How Different Generations View Mentoring

Chris Browning


Generation differences header

In conversations with HR practitioners and talent development leaders, people regularly ask me about one thing: the way that different generations view mentoring. This is a fascinating topic and one I’ve talked about over the years. To understand how different generations view workplace mentoring today, we need to first examine how mentoring came about in the corporate setting.

Generational Views on the Mentoring Process

The 1980s and ‘90s ushered in the idea of formal mentoring in the workplace, in large part because of diversity initiatives aimed at increasing the number of women and minorities in leadership roles. Because these programs were exclusive and designed to give high potential individuals greater access to senior leaders for formal sponsorship, mentoring was assumed to be a one-to-one relationship between a more experienced mentor and a more junior mentee, often with a focus on career satisfaction and advancement.

This led to the oldest generation in the workforce, Traditionalists, viewing mentoring as an obligation—they were the senior leaders who were asked to step up as mentors. Baby Boomers were the generation seeking out mentorship, which led them to view mentoring as a way to get ahead.

With the amazing technological advancements of the 21st century, such as email and video conferencing, Generation X started pushing Baby Boomers to experiment with virtual relationships and electronic communication. Gen X wanted to engage in more virtual mentoring, and they also wanted to more easily collaborate with their peers. This highlighted their view that mentoring is about collaboration.

Today, Millennials and Gen Z have shaken things yet up again. For Millennials, mentoring is simply collaborative, networked learning that includes many people. It is a process where they use technology to connect with people across an organization so that they can share critical knowledge and skills, and solicit advice and opinions from people with diverse backgrounds. They view mentoring as a way to make learning connections, in large part because they want to connect with people who can give them practical advice within the context of their daily work.

When it comes to Gen Z in the workplace, they see mentoring as the way work gets done. They value the input of people who have more experience than they do, and seek it out so that they can apply it to their own jobs and lives.

Generational-perceptions-of-mentoring-2018-1Leveraging mentoring software to help run your mentoring program is absolutely critical. People fully expect to have technology at their fingertips for all aspects of their work and personal lives, and mentoring is no different. Mentoring technology also helps administrators run their program more effectively and efficiently.

One thing to keep in mind, however, is that mentoring cannot be successfully accomplished by solely bringing in a technology and hoping employees will go there to learn and collaborate. It’s not a “build it and they will come” scenario. Employees must know where to go and how to engage in this type of learning, and administrators must consistently promote the program and draw in new or inactive participants. To increase the program’s overall visibility, you can enlist the help of your organization’s marketing department or draw upon your own personal experience to help you market the program in ways that will speak to your organization’s culture. 

To successfully implement a mentoring program, you have to understand the motivation behind why people want to participate. You also have to speak about the program in terms and ways that make sense to them. Having a better understanding of what different generations think about mentoring is a great starting point for accomplishing this.

What do you think? Do you view mentoring according to your generational category? Connect with us on LinkedInTwitter, Facebook or Instagram to share your thoughts.

Chris Browning