Why reverse mentoring works for everyone

Neuroscientist Dr Lynda Shaw outlines how reverse mentoring provides benefits for those taking part as well as for organisations as a whole.



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 it 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 usually less mixing across the hierarchy or where the team is geographically not in the same space or spread apart.

Why is it 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

Reverse mentoring can be a powerful tool for both mentor and mentee from a neuroscience perspective, says brain and behaviour specialist, neuroscientist and C-suite mentor Dr Lynda Shaw. “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.”

“When 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

Dr Lynda Shaw also describes how 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,” she says.

A study published in the Journal of Managerial Psychology found there is an urgency for HR directors 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.

So we know that reverse mentoring can help with collaboration, communication, problem-solving,innovation and creativity, and encourages curiosity and the acquisition of new knowledge, skills and insights, but there are also deeper, less obvious benefits, according to Dr Shaw.

1. It reduces bias and stereotypes. Talking and learning from different generations can bring new perspectives by diminishing bias and stereotypes and talking to someone who 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 the skill sets of other generations and develop mutual understanding, and practice compassion and empathy which can also prevent microaggressions and bullying.

2. It promotes Diversity and Inclusion. Reverse mentoring can help foster a culture of
inclusivity and increases 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. It increases engagement. Reverse mentoring can increase engagement simply by providing equal opportunities for learning and growth and boosting and injecting fresh energy. An open mindset and willingness to learn are necessary for success.

4. It increases confidence. New and successful scenarios and experiences can build confidence and self-esteem and be empowering.

5. It 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 and take responsibility for mistakes and share joint successes.

6. It 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. It 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. It provides a positive role model. 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.

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