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On Wednesday, Nov. 10th, I had the privilege of leading a discussion about two articles on Reverse Mentoring today. Our group discussed “How to Use Reverse Mentoring as a Retention Tool for Gen Y Employees” and “Reverse Mentoring Empowers Emerging and Established Leaders”. (links here:http://www.delawareemploymentlawblog.com/2008/10/how_to_use_reverse_mentoring_a.html and www.diversity-executive.com/article.php).

Reverse mentoring is when a younger employee is paired with an older, more seasoned employee and the younger employee is the mentor. To begin, we discussed the different generations and their general characteristics, and saw the connection between those and how some people respond to being mentored by someone who is younger or newer at the company. We shared our observations of what we see as the “typical” behavior for people in these groups. For clarity’s sake, here are the generations we focused on (and of course these are general descriptions and we know that not everyone fits the profile for the date they were born):

1925-1945 Silent Generation or Mature Generation: This is a description that appeared in a magazine article in 1951 describing this group; “Youth today is waiting for the hand of fate to fall on its shoulders, meanwhile working fairly hard and saying almost nothing. The most startling fact about the younger generation is its silence. With some rare exceptions, youth is nowhere near the rostrum. By comparison with the Flaming Youth of their fathers & mothers, today’s younger generation is a still, small flame. It does not issue manifestos, make speeches or carry posters. It has been called the “Silent Generation.” “

This group tends to be afraid or very skeptical of technology, seeing it as a short cut around the hard work that they had to do. They don’t embrace new gadgets or programs readily and may feel threatened that they will be “replaced by a machine”.

1946-1964 Baby Boomers: “This group is forced with the dilemma of adapting to new technology out of necessity, while at the same time being old dogs learning new tricks”. They like new gadgets and enjoy using them in a recreational way, but don’t enjoy being forced to learn things for fear of losing a job or because they may fall behind in work skills.

1965-1979: Generation X: These folks adapt well to new technologies, and learn them without much trouble. They aren’t afraid to use technology in new ways, but also don’t see it as a necessity for life. While they might want a new iPad or Blackberry, they know they don’t NEED it to survive. It’s part of day to day life, but life can go on without having the newest, shiniest gadgets.

1980-2000: Millennials or Generation Y: This group has always been around technology. They have grown up with access to computers and the Internet and aren’t afraid of new technology. They multi-task with ease. But with the easy access to so much technology, they almost take it for granted, and seem to value quantity over quality when finding information. The can get frustrated with people who don’t catch on to technology as quickly as they do.

After sharing our impressions of the generations and their typical traits, we moved into a discussion about the benefits of pairing younger employees with older ones to share information, especially about technology. We all felt that it is important to being open to learning new ideas and processes, from whomever is the best teacher. Age isn’t a factor, as long as both parties approach the relationship with an open mind. The younger can share expertise on technology, while the older can share the nuances of the institution and the way it works, as well as best practices for employees. It can be a symbiotic arrangement!

By entrusting younger, especially Gen Y employees, with the responsibility of mentoring another, it helps to meet their desire to “make a difference” and use the tech knowledge that is second nature to them. And if you have more satisfied employees, they are more likely to stay with the institution for a longer time. The arrangement also benefits older employees by taking the anxiety off of them to learn new technology; they don’t have to work on it on their own time with no one to answer questions. It has been arranged and approved by the institution for them to learn from a co-worker, at work, and they can see how the technology applies directly to their job and their responsibilities.

Our group also noted some distressing behaviors among some Gen Y’s that the older employee can help address and give advice on to help them assimilate better into work life. Specifically, things like email etiquette, professional relationships, appropriate interactions with others, and social skills can be honed with help from the older/more experienced employee.

We all agreed that a mentoring relationship, whether reverse or traditional, can greatly benefit both parties if they enter it willingly, with an open mind, and devote time to meeting and communicating with each other. We all have something to learn, and we all have something to teach.