When we think of mentorship, traditionally the picture is of a seasoned professional taking a younger employee under their wing. Mentorship is a valuable institution but in an age where there are up to four generations in one office, reverse mentorship is also proving to have great benefits.


Reverse mentorship sounds like one of those airy fairy ideas that are better in theory then in practice. But at its essence, reverse mentorship is really just about open learning; older and younger generations learning from each other and developing new skills.


Mutual learning

The biggest benefit of reverse mentorship is the mutual learning that occurs. Creating a two-way street means both sides of the exchange are getting value. Younger generations are typically better with technology and can pass on handy tech-savvy tricks. Meanwhile, more experienced workers can share their years of business and leadership wisdom. But the key is to promote reverse mentorship as being a great way to cross-skill, NOT a punishment for having “outdated” skills. Research shows that one thing that all the generations have in common is their desire to learn. Reverse mentorship should work if your company culture is one that embraces learning from all angles, not just top-down.


It’s not all about tech

But Gen Y has more to offer than just tech savvy. Millennials are characterized by their very different image of the ideal workplace. Gen X and Baby Boomers might be surprised what they learn from Gen Y’s take on leadership, management and work-life balance. With work-life balance being of unprecedented importance to Millennials, figuring out how to match expectations to reality will be a challenge for most workplaces.  Starting these conversations and debating openly will help those businesses that want to tackle the big picture of “what does work look like 10 years from now?”


Bridging the generational gap

Reverse mentorship relationships build stronger bonds of respect when you have both sides learning AND teaching. It’s just one way to foster great understanding and higher tolerance of different viewpoints. Generation Y continuously receives a bad rap for being “entitled” and “spoilt”. But the reality is that they are the product of the generations before them and the environment that was created before their time. By 2020 they will comprise over 50% of the workforce so bridging and generational gaps in your workplace should be a top priority in your business plans.


Reverse mentorship won’t work for everyone. Some older workers will still balk at the idea of being mentored by someone younger. But for those that embrace transparency and enjoy devouring knowledge from all sources, then reverse mentorship may just be the ticket to a better, smarter workforce.


Image Credit: loop_oh (modified)