Why Gen Ys Make Great Mentors

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Role Reversal: Gen Ys as Mentors

For many leaders and colleagues, it is a foreign concept that more senior people can learn something from someone more junior.

However, most Gen Ys have grown up in an online world where it is normal for them to upload information, distribute knowledge and share opinions frequently. They are often referred to as ‘scary smart’ and frequently have more post-secondary education than previous generations. Even those who have not attended post-secondary schooling have developed skill sets to higher level than previous generations did at the same age.

Traditionalist 1922-1945 67-90 Years
Baby Boomer 1946-1964 48-66 Years
Gen X 1965-1980 32-47 Years
Gen Y 1981-2000 12-31 Years

This results in the youngest generation entering our workplaces with the most up-to-date knowledge of technology and new methodologies.

Traditionally, mentoring has been viewed as a process by which a more experienced (usually older) employee passed on their knowledge and expertise to a less experienced (usually younger) employee. Today, the roles have reversed and our younger employees have become valuable mentors.

Why Gen Ys Should be Mentors

There are many relevant skills that Gen Ys bring to the workplace. Not surprisingly, their technical skills as a generation far surpass any other generational cohort. Many Gen Ys are able to teach the more experienced generations how to use software or hardware (e.g. PDAs, Blackberrys, iPhones, etc) more efficiently. Business leaders can, and should be, harnessing Gen Ys’ ability to leverage technology to achieve their goals.

Gen Ys also have a tendency to question the status quo and an ability to shed light on our ever-evolving marketplaces. Gen Ys see the world, and how things work within it, through a completely different lens than Gen Xers, Baby Boomers and Traditionalists. These are traits that senior leaders can maximize to generate new, creative ideas to existing problems.

Making a Gen Y Mentoring Relationship Work

In order for any mentoring program to be successful in transferring learning or driving business outcomes, there are some structural and tactical considerations to take into account. Historically, mentoring was viewed as a way to shape, guide and even mold an employee into the image of the “ideal” employee. This hierarchical relationship, spearheaded by Traditionalists, became the standard by which all subsequent generations were mentored. Baby Boomers, who were mentored by Traditionalists, had to comply and work hard to be accepted by their mentor in order to move up the organizational ladder.

Baby Boomers now try to use this form of mentoring with Gen Xers and Gen Ys, but it often fails because Gen Xers and Gen Ys opt-out of programs that are not designed to focus on the interests and needs of the mentee. Gen Xers don’t want to emulate their mentors and Gen Ys believe that their mentors should emulate them. They expect a mentoring relationship that focuses on their learning needs as a mentee, not on the teaching desires of the mentor. For both generations, it is imperative to create a successful mentoring relationship that is based on two-way dialogue and respect.

Sometimes, experienced employees are reluctant to accept that younger employees have anything to offer to the mentoring relationship.  The first step to overcome this reluctance is raising awareness of the skill sets that younger colleagues bring to the table. For example, ask colleagues what they have learned from their children, nieces, nephews or grandchildren to demonstrate that, even outside of work, we frequently learn from the younger generations. It’s also important to point out that age discrimination can happen in all directions: Just as it’s unfair for younger employees to  assume that the older generations have nothing new to offer, we need to acknowledge that just because younger employee haven’t had as much work experience, doesn’t mean that they don’t possess valuable skills. Ultimately, for mentoring to work, both parties need to focus on building a productive relationship.

Tips for Building a Mentoring Relationship

Here are a few tips for building a great mentoring relationship:

  • Both parties should be able to opt-in or opt-out of the relationship with no undue hardship;
  • Create a process by which mentors and mentees can voluntarily select each other;
  • Provide both mentors and mentees with guidance as to how they can build a successful relationship;
  • Focus on what both experienced and younger employees wants to learn and how each party can bring something valuable to the relationship.

Reverse mentoring allows all four generations to effectively interact and learn from each other. Organizations that actively promote this new form of mentoring may find that an increased number of Traditionalists, Baby Boomers and Gen Xers want to participate in your mentoring program  An added bonus, Gen Ys will be engaged early on as successful contributors to your business.

Giselle Kovary

As president and co-founder of n-gen People Performance Inc., Giselle is dedicated to building strategies and programs that help clients target, motivate and engage employees in order to increase performance and productivity. She is a sought after resource to industry leaders, having worked with 18 of the top Fortune 500 companies across North America. Over 60,000 people globally have experienced an n-gen workshop or presentation. With close to 20 years of experience in learning and development, she has devoted more than 13 years to researching the impact that generational differences have on organizational performance.

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