunities over better benefits and compensation. Reverse mentoring can aid in improving employee retention and engagement by creating a sense of community and support within the workplace, serving as a more formal platform for older and younger employees to learn from one another and in turn, fostering a more cohesive and collaborative culture.
While the concept of reverse mentoring is not a new one, it’s clear that if today’s workforce is looking for ways to engage a newer generation amidst higher historical turnover rates, creating opportunities for younger and older employees to collaborate is a strategy which can have a positive effect on a workplace ecosystem. Whether it’s augmenting your company’s succession plan efforts or changing how your organization views DEI – we expect to see reverse mentoring initiatives pick up steam in the coming years and look forward to hearing about its success.