Weekly Wrap: Reverse Mentoring Cuts Through the Generational Logjam

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t understand the generational issues in the workplace that we’re constantly squabbling about.

Many, many times I have written here (and elsewhere) that Millennials get a bad rap, especially when it comes to their workplace ethic. Just late last year I wrote:

The Millennial generation, in my view, is no better or worse than any other generation that came before. Yes, they have their own unique generational issues but in my close experience with them, Millennials reflect what you find in other generations and society as a whole — some are good, some average, some clueless.”

A lot of the negative stuff that Millennials (or Gen Y, if you prefer) get hammered with has to do with the perceived notion that somehow, their workplace ethic is wildly out of whack with what everyone else is doing and that managers need some special kind of coaching to learn how to cope with them.

MasterCard’s reverse mentoring experiment

My response has been that all of that talk is nonsense and that every generation that comes along brings a whole new way of doing things to the job. Good managers get this — hey, people are all different — and they find ways to integrate these younger workers into their work roles and get the best out of them.

So, given my perspective on Millennials in the workplace, I was encouraged this week to see this story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about a reverse mentoring program that MasterCard has launched at their International Operations Center in O’Fallon, Missouri. As the headline put it, Youngsters teach supervisors a thing or two.”

Here’s the gist of it:

The gap between neophytes and experienced employees has been around as long as people have been reporting to places of work.

Last year, MasterCard addressed with a “reverse mentoring” program that asks younger employees to, in effect, take older workers under their wings.

Peer-to-peer coaching is not unusual in corporate or even small business settings. But in most cases the programs call on seasoned employees to impart the wisdom of experience to younger colleagues.

MasterCard, in a concerted effort to retain and promote its younger workers, provided them with an opportunity to share their thoughts and observations on the workplace environment.”

The MasterCard program matched 18 younger mentors with 11 supervisors, usually veteran employees who have been with the company 15-20 years or more. It includes monthly lunch meetings and ongoing discussions that help the older supervisors better understand what the younger employees want out of the job, the differences in working styles and motivations, and, insights into how they can better collaborate.

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Why this reverse mentoring program works

More importantly, it helps to reach out to younger workers who are desperate for more guidance and mentoring. As the story noted:

In light of a Millennial Branding survey that this month revealed that young, recent hires comprise only 7 percent of the workforce at Fortune 500 companies, the opportunity to learn from a mentor is especially attractive to young people.

“It shrinks the big organizations,” (Washington University professor Rik) Nemanick pointed out. “It crosses boundaries that (employees) wouldn’t normally cross.”

(And) its success in O’Fallon prompted MasterCard to offer reverse mentoring to employees at its global headquarters in Purchase, N.Y.”

Here are three things I like about this MasterCard reverse mentoring program:

  1. It treats Millennial workers with respect rather than disparaging them with stereotypical slurs about their motivation and work ethic;
  2. You don’t need to bring in high-priced outside experts or consultants to do this. MasterCard’s HR organization manages this program and that makes it not only less costly to implement but also much more sustainable.
  3. It’s a talent management home run because it leverages the management expertise of the organization to help develop younger talent and (hopefully) the next generation of leaders.

Hearst sued by intern who says she wasn’t paid

Frankly, I’m tired of all the same old tired talk when it comes to Millennials in the workplace. Here’s hoping that this reverse mentoring program at MasterCard becomes a standard for many different companies, and that we can get focused on developing and growing our young talent with a focus on what they do well rather than simply griping — again — about their shortcomings.

Of course, there’s more than reverse mentoring programs in the news this week. Here are other HR and workplace-related items you may have missed. This is TLNT’s weekly round-up of news, trends, and insights from the world of HR and talent management. I do it so you don’t have to.

  • Just how popular is Obama’s health care reform, anyway?A new health tracking poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that “the requirement that everyone obtain health insurance or pay a fine continues to be unpopular. (The January) poll finds the public more than twice as likely to have an unfavorable rather than favorable view of the provision (67 percent to 30 percent), very much in line with findings of previous Kaiser polls. Reflecting this dislike for a mandate, 54 percent of Americans say the Court should rule the individual mandate unconstitutional, while just 17 percent say they think it should be found constitutional.”
  • While other industries struggle, health care jobs boom in Kansas City. The story in the Kansas City Star is blunt and to the point:  “Want a job in health care in Kansas City? You’re hired. The field boomed through the Great Recession and new data show it has no signs of slowing down. Not interested in that? Too bad. Because in nearly every other area industry, the jobs lost in the recession are on a very slow track to come back.”
  • Federal workers earn more than private sector counterparts – before the benefits. It’s not surprising to read this, but the Associated Press story in the Seattle Times tells what we probably have already figured out. “The average federal worker earns about 2 percent more than a private-sector worker in a comparable profession, though the government’s generous pension system means that overall compensation is significantly higher, a government study released Monday said. Once pension and health benefits are factored in, the average federal worker reaps 16 percent more in total compensation than do private-sector workers.”
  • Hearst sued over an unpaid internships. Here’s a story that will get the debate over unpaid internships going again. According to The New York Times Media Decoder blog, “A former unpaid intern for the fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar filed a lawsuit on Wednesday, accusing its parent company, the Hearst Corporation, of violating federal and state wage and hour laws by not paying her even though she often worked there full time. … Employment experts say a growing number of young people, hundreds of thousands of them, do unpaid internships each year as they seek to get a foot in the door and gain work experience. But some interns and labor advocates assert that many employers are taking advantage of these interns — and violating Labor Department rules in the process — by using the interns essentially to do the jobs of other workers and not providing a bona fide educational experience.”
  • How talent drives economic growth. This video is about Mercer’s collaboration with the World Economic Forum on global research about how effective talent mobility can help spur economic growth. It’s worth a look.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.

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