We’ve heard it all before: millennials generally have a bad reputation when it comes to being motivated workers while baby boomers and gen Xers are widely known to reap the benefits of an economy before a costly recession. 

But let’s be honest: stereotypes never served anyone. 

Instead of using generational labels to make assumptions about someone’s work ethic, many employers are taking advantage of the benefits of reverse mentoring—a tactic that involves swapping the role of the “wise, old sensei” and the “young grasshopper”. 

In a reverse mentorship, younger generations teach their predecessors how to look at things differently, adapt to changes in technology, and keep an open mind. 

Without some kind of meaningful collaboration between everyone in the workplace, businesses risk creating environments where some workers are treated with less respect than others. Consequently, these work environments increase the risk of many employees leaving prematurely.

So, how can millennials influence the workplace in a positive way? In this post, we’ll delve into some characteristics of the millennial workforce, how millennials in mentorship roles can improve worker retention, and the strategies to use for a successful mentorship program so you can retain your top talent—regardless of age. 

Read More: Millennials and the Evolving Office

The Millennial Workforce

Millennials became the largest generation in the U.S. workforce in 2016, according to an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data by the Pew Research Center. They’re a cohort shaped by social, political, and economic issues such as the technological revolution, the Iraq/Afghanistan war, and the 2008 economic recession. 

As a result, millennials are generally known as highly competent users of technology, proponents of social responsibility, and workers in a gig economy (i.e. workers who rotate through temporary positions or switch career paths multiple times). These characteristics point to some of the lessons that millennials can provide, such as:  

  • How to integrate different technologies into existing project initiatives (i.e. adding search engine optimization, social media strategies, and data analytics into a marketing plan)
  • How to create a trustworthy brand (i.e. focusing on sustainable business practices; being transparent and accountable to your audience)
  • How to diversify your skillset (i.e. staying up-to-date on different learning opportunities such as webinars, conferences, drop-in courses, etc.)

While it may be obvious how new skills benefit older employees, it’s less obvious how changing values affect worker morale and productivity. However, employers who have a thorough understanding of employee values have an easier time creating a work environment that attracts and retains new recruits. 

Of course, different people will have different values, but a study by the American Psychological Association showed that millennials generally consider the following to be the most important factors when at work:

  • Doing work that is interesting, exciting, and engaging
  • Doing work that provides a sense of personal achievement
  • Working with agreeable and friendly co-workers
  • Doing work that allows you to help people
  • Doing work that affords you a good salary

By being aware of the changes in work values throughout generations, businesses can create attractive work environments for their employees and improve their products and services for changing market ideals. 

Reverse Mentoring and Worker Retention

Reverse mentorship programs can also do wonders for worker retention. 

Reverse mentoring is when employers pair senior and junior employees together so that they both learn valuable skills from each other. While junior employees pass on the new skills they learned in school, seniors share practical advice from the experience they’ve gained over the years. 

Reverse mentoring is nothing new. In fact, businesses have been pairing junior and senior employees together for decades. For instance, when the Internet first took off in the ‘90s, General Electric CEO Jack Welch realized his management team could learn quite a bit about the technology from their junior employees. Because of this, people often give credit to Welch for popularizing reverse mentorships. 

These days, more and more companies are capitalizing on the benefits of a reverse mentorship. For instance, if you look back to some of the millennial values stated above, you’ll see how reverse mentorships address some of those needs and effectively improve worker retention. For example, a junior employee who’s asked to be a mentor will likely feel:

  • Engaged with their work as they come up with ways to share their knowledge and skills
  • A sense of achievement once they’ve taught a co-worker something new
  • Respected and liked by co-workers

Employees who feel engaged, happy, and valued at work are more likely to stick around. Further, when employees see that their company is investing in their professional development, they’re more likely to put that same level of investment into their work projects and goals. 

For example, Pershing, a branch of the financial advisory and investments company BNY Mellon, has seen great success with its own reverse mentorship program. Of the 77 millennial employees the company had rotating through the program from 2013 to 2016, 96 per cent decided to continue working with the company. Although the retention rate may have been affected by numerous factors, CEO Mark Tibergien attributed the program with creating an environment in which all employees could flourish.

Regardless of age, people who participate in reverse mentorships are likely to walk away with an opened mind, a diversified skill set, and improved work relations. Plus, if an employee eventually decides to leave their job, they’re more likely to receive a glowing recommendation. 

Related Document: Letter of Recommendation

Successful Strategies for Mentoring Programs

Although people on either side of the generational gap may be hesitant to take lessons from one another, the truth is there’s valuable knowledge to be gained between the young and the old.

That being said, there are some strategies that businesses can follow when implementing a mentorship program:

  1. Be clear about your expectations. Let your employees know if there is a particular goal you would like them to meet at the end of their mentorship, such as encouraging inter-departmental collaboration. In this case, everyone can start off on common ground and agree upon the best route for achieving the goal.
  2. Pair people based on skill sets and personalities. Employees should be grouped together based on a balance of similarities and differences. For instance, the ideal pair would have different skill sets, so they can learn from one another, but similar personalities, so they can get along easily. 
  3. Explain the roles of mentor and mentee. Both people in the mentorship should have mutual respect and understanding for one another. Let your employees know how they can support each other in their roles, and provide them with the resources to do so. For instance, you can point them to a myriad of online resources that help explain mentor and mentee responsibilities. 
  4. Be involved throughout the entire mentorship. You can set up check-points where you meet with both mentor and mentee (together and separately) to discuss how the mentorship is going and address any challenges that may have come up. You can use the information from these check-ins to measure progress throughout and at the end of the mentorship.

A successful mentorship program helps your company create a strong team culture, even after the program has ended. Once this culture is established, employers may not even need to set up a formal program because their employees excel at communicating openly and motivating each other.  

Read More: Mentorship 101: A Guide to Gurus

Bridging the Generational Gap

Although generational labels can help us understand how society changes over time, it’s important to remember that we cannot use these labels to oversimplify the differences between us. In fact, some people of one generation may not identify with the label they’re given.

Reverse mentorships help eliminate stereotypes, facilitate communication, and encourage employees of all ages to continue learning throughout their careers. If you’re looking to increase employee retention, a mentorship program will create a positive work environment which makes employees feel respected, engaged, and valued so they won’t want to leave. 

Posted by Jasmine Roy

Jasmine has been writing for LawDepot since 2018. She is a writer with a passion for politics, law, and sociology. She's particularly interested in writing about real estate and family law.