Why you should respect your youngers


Reverse Mentoring

Do we need to show our younger employees a little more respect? Research from Unily and YouGov suggests we absolutely do.

Always respect your elders. They are wise, they are experienced, and after riding the wave of multiple economic cycles, they can develop a long-term strategy better than a genZ can execute a TikTok dance. But, as technical skills become premium career capital in today’s workplace, we enter a unique point in time where the younger generations can give back just as much, if not more, wisdom in the workplace.

The use of technology in business isn’t just increasing, it’s imperative to the foundations of almost every industry in the world. But the increasing speed at which technology continues to develop is leaving more and more employees behind. The YouGov study found that 1 in 3 employees over the age of 40 requested support for simple technology queries at least once a week from younger employees. Not only are these findings indicative of the widening gap in knowledge between junior and senior employees, it also indicates a threat to productivity; over one third (37%) of junior employees aged 18-34 who believe that senior employees are not tech-savvy believe that this results in disrupted productivity.

Reverse mentoring is not a new concept, Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, popularised the concept of reverse mentoring more than 2 decades ago. In 1999 Welch piloted a project where he paired 500 senior and junior employees so the latter could teach the former about technological advances and tools; “We now have the youngest and brightest teaching the oldest”, he exclaimed. But while the term ‘reverse mentoring’ is not new and has been widely discussed in the mentoring and L&D space, is it being taken as seriously as it should be in the workplace?

The biggest barrier to the adoption of reverse mentoring comes from hierarchy. While many progressive companies have tried to fly the flag for flat structure, the results are always the same – chaos. Less hierarchy is needed for an optimum knowledge-sharing environment but flat structure leads to a destructive lack of purpose, place and direction for its workforce. Finding the perfect balance of hierarchy and autonomy is integral to creating the right environment for successful reverse mentoring.

While increasing your employee’s technical skills is an obvious win from reverse mentoring, we can also learn a lot by looking at why younger employees are able to keep up with technology better than their senior colleagues. Just as years of industry experience makes senior employees valuable, younger employee’s experience growing up alongside technology has enabled them to develop a valuable and instinctive skill set that helps them consume and understand new information quickly while constantly adapting to change.

At Grasp, we’re a big believer in everyone being able to learn from everyone else. This two-way knowledge-sharing relationship is the core principle of the Grasp mentoring platform. While the mentee may be looking for specific guidance and development, the mentor should always seek to find what the mentee can share and ever increasingly that mentee is a senior employee. This is why our platform has been designed specifically to take away the friction from connecting and finding a mentor, making mentoring more accessible to all employees.

Ed Beccle, Founder of Grasp, says; “while working with one of Ireland’s leading banks and one of the world’s largest FMCGs, we’ve seen a big uptake on reverse mentoring during the COVID-19 period, and this comes down to the frictionless environment our platform creates for employees, whether working from the office or remotely. By catalysing strong cross-silo collaboration and levelling the playing field for all, employees can thrive on reverse mentoring and mentoring alike”.

Reverse mentoring doesn’t have to be limited to technical knowledge and skill. A mentee is able to give their mentor insight to fresh ideas which, together with the experience of the mentor, can lead to great collaborative innovation. A mentee can also present problems and issues that may take longer to reach the mentor’s awareness through a traditional hierarchy, this allows the mentor to address issues before they escalate into real problems.

The YouGov study found that more than 7 in 10 (72%) of senior employees aged 41+ believe they actively learn/could actively learn from more junior members of staff, which helps them with their own work.

As economic challenges and remote work continues to push forward the value of technical skills, now is the time to review your skill gaps and start building a company structure that fosters knowledge-sharing between all generations and give both elders and youngers the respect they deserve. 

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