How to Mentor Millennials - dummies

By Dummies Press

It’s no coincidence that there’s been a renewed interest in mentorship programs right as Millennials have become a major presence in the working world. Millennials are clamoring for mentorship programs, and leaders are taking note. Why is that the case?

  • Firstly, technology has changed the game, in more ways than one. It used to be that mentoring wasn’t a collaborative sport, or at least not nearly as much as it is today. Your mentor was a wise sage: think Obi-Wan to Skywalker. The mentee soaked up all the information from the wise mentor. Nowadays, young employees, many with less than a decade of work experience, are bringing digital expertise that make them valuable mentors to more senior employees (enter the era of reverse-mentorship).
  • Secondly, Millennials are pretty savvy about where they could use some extra help. They’re used to collaborating with people in positions of authority and know this access is the best (and maybe only) way to get the 411 on institutional knowledge and other must-know info that you just can’t Google.

Mentorships programs are a win-win. Not only do Millennials get more opportunities to make valuable contributions to the company, but they get access to someone who’ll invest in their future and help them level-up their skills. This allows Millennials to have their voices heard, grow their range of proficiencies, and collaborate with high-level employees, all of which are key to Millennial retention. Mentorship programs touch so much more than Millennial collaboration. They have become essential to keeping attrition rate low and Millennials engaged.

The Millennial mentor and mentee roles

Millennials and the generation after them are entering the workplace with a wealth of knowledge about how to use technology and the Internet. Because they’ve grown up with this tech, they have a level of comfort exploring new systems and tech tools that is unparalleled, earning them the title of “digital natives.” Though their love of technology can also lead to Millennial scorn, this skill isn’t something to be scoffed at. They’re frequently looked to for advice and sometimes even IT help from the older generations. Millennials’ comfort and knowledge around technology is a real value add and something they bring to any mentor-mentee relationship. That one-way has quickly widened into a two-way street. Beyond technology, they may have innovative perspectives on processes or systems that could change. They may be eager to apply the latest technique they learned in school to their current role. At the right times, these perspectives can be powerful.

On the other hand, Millennials often get a bad rap as know-it-alls who are so used to Googling everything that they feel they don’t need to rely on anyone’s wisdom or expertise, because the answer to any question lies at their fingertips. The good news? This is absolutely false. Millennials are only too aware of the limitations of their good friends Google and the Internet. The practical and real-world experience of other generations is a wealth of knowledge that they are incredibly eager to tap into. Millennials want to be mentored; they want access to authority; they are thirsty for knowledge.

How to establish effective mentorship guidelines

As you’re reading this, you may be thinking to yourself, “Awesome — check! We totally have a mentorship program. It says so on our website. Done and done.” Wait a second, though. It’s one thing to say you have a mentoring program, but another thing entirely to actually have one that people use and appreciate. Though leadership may think a mentorship program is in place, there are so few guidelines or such slight assistance in developing those mentorship relationships that employees don’t even try. They have no idea how or where to start. If you want to create a productive and celebrated mentorship program, you have it in you!

Without easily accessible guidelines and training, your mentorship program is in all likelihood lacking. It doesn’t matter what your website copy says or what you say to new employees. A handful of examples of successful mentor-mentee relationships does not a successful program make. Having some sort of structure is crucial, and for Millennials, the more prescriptive, the better. Your mentors may want more freedom to define the relationship, because they’ll likely be the ones with the fuller plates, so it’s not a bad idea to allow them to have some level of autonomy in setting the specifications for what that relationship looks like.

To ensure that the right people are matched up and that both are getting what they want out of the pairing, ask potential mentors and mentees to answer these questions:

  • What is your desired outcome?
  • What type of skills are you trying to improve?
  • Do you have a personality or gender preference?
  • What is the weekly or monthly time commitment you are willing to put in?
  • How often do you want to meet?
  • How often do you have access to the other? (For example, are Fridays the only good day? Do you never work in the office at the same time?)
  • What is the preferred structure of the meeting (agenda-driven and formal, free-flow and informal, themed each time, long- or short-term goals, and so on)?
  • Is there a company-prescribed model that each mentor/mentee can follow or use as a jumping-off point?
  • When will you know that the learning has been accomplished and that it’s time to move on to another mentor/mentee?

Use the information gathered to be sure the right mentors are paired with the right mentees and to create guidelines that will work for everyone involved.

Be as unambiguous as possible about the time allowance and access that Millennials will have to their mentor. Think about the kind of access they’ve had with their parents. It was basically all the time and any time. In the workplace, this type of access is improbable if not impossible. By setting clear expectations at the top of each relationship, and then later at the top of each meeting, you avoid overloading your mentor with the eager, info-hungry, and sometimes overbearing Millennial mentee.

As nice as it would be for mentors and mentees to naturally gravitate toward you, don’t hold your breath waiting for this to happen. A best practice is to inquire of every new hire whether she’s interested in a mentor and then utilize a member of the HR team to actively place this new hire with the appropriate mentor.

How to harness the power of reverse mentorship

When pairing your mentors with mentees, be sure to consider what each party would like to learn more about. Use that information to build successful partnerships that even Sherlock and Watson would be proud of. There is much to be gained by opening the relationship to a two-way model of learning, rather than the more authoritarian “I’ll-tell-you-what’s-what” style of the past:

  • Learning-hungry older gens will add to their skills repertoire and feel quite valued in the process. Just because an employee has been around for years and years, has a wall of career accolades, and is incredibly proficient in his role doesn’t mean he has bid adieu to learning anything new. Too often, companies stop investing in these types of employees because they incorrectly assume that they’ve learned everything they want to learn. Cue the disengagement. In fact, older Millennials usually are the most eager to learn new skills and will seek roles outside of the company to get the education if they aren’t offered the opportunity at work.
  • Millennials will feel empowered and less likely to seek a new environment to work in. Millennials may be known as the generation with the shortest work tenures, but that doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily be that way. Many Millennials choose to stay in an organization when they know the impact they have and when their voices are being heard by their peers and leadership. When they join a symbiotic mentor-mentee relationship, they witness firsthand the impact they’re having on an individual and, consequently, the organization as a whole. This could be the magic tonic to retaining Millennial employees.