Jodie Foster’s comments about Gen Z being ‘really annoying’ to work with have made waves across national media throughout the past couple of weeks, sparking conversations around generational gaps and stereotypes within the workplace.
The comments only help to reinforce harmful stereotypes that ‘Gen Zs are snowflakes’, that they’re less resilient, and more prone to taking offence than older generations who simply get on with the job. Put simply, there’s a narrative that Gen Zs don’t want to work hard.
In response, older generations have been criticised for being close-minded, dismissive of new ideas, and unwilling to embrace change.
With the pace of change and transformation accelerating, any disruption between more established colleagues and a new generation entering the workforce will impact organisations and individuals alike, affecting the speed by which workforces can adapt and grow.
Instead, tech organisations should be at the forefront of combating unnecessary division, and instead seek effective ways to facilitate productive collaboration between employees to ensure their culture drives high performance.
Bridging the gap
So, how can organisations ‘bridge the gap’?
In theory, this sounds great, but how can tech organisations begin to bridge this gap? At Grayce, we operate a reverse mentoring scheme which sees junior colleagues taking on the role of a mentor to senior colleagues. It is an opportunity for employees with diverse backgrounds to share their experiences and perspectives.
The scheme is an effective strategy to promote a positive culture that allows colleagues from different generations to work together. In a really simple way, it supports organisations to bridge the gap simply by demystifying those aforementioned narratives.
It goes beyond purely promoting Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. The scheme provides a supportive environment for curiosity where mentors and mentees can freely ask each other questions outside the confines of day-to-day work. The diverse thoughts and experiences it exposes allows participants to better inform business decisions. For example, it can act as an early warning system for senior leaders to gauge employee sentiment and implement necessary business-critical changes.
In practice, this means teams can work cohesively, encouraging new ways of thinking and problem solving in a safe way. We know that stagnant ideas and a fear of failure are anathema to tech organisations needing to lead the way in innovation. Reverse mentoring, instead, creates a work environment where innovation can flourish.
We’ve seen multiple positive benefits from implementing these schemes. Analyst Abdi-Assis Ismail, reflected: “I felt empowered to lend my voice to younger and underrepresented employees. I used my experience and knowledge to offer a fresh perspective to my mentees, bridging generation gaps and improving communication.”
Their colleague, Symrun Parekh, added: “Reverse mentoring has been an incredible opportunity to communicate with individuals I would not have spoken to otherwise. Being part of the initiative has exposed me to new ideas, viewpoints and conversations. Giving advice to senior colleagues has increased my confidence and demonstrated that every individual is capable of having their voice heard. It empowers every individual to share their story, be heard and be open minded to others.”
Cultivating positive company culture
Reverse mentoring can go beyond solving business problems, too. It’s all about cultivating a positive company culture more broadly. Recent research from Vitality has shown that younger employees often do not feel that their workplaces promote their wellbeing, for example. In fact, one in five say their managers don’t care about their health.
Schemes which actively seek to promote multigenerational harmony, such as reverse mentoring, can tackle this by encouraging more open conversations between employees, particularly around mental health and wellbeing. If you’re a senior leader, it’s a useful tool for getting ahead of the game and understanding your workforce.
This is backed up by our own research that shows an organisation’s commitment to wellbeing is really important to Gen Zs, with nearly one in three (30%) saying that they would take a pay cut as long as the money was invested back into the organisation’s culture and wellbeing programme.
If organisations are willing to invest in programmes that encourage harmony and wellbeing amongst its people, it can benefit productivity and performance across the business.
Making reverse mentoring a success
It’s not quite as simple as clicking your fingers and everything falling in place, though. For reverse mentoring to be a success, it’s vital businesses invest time upfront into matching mentors with mentees.
Organisations can take various approaches to this. For example, interviewing employees to find out what they want out of the experience and what they can give in return. For instance, a younger colleague who is skilled in AI could be paired with a more senior colleague who is a skilled public speaker. This will ensure both employees can see benefits, resulting in the most positive outcomes.
It is important for organisations to ensure that reverse mentoring schemes are set up within a safe space with mutual levels of respect and trust so that both parties are willing to learn from each other. The mentor and mentee need to listen carefully to each other and be open to and accept feedback.
Moreover, there needs to be clear expectations in place and goals need to be set from the start. A learning agreement template could be set up by the organisation to help the mentor and mentee set these goals.
Once schemes have been implemented, to ensure they are achieving the original goals, workshops or feedback surveys can be used to reflect on progress and employees can share learnings amongst each other. This can be used to inform the process for future cohorts.
Ultimately, reverse mentoring enables both participants to feel heard, developing richer and more useful perspectives by removing some of the traditional hierarchical barriers to learning. But reverse mentoring also has the power to go further than purely supporting individuals in the moment, learnings shared on the success of the scheme can be incorporated in EDI strategy and wider business strategies.
By embedding it as a tool for business transformation, tech companies can unlock the vast knowledge, experiences, and skills of the emerging workforce. Not only strengthening relationships, but also contributing to a more inclusive culture where employees feel accepted and heard, ultimately fostering an environment of innovation and high performance.