Reverse mentoring can be a powerful tool for both mentor and mentee, explains Dr Lynda Shaw
Reverse mentoring is a practice where younger or less experienced employees are paired with more experienced executives or managers to share knowledge and insights. But it requires the right setting and a work culture where opinions and feedback are welcomed, and judgement is parked. Reverse mentoring also 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 less mixing across the hierarchy or where the team is geographically not in the same space or spread apart.
Why Is Reverse Mentoring Better Than Traditional Mentoring?
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.
The Neuroscience Behind It
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. 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. Positive thoughts and experiences stimulate the brain’s dopamine reward system, improving our mood and motivation.
Shared knowledge or experience can activate areas of the brain associated with cognitive processing, memory, learning, social processing and perspective-taking. We also develop the brain’s ability to form new neural connections. 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.
The Psychology of Reverse Mentoring
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 HR 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.
The Benefits of Reverse Mentoring
We know that reverse mentoring can help with collaboration, communication, problem-solving, innovation and creativity, and that it encourages curiosity and the acquisition of new knowledge, skills and insights, but there are also deeper, less obvious benefits:
1. Reduces Bias and Stereotypes
Talking and learning from different generations can bring new perspectives by diminishing bias and stereotypes through talking to someone that perhaps you might not normally chat with. Every generation has its strengths and weaknesses, and we can all benefit from each other’s knowledge. Reverse mentoring enables us to learn to listen and respect and appreciate other generations’ skill sets, develop mutual understanding and practice compassion and empathy, which can also prevent microaggressions and bullying.
2. Promotes Diversity and Inclusion
Reverse mentoring can help foster a culture of inclusivity and increase 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.
3. Increases Engagement
Reverse mentoring can increase engagement simply by providing equal and more opportunities for learning and growth and boosting and injecting fresh energy. An open mindset and willingness to learn are necessary for success.
4. Increases Confidence
5. Develops Leadership Skills
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, take responsibility for mistakes and share joint successes. Mentoring builds skills that can help to improve your staff’s capabilities in a number of different areas, which is of course a money spinner.
6. Reinforces Core Company Values
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.
7. Builds Trust
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. One way to do this involves sharing your own mistakes and how you got around them. Openly inviting input from other colleagues allows everyone’s voice to be heard in team meetings, builds respect and promotes individuality.
8. Exercises Your Brain for Good Neuroplasticity
By opening your mind to learning new things, you are effectively exercising your brain. The process of learning promotes neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to change and adapt according to life experiences.
9. Encourages Positive Role Models
Thriving workplaces need workers to be good listeners and strong collaborators who help each other develop, recognise others’ contributions and make them feel like they are valued. Sharing your hard-earned experience with others is invaluable. There are many people looking to improve themselves and develop their talents. An act of thoughtfulness may one day also inspire your mentee to do the same for someone else.
10. Mentoring Experience Can Help Career Progression
We all feel a sense of achievement when we can utilise our own experiences in championing others. In addition, having the ability to demonstrate commitment outside a normal working role and to show dedication to helping others is highly valued by employers. It’s as much about achieving personal growth and realizing your own potential as it is learning from others.
Psychology studies have also shown that by actively being more positive and helping and working with others whom we like and respect, we feel better about ourselves; we feel less isolated and more valued and validated.