Good Reverse Mentoring Is Actually a Two-Way Street

Gen Z doesn't want to be pigeonholed as 'digital natives'

Brandweek will feature live discussions with marketing pros at ULTA Beauty, Converse, UPS and more. Meet us in Miami Sept. 11–14 to boost your business and elevate your brand.

The industry has faced some significant challenges recently, from the debate about working from home and how it impacts office culture and community to hiring talent who aligns with your mission and also brings marketable skills—that change nearly every week.

Gen Z has a lot to offer to the workplace, with new insights and ideas for their older colleagues. These range from what to do with emerging technologies and platforms (i.e., the metaverse), content creation (i.e., TikToks and Reels) and taking a more active role as a company (i.e., advocacy and brand activism).

In many cases, organizations hire Gen Z professionals to fill these roles and establish mentorship programs. However, what is sometimes missing is the perspective that good mentoring is not one-sided. Both junior and senior colleagues stand to learn from each other.

My students are mostly hired to do social media and content creation. They’re expected to know everything—they’ve been labeled in the industry as “digital natives.” They may have grown up with the technology and be willing to share this knowledge, but they also want to learn from fellow colleagues. We need to ask: How can mentoring be a win-win situation?

Gen Z is more than just emerging media and tech—they can offer unique skillsets and perspectives that are valuable for brands and marketers to embrace and learn from:

  • Being confident in yourself and your work. There is always pressure in the industry to fit a cookie-cutter mold as a professional. Gen Z is independent, self-confident and embraces their own uniqueness in a healthy and positive way.
  • Taking initiative to do things yourself. If things need to change, sometimes we need to be that change. Gen Z is always questioning the status quo—they are the ones willing to host workshops, share resources and be forward-thinking. Driving change also ties into flexible work practices, multitasking, and being self-sufficient and practical.
  • Efficiency hacks. Time is of the essence for Gen Z—the faster they can get something done, the better. Think of the tricks Miss Excel shares on TikTok. Genius!
  • Everyone has something to contribute. This is a take Gen Z is really focused on and passionate about. They are the ones making sure voices are welcomed, heard and articulated in professional and personal scenarios.

Beyond reverse mentoring, Gen Z can learn things from other age cohorts such as:

  • Business cultural context. Gen Z wants to spark change. To do that, they need other cohorts to share the history of what has happened and how that influenced the way things are practiced now.
  • Crisis communication. Navigating difficult moments, and how to handle the stress and uncertainty that come with them, can be overwhelming. Explaining best practices and preparing a Plan B are really important to share with Gen Z—they have gone through a lot as a cohort.
  • Mastering traditional tools of the trade. We cannot assume the latest tools can always get the job done. We have to be aware of all the tools at our disposal and how to adapt in learning them. Increasingly, fax machines and landline phones fit into this category.
  • Old-school networking. Sending a text or sliding into a DM is great, but what about cold calling or networking at a formal, in-person event?
  • Negotiating deals and positions. What are the tricks of the trade when it comes to negotiating a job offer or balancing a counter-offer? Experience helps when navigating this process.
  • Addressing challenges head on. In some cases, the only experience Gen Z has had professionally has been as a freelancer, on top of school, projects and social responsibilities. The Gen Z hire may be overwhelmed with new expectations and need a helping hand to learn how to adapt.

Ultimately, respect is needed from both parties; we can all learn from each other. We’ve seen the memes and stereotypes for all age cohorts, but no one wants to be addressed with “OK, Boomer!” or be told they are spending too much on lattes and avocado toast.

In my classes, I share my own experiences and takeaways based on my work, but I make sure to keep an open mind and listen. Senior team members need to be open to new ideas and suggestions, where Gen Z needs to be open to feedback and insights based on experience from other team members.

Better yet, you may share something that ignites a spark in another person. This type of impact—coming from either side of the aisle—is so powerful and rewarding. Be openminded and intentional when investing in relationships from both sides, and have regularly scheduled check-ins to build them.

Strategize and plan out your reverse mentorship program. Many times, people want to start one but the process is unclear. You’ll have to determine the need for the program, what you hope to learn and what you think you can offer. Then, make a plan on how this will look long-term, with meetings, check-ins, potential opportunities and issues, and how you will measure success.