21 May 2019
Young executives can learn a lot from their experienced colleagues, and vice versa. Photo:
Young executives can learn a lot from their experienced colleagues, and vice versa. Photo:

How reverse mentoring helps to connect with young generation

Many universities and big corporations have mentoring schemes, matching junior students with outstanding graduates or management trainees with senior management. Mentors guide and advise young people on their academic and career development.

However, I often hear complaints from friends, who seem to have problems interacting with their mentees, especially those born after the 1990s.

For example, mentors need to write several emails or make multiple phone calls in order to confirm a gathering of three or four mentees. Some of them may not reply after reading the message, or reply with confusing words or emojis. Mentees are also frequently late for these gatherings, or leave early or even fail to show up.

The generation gap exists not only between senior students and their mentees; many corporations are also grappling with the issue of management gap.

Senior management finds it increasingly difficult to understand their young colleagues.

In the past, young employees cared most about their salary and career growth. That being the case, a pay raise and promotion were effective tools to motivate them.

But nowadays the sense of work-life balance and loyalty among the young generation is different. A young employee with a good pay and promising career may quit their job just to enjoy more holidays or to travel.

To bridge the gap, numerous multinational corporations like Facebook, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte, P&G, UnitedHealth and Target have implemented some sort of reverse mentoring scheme.

Healthcare giant UnitedHealth Group, for example, has rolled out a program that pairs senior executives in its insurance division with millennials seen as “emerging leaders”.

The average age gap is over 25 years. Veteran management will spend one day each month following the young mentor in the office. Also, millennials will hang out with their bosses outside the office in order to help them connect with the younger generation.

BBC is launching a similar scheme in October. The program will match senior management with a mentor whose age is under 30.

James Purnell, the BBC’s director of radio and education, said in its content creation section, the percentage of senior leaders under 30 is only 0.1 percent. As a result, BBC programs are getting increasingly unpopular with the new generation.

BBC hopes the initiative will help senior management connect with young audiences. Perhaps Hong Kong companies could take a page from BBC.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept.  25

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal columnist

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