Closing the Gap on Generational Differences

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Generational differences in the workplace

Business mentoring programs typically pair older, more seasoned employees with younger, less experienced employees as a means to show newcomers the ins and outs of the organization.

There are other objectives of mentoring programs, some of
which are listed below:

  • Improve the company’s ability to recruit and retain talented employees
  • Provide opportunities for professional and personal development
  • Build relationships
  • Enhance teamwork
  • Share knowledge and learn new skills
  • Increase personal accountability, leadership and coaching skills

Given the current state of trying to manage the challenges of an intergenerational workforce, starting a mentoring program might make sense–perhaps not a traditional mentoring program as previously described, but a reverse mentoring program.

In a reverse mentoring program, younger and older employees are paired, but it is the younger employee who takes on the role of mentor, while the seasoned employee becomes the mentee. Wild idea? Maybe, or maybe not.

What are some characteristics of the multi-generational workforce? Retention is a huge issue, especially for Millennials, the group with the highest propensity to leave their current positions. Millennials typically want to work on teams with innovative people, have immediate impact, and need to be heard. They are technically competent, comfortable with diversity, and desire balance in their lives. Baby Boomers can be workaholics, may lack technological proficiency, desire quality work, like teamwork and appreciate feeling needed, and want to make a difference.

These characteristics may, on the surface, sound vastly different, maybe even in opposition. On closer review, a reverse mentoring program may help close the gap on generational differences, by playing to the strengths, needs, and values previously mentioned of Millennials and Baby Boomers. Technical expertise can be shared, collaboration on projects can ensue, technological knowledge can improve efficiencies, and support for learning and development can occur. In addition, the objectives of traditional mentoring programs may very well be recognized.

Reverse mentoring is not a new concept; Jack Welch of GE introduced it back in 1999 to help his top managers learn about the Internet. However, using reverse mentoring as a way to reduce conflict, build mutual respect, understanding, and appreciation may be a unique way to close the generational gap.

For other unique ways to reduce multigenerational conflict and build mutual respect, please contact me.

Sources: 
Wendy Marcinkus Murphy’s Reverse Mentoring at Work: Fostering Cross Generational Learning and Developing Millennial Leaders http://www.uky.edu/Centers/iwin/RTOCT12/Murphy_Reverse%20Mentoring_HRM21489.pdf

Greg Hammill’s Mixing and Managing Four Generations of Employees http://www.fdu.edu/newspubs/magazine/05ws/generations.htm

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