Reverse mentoring: is this the way forward?

Written by
Rachel Kay

17 Dec 2015

17 Dec 2015 • by Rachel Kay


The workplace is changing; there’s no denying it – the digital age is taking over, the way employees engage with their work is shifting (e.g. flexible hours and remote working), and the demographic of the workforce is changing dramatically. These changes all lead to a workplace that looks very different to what many have known in the past, and it’s causing some considerable anxiety, especially to the older generation of workers who are essentially having the rug pulled out from under them as these developments potentially undermine their entire approach to work and employment.

However with 40% of the UK’s workforce due to retire within the next decade, it is unsurprising that these changes are becoming more prominent.  Even now the millennial generation (those born mid-1980’s-2000) is the fastest growing demographic in the workplace, and this is helping to drive these changes.  With the upcoming retirement of many Generation X workers (those born early 1960’s to early 1980’s), the number of millennial employees will continue to rise, and their placement in management positions will become more common, meaning millennial workers will be managing colleagues who are senior to them in terms of age, but not necessarily position.  This has the potential to cause some significant rifts if not addressed properly; but if managed appropriately, this dynamic actually has the potential to offer real and lasting benefits to all involved.  

Damage Control

To limit the negative effects of these changes, many organisations have recognised the need to implement new approaches to help facilitate this transition, and one of the strategies many companies are employing is the use of reverse mentoring i.e. where younger employees support older employees to engage with new technologies or processes.  This is not a new concept, and many successful organisations have been using it for decades, but now with the evolution of the workplace picking up speed, it is becoming increasingly important that all businesses know how to use this approach to the benefit of their staff. 

Most commonly used to empower older or less tech savvy team members to pick up new technologies, reverse mentoring has applications well beyond this if used appropriately.  When utilised in the right way it can facilitate the development of individual employees, ultimately benefiting the wider company, via increased productivity and greater employee engagement.  By encouraging younger team members to utilise their skills and use them to train senior staff, this offers development opportunities for both groups.  It allows younger staff to feel more valued for the information they can pass on, and more seasoned team members have the chance to embrace new technologies and techniques, empowering them to contribute more proactively to the business.  

Furthermore, encouraging collaboration will help foster relationships between two generations who may have very different values and approaches to work.  Overall this will help create better working relationships, contributing to a versatile workforce that can appreciate and utilise different styles of working to benefit their own progression and that of the organisation.  However an understanding of one another’s perspective will not only be important in ensuring smooth working relationships at floor level, but will become even more important when it comes to millennials managing Gen X staff.  Due to the significant differences in work ethic and motivation, it is vitally important that millennial manages take the time to understand how these may impact Generation X workers, and how to support them in using their skills to maximum benefit.  However it is also important for managers to be able to support their staff beyond the workplace to enable them to enjoy a work-life balance.  This may mean being flexible to allow for childcare commitments, or other considerations that may not affect millennial employees.  This ensures that Generation X workers feel supported, respected and empowered to work in the most appropriate way for their needs, leading to better outcomes at all levels, and a more productive team environment for the new millennial managers.