Reverse mentoring: a multi-generation solution?
Reverse mentoring is not a new concept. It was introduced in the 1990s, primarily as a way for senior managers and/or older people within the company to connect with the younger generation of employees, who would share their expertise, typically technology and digital media.
Now, reverse mentoring involves all levels across organisations and is helping to improve diversity and inclusion cultures, including around mental health.
Charlie Waller Workplace Consultant Jane Abraham explains how it works and its benefits: “With reverse mentoring, the mentor is the younger, more diverse person. It’s a great way for them to get heard. It’s good for their visibility in the organisation, helping them to build networks and gain an insight into strategy and leadership.”
For the mentee, it’s an opportunity to hear lived experience and to understand what it’s really like to work in the organisation. Jane experienced this first-hand, as part of a project to trial reverse mentoring at the Cornwall Partnership Foundation Trust, where she is a non-executive director.
Jane’s mentor was a woman in middle management, part of the LGBTQ+ community and who had a serious ongoing mental health condition. They met regularly over six months, during which time Jane says she learnt so much. “I learnt about her experiences of being managed in relation to her mental health and how she was treated, and about her experiences of being part of the LBGTQ+ community and the inherent homophobia at work – I had thought we were good at that part, but we weren’t. It was enlightening!”
The mentoring process has made a positive difference to the mentor too. Jane says: “She told me how great it was to be able to evaluate her experiences and to feel that someone had heard her voice. It’s been empowering too, because she’s seen the changes that we’ve made.”
She told me how great it was to be able to evaluate her experiences and feel someone had heard her voice."
Those changes have included setting up, at the mentor’s suggestion, a learning action set for managers around managing the return to work for staff with a mental health condition. Jane explains: “She had told me that she’d had two very different experiences herself, one where the manager’s response had felt very patronising, while the other made her feel trusted and valued. Now managers can hear the voice of lived experience in the learning set.”
With 20 of these partnerships taking place, Jane says it has been “transformative” for the organisation. “It’s opened up channels of communication, it’s good for talent retention, and has created cultural change. It’s been so successful that there’s now a rolling programme of reverse mentoring.”