Reverse Mentoring - Intergenerational Learning

7 May 2017 By Will Brodie

Image credit: The Intern
Image credit: The Intern

If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, millennials are from a galaxy far, far away in the future and older workers are from, well, Earth. Twentieth century Earth.

Most workers under the age of 30 are comfy with social media platforms like Snapchat that are barely known to older compatriots. Most workers over the age of 50 have barely scrambled aboard Facebook.

There's never been a more urgent need to bridge the generation gap. Millennials already outnumber Generation X, they're about to become the most important retail demographic, and they will occupy 50% of the workforce by 2020.

So it’s little wonder organisations have embraced reverse mentoring, where a junior employee enters into a ‘professional friendship’ with an elder to exchange skills, knowledge and insights.


Heidi Holmes of, says a formal reverse mentoring program can be the catalyst to “building an internal culture of mentoring”. 

“It makes business leaders more accessible and exposes individuals to new perspectives they might not have previously considered. More holistically, reverse mentoring also helps with facilitating intergenerational connectedness and a more inclusive working environment.”

She says the most effective mentoring relationships involve “mutual benefit for both participants”.

“It's important that when facilitating matches, both the mentee and mentor's goals are taken into consideration. Too often matches are formed based on one person's objectives and this can sometimes lead to a one-sided conversation where the benefits are limited to one person in the relationship.”

Reverse mentoring fundamentals

1. Go the top first. Win the support of an executive sponsor, “someone high enough up in the organisation who will champion the program and encourage his/her leaders to get involved”. This authority will encourage shy juniors to take part and ensure there’s follow-up to the program.

2. Set a defined goal. Know what each party wants to achieve. An informal atmosphere is beneficial, but an unstructured arrangement is not. Both parties should agree to a concrete outcome they are seeking, and how the meetings will proceed – face to face, by social media or even via anonymous messaging. ‘Rules’ about privacy should be established at the outset.

3. Feedback. Mentoring needs to be monitored and refined as it progresses. Meghan Biro of Forbes advises: “Feedback is critical for your success. It’s almost worse to have unmonitored mentoring programs than no mentoring at all.” Set a mid-point to check how both parties feel about the arrangement, and at its end ensure there is a review of the process to set targets arising from the program.

4. Make it about more than just tech. The point is to surprise each other. Mindtools point out that some senior roles may not require much knowledge of new technology or Generation Y trends, meaning “reverse mentoring partnerships may only be nice to have,’ not ‘highly desirable’."

Benefits of reverse mentoring