Reverse Mentorship: How Boomers Can Learn from Generation Y - Black Enterprise
Black Enterprise Magazine September/October 2018 Issue

In reverse mentorship, the experience of both the young and the seasoned are combined for two-way learning in the workplace

With today’s boomers staying in the workplace longer–putting off retirement due to markets laying a smackdown on 401(k) and other retirement accounts–many work under recent graduates young enough to be their children. According to a recent survey, 69 percent of workers ages 55 and up said their bosses are younger than them. The task of bridging generational and professional gaps, while actually getting work done, can be challenging, and for some, intimidating. One solution companies are embracing is reverse mentorship, where younger employees and management work with senior employees to facilitate an environment where the unique experiences of each work toward a common progression.”

A company can facilitate such a relationship by establishing a team approach instead of a hierarchy authoritative method of getting things done,” says Judith Colemon, career coach and CEO of Sherpa Coaching L.L.C. “Support team structures and coaching which teach employees to own their behaviors and gives them a constructive way to address those behaviors that are not working.” Colemon offers these tips on how boomers can remain viable in a competitive job market and manage a successful working relationship with younger colleagues.

If you hold resentment or negative thoughts about working with or under someone younger than you, check those emotions. “Ask yourself, ‘What is it exactly that I resent? How do I behave as a result of this resentment? Does it work for me?'” Coleman suggests. Communicate your way through it to find solutions on how to approach those feelings and separate personal from professional.

Be confident in your experience and humble in wanting to learn more. “That confident demeanor affords the boomer the opportunity to be a student because they have nothing to prove,” Coleman says. “It allows them to share their ideas and experiences without behaving authoritatively–which Generations X and Y can’t stand.”

Admit when you don’t know how to do something and work as a team. Participate in a discussion of equals to develop strategies or solve a problem, Coleman suggests. “It becomes irrelevant who is right or wrong or who knows or doesn’t know. The important focus becomes forward moment,” she adds.

Let your experience speak through your work. You don’t have to wear your resume on your sleeve, Coleman says. “A boomer should stop reminding people constantly of where they have worked and how much experience they possess. Allow people to ask for your input. It positions the boomer to be valued.”

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Janell Hazelwood

Janell Hazelwood is associate managing editor at Black Enterprise, managing content across core areas of Money, Career, Small Business and Technology. She is also a featured blogger with My Two Cents, providing insights on branding, millennial career development, employment trends and leadership. She was previously a content producer and copy editor for Black Enterprise magazine, working across several editorial sections. The Hampton University graduate got her start in the newspaper industry, having worked for companies including The New York Times and Scripps Howard News Service. Her works and insights have appeared on The Huffington Post, MadameNoire, E!Online, Brazen Careerist, CBS News, and Arise TV.