This is the second in a series of four blogs that will provide insight into the multi-generational workforce. If you haven't already read the first installment, please see Leadership in the Multi-Generational Workplace.
Cross-generational mentoring involves pairing a person from one generation with a person from a different one with a goal of mutual learning and growth.
Cross-generational mentoring recognizes that both older and younger generations have many things to teach and learn from each other that can benefit both individuals. This benefit comes in helping them learn about their specific perspectives and experiences, which can increase their ability to work and communicate effectively with individuals of a different generation.
What do all generations of workers have in common? They all want to be relevant in the job market of tomorrow. All generational groups believe that training is the most important thing that companies can offer today. In a study reported in the Diversity Journal, workers from across the generations (30% Gen-Y, 32.8% Gen-X, 24.1% Boomers, 4.3% Veterans), responded in a massive 75% majority that they thought a mentoring program would be beneficial.
Can Mentoring Bridge the Workplace Generation Gap?
Cross-generational mentoring recognizes that there are skill gaps on both sides. By creating a mentoring relationship where both younger and older share experiences, skills and new ways of working, employers will be able to create a bridge to eliminate both the generational and skills gaps that exist. Building these "bridging" relationships will also foster a greater sense of community within the organization--another element in the workplace that is highly valued by all employees.
Mentoring programs can help to build bridges between generations helping them to become familiar with each generation's differences and strengths, but they also bring individual benefits for both mentor and mentored.
Example: Gen Y and Gen X are particularly hungry for personal, professional and career development support. Studies show that cross-generational mentoring can boost careers and keep young employees committed to the organization, career development, future promotions and increased visibility in the organization.
But, it's not just the younger employee who benefits. Older workers benefit as well.
Example: Boomers can get the satisfaction of passing wisdom and knowledge to others; learn to connect more effectively with the younger generation; and even benefit from reverse mentoring in the areas of new technology and emerging trends.
So, a mentoring program can not only be of great benefit to younger and older workers, it can help to reduce generational tensions, leading to greater team cohesion and organizational effectiveness.
How Will Cross-Generational Mentoring Benefit Your Organization?
Knowing how to identify and utilize the unique strengths of each generation in your organization in a way that benefits your business as a whole is critical in today's competitive, ever-changing business environment. By successfully bridging the generation gap you will no doubt bring a positive effect on your team's overall performance and productivity.
Following are some business advantages of cross-generational mentoring:
- You can capture older workers' knowledge and pass it on. As Boomers get closer to retirement age, your team is in danger of having years of wisdom and experience head out the door. By establishing good mentoring relationships, there are plenty of opportunities to pass that knowledge on to the younger generations who will continue the team's good work.
- Younger workers can energize your older workers and boost productivity. Their energy, constant questioning and challenging of assumptions are great for improving process (assuming you are a leader open to new ideas). And if you give them the chance, the younger generation can demonstrate why they love technology so much: It often gets things done more easily.
- You can build a stronger team. When you implement a cross-mentoring program, you are jump-starting a process that might not happen on its own. Keep in mind, many great relationships started because people were thrown together and had to make the best of it.
A Case Study
In a recent Ernst & Young survey conducted in America which asked professionals from the three 'working' generations what their perceptions were of the other generations they worked with, some interesting and notable differences were discovered. In summary these are:
- Baby Boomers (people born between the mid 1940s and mid 1960s) were found to be the most cost-effective and hard-working, yet the least entrepreneurial.
- Generation X (people born between the mid 1960s and early 1980s) were found to be great team players with strong entrepreneurial and problem solving skills but poorly represented at executive level.
- Generation Y (people born between the early 1980s and mid 1990s) were found to be the most tech-savvy but the most difficult to work with.
Although the results may be perceived to show unfavorably to the youngest generation in light of traditional business thinking, it is important to note that their very unique attitude and preferred way of work is not yet accommodated for in most businesses.
Generation Y prioritizes work/life balance, flexibility and transparency, ideas that contradict the workplace norm that Baby Boomers, for example are accustomed to. This then further explains the concern that Generation Y 'job-hops' frequently, making training investment risky.
A Final Thought
The reality is that Gen-Y is our future workforce and leadership. It is likely that they will redefine the current norms. However, you need to keep the values of the previous generations alive by instilling their hard-working, loyal culture in the younger generation through cross-generational mentoring programs in order to keep your business future-focused, agile and relevant.
This is of importance when you consider that Generation Z is now coming of working age. While not much is known of their working behavior as yet, all signs suggest that they will be even more technologically sophisticated and Internet savvy than their Generation Y forerunners--and perhaps even more independent-minded. More bridges will be needed soon.