Power of reverse mentoring: Connecting generations at work

When there's an age gap in the workplace, you'll notice some disrespect going both ways. Here's how you can build a healthy work environment in the midst of the generational divide.

Regardless of which side of the generational divide you fall on, you’ve probably noticed an age gap in the workplace.

For the first time in U.S. history, grandpa could be working alongside, or even managed by, a person their grandkids’ age. There’s disrespect going both ways. How can businesses change their perspectives and build a healthy working environment?

What’s the first word you think of when you hear millennial? How about boomer? According to a new study, one in four millennials has quit their job because of a boomer colleague. They say they are know-it-alls; they have a sense of entitlement.

Meanwhile, one in three boomers claims to have left their job because of a millennial. Boomers say their younger counterparts use their phones too much and are too entitled.

“Generations tend to want many of the same things. And they tend to want respect,” states Matthew Ng, a doctoral student at the University of Central Florida.

One way to build respect in the office: reverse mentoring. It gives the younger, newer employees a chance to show more experienced employees what they bring to the table and can make them feel like an important part of the team, which in the long run may help in retention of millennials.

Millennials are also highly proficient users of technology. Upward mentoring allows junior employees to share their digital skills. Reverse mentoring also promotes diversity.

“What we tend to see is that when you do work with so many different groups, you get more comfortable with those groups,” says Ng.

Reverse mentoring empowers new hires to speak up and improves new workers’ critical business skills. The mentors gain a deeper understanding of the company from their mentees.

The top reason that reverse-mentoring programs fail is that executives don’t prioritize them. If a couple of sessions are canceled, the momentum quickly dwindles.

Train younger employees in how to structure sessions well. The more executives benefit, the more they’ll want to keep the commitment.