Mentoring programmes within organisations have been around for years and have traditionally seen more senior executives mentoring junior employees, with the aim of imparting their knowledge and experience to support young people in their careers.
Reverse mentoring actually turns this on its head by recognising that knowledge sharing is not a one- way street. It typically involves younger employees mentoring older colleagues, to advise them on current trends, give them a fresh perspective and help them learn new skills, such as technology.
“Reverse mentoring takes mentoring and gives it a shake-up,” explains Becky Mee, HR partner at HR180. “It works on the idea that we can learn from each other and are never too old or experienced in our careers to learn something new. It also recognises there are skills and experiences to be shared between all areas of an organisation and it doesn’t just have to be from the top down.”
For the first time ever, there are now up to five generations working together and, according to the Centre for Ageing Better, nearly one in three workers in the UK are aged 50 and over. This means employers need to act now to promote an inclusive and diverse multi-generational workforce, stay ahead of the competition and ensure their older workers feel valued.
Reverse mentoring can capitalise on age diversity within an organisation by mixing up the wealth of ideas, skills and experiences that both older and younger workers bring to the table.
“There are now really diverse people in our teams, with different interests, motivations and perceptions of work,” remarks Mee. “Reverse mentoring doesn’t just have to be about skills sharing; it can also be about sharing life and work experiences, and working to foster greater understanding between different groups at work.”
The concept of reverse mentoring first became popular in the late 90s, when Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, paired younger employees with senior executives to teach them about the internet and modern technology. Since then, large organisations such as Dell, KPMG, the BBC, Microsoft and PwC have all implemented reverse mentoring programmes, although it is still a relatively novel concept for smaller UK businesses.
“Reverse mentoring is still pretty new in the UK and even less regularly undertaken across mainland Europe,” says inter-generational expert speaker Henry Rose Lee. “It has got most traction in the US, although here in the UK, it is being talked about more and more, and is really taking hold in digital and fintech companies, but the smaller business enterprises are not so aware of it.”
If your reverse mentoring scheme is set up in the right way, with clear objectives and support in how to mentor positively, it can be really beneficial to everyone involved, says Mee. “Older team members feel they’re included, are still able to grow and develop and are part of a wider team where learning from each other is the norm not the exception. The team members I’ve known go through a reverse mentoring scheme have all felt an increased sense of belonging and self-worth as a result.”
Lee agrees that reverse mentoring can be incredibly effective for both mentor and mentee. “The younger employee feels heard, valued and consulted; and more engaged and connected to their place of work. The older mentee gains valuable insights, information and learning that they might not have otherwise. Also, when younger mentors work with older colleagues, they are giving them something more precious – the chance to remain relevant. Older workers, even those at the top, can become irrelevant if they don’t keep track of innovations, new technology or new ways of working. Younger people as mentors can really help with that.”
How to implement reverse mentoring
Before implementing a reverse mentoring programme, there are some key points to consider first to ensure it’s a success.
“Employers first need to identify if it would be relevant to their industry and workplace, with an eye to their long-term strategy and objectives,” advises Mandy Watson, managing director of Ambitions Personnel. “Particularly where the mentoring relationship is going to take place over a period of time and on a one-to-one basis, it’s important that the mentor and mentee are matched appropriately and there’s buy-in from both parties, which may include training on the roles they’ll both play.”
Lee adds that there needs to be a company-wide discussion so everyone involved knows what is expected of them. “Anyone who wants to be a mentor, or become a mentee, should know what it means, how it works and what each party needs to bring to the sessions. If it’s given a shape and structure, it will work better for both mentee and mentor – and will ensure consistency of delivery.”