Reverse mentoring is a practice where less experienced employees are paired with more experienced managers to share knowledge and insights.
Reverse mentoring can be effective, but it requires the right setting and a work culture where opinions and feedback are welcomed, and it needs to be structured properly to work well and to empower and develop learning.
It usually works best in larger or siloed organisations where there is usually less mixing across the hierarchy or where the team is geographically not in the same space or spread apart.
Reverse mentoring avoids problems associated with one-directional mentoring such as those around hierarchy or the micromanaging of a more junior colleague. Reverse mentoring has a clearer two-way benefit and can boost both individuals’ confidence, skill set and knowledge. The more diverse the partnership the better.
Brain and Behaviour Specialist, Neuroscientist and C-suite mentor Dr Lynda Shaw says that reverse mentoring can be a powerful tool for both mentor and mentee from a neuroscience perspective. “Mentoring by its very nature stimulates our neurotransmitters such as oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine, which puts us in a more positive state of mind as we experience a mutually agreed relationship where we learn, grow and motivate,” she says. “In addition, we are likely to have less cortisol going around our system, will be less stressed and can think more clearly when it comes to problem-solving.”
“By engaging in regular conversations and learning from someone with a different perspective, individuals can stimulate their brain’s neuroplasticity and enhance their cognitive flexibility, which aids decision-making, creativity, working relationships, task sharing, team spirit, mental health and productivity.
Dr Shaw also describes how reverse mentoring has been shown to have positive effects from a psychological perspective. “Studies suggest that reverse mentoring is an effective tool for improving leadership skills, promoting innovation and improving intergenerational communication and collaboration in the workplace.”
A study published in the Journal of Managerial Psychology found there is an urgency for HRD professionals to focus more attention on uniting their workforce and keeping them actively engaged and that reverse mentoring is a good social exchange tool to leverage the expertise, needs, value systems, and work demands of different generations. Reverse mentoring programmes have also been seen to be effective post-pandemic in revitalising work environments, developing employee and employer relationships and enabling better communication in hybrid workplaces.
So we know that reverse mentoring can help with collaboration, communication, problem-solving, innovation and creativity, and encourages curiosity and the acquisition of new knowledge, skills and insights, but there are also deeper, less obvious benefits.
Talking and learning from different generations can bring new perspectives by diminishing bias and stereotypes and talking to someone that perhaps you might not normally chat with. Reverse mentoring enables us to learn to listen and respect and appreciate the skill sets of other generations and develop mutual understanding, and practice compassion and empathy which can also prevent microaggressions and bullying.
Reverse mentoring can help foster a culture of inclusivity and increases the visibility of minority employees by providing a platform for employees of diverse backgrounds to share their perspectives and experiences. It encourages new thinking, role-modelling of the right behaviours and increased empathy.
Both mentor and mentee are able to develop their leadership skills in a safe and confidential space. Reverse mentors can reflect on their actions and decisions and take responsibility for mistakes and share joint successes.
If your company’s core values are clear and known and built on highly valued principles like respect and trust, then reciprocal mutually beneficial relationships mean you are authentically walking the walk, not just talking the talk.
Reverse mentors should feel they can confide and ask questions, but this is not always possible without trust. Making it clear that no question is a stupid question and that you are fully present at the time will build trust and confidence, allowing open communication and the sharing of ideas, opinions, thoughts and constructive feedback.