Reverse Mentoring: A New Take on Bridging the Generation Gap at Work

Higher Ups Get Coaching on New Trends, Technology & Social Media From Young Workers

In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, reporter Leslie Kwoh, notes an exciting new trend taking off in a wide range of companies. Instead of workplace mentors who are older and higher up in the ranks than their mentees – younger employees are being tapped to help senior executives learn new skills.

The idea is to give senior managers an opportunity to learn about life outside the corner office. If that isn’t enough of a reason, companies are seeing reduced turnover among younger employees because mentoring this way gives them a sense of purpose, along with an enlightening glimpse into the world of management and access to top tier leaders.

According to Kwoh, reverse mentoring was championed by Jack Welch when he was chief executive of General Electric Co. He had 500 top-level executives pair up with people below them to learn to use the Internet. Welch took his own advice to heart and was matched with an employee in her 20s who taught him how to surf the Web. Today young mentors are teaching their senior mentees about Facebook and Twitter.

Technology and global thinking are changing so rapidly, older executives don’t want to be left behind. Reverse mentoring also helps acculturate the younger employees more quickly. They begin to see a promising future for themselves in the organization. This boosts loyalty, employee engagement and overall productivity.

There can be pitfalls. Many older workers resist the idea of being mentored by someone younger, especially when they have so many more years of experience. This is where a solid launch event featuring the people skills that make for more effective mentoring partnerships can make all the difference in the success of the program.