The next big thing in management and organisational development … why your organisation should be considering reverse mentoring

A jigsaw of a handshake being completed ny two hands.

Think of the modern workplace and a number of features may spring to mind: technological innovations, flexible and remote working, to name a few. However, a more social factor is also at play: the multigenerational workforce. For the first time in history, it is now feasible that a workforce could comprise employees from four different generations, i.e. the World War II Generation (born 1929-1945), Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964), Generation X (born 1965-1979) and Generation Y/Millennials (born after 1980).

The characteristics of a generation

In 2012, Ashridge Business School identified that Generation Y (Gen Y) has grown up in an environment that is very different to previous generations. Additionally, their survey of managers from around the world found that Gen Y:

  • comes to the workplace with different skills;
  • is motivated by different things;
  • thinks differently about learning and development; and
  • approaches work relationships differently.

As noted by Steve Regus, writing for HR magazine in 2012, Gen Y also take a less hierarchical attitude towards work, and place a high importance on mentoring and feedback. The trick, according to Regus, is for organisations to utilise the strengths of this diverse workforce to their advantage, by creating opportunities to learn from each other.

The technological benefits of reversing

One way that some organisations have approached this is through reverse mentoring. Rather than following the usual path of older, more senior employees being assigned a newer colleague to mentor, reverse mentoring (unsurprisingly) sees younger or newer employees sharing their knowledge with company stalwarts. An early champion of this strategy in the 90s was Jack Welch, then CEO of General Electric. Welch recognised the importance of capitalising on the skills of the company’s younger employees, and instigated an initiative that saw older employees learn how to use Netscape. Today, reverse mentoring is commonplace in global companies including Microsoft and Cisco.

Technology is an area in which reverse mentoring is particularly valuable. Having grown up in an age of constant technological change and development, Gen Y are ideally placed to offer insight into how technological innovation can benefit an organisation and its processes. Crucially, technological innovation has also opened up the possibility of working more flexibly, something that is highly valued by Gen Y employees. Senior employees who have taken part in reverse mentoring programmes have also highlighted gaining an insight into the potential benefits of flexible working as one of the positive outcomes of developing a mentoring relationship with a younger employee. Thus, opening up this dialogue between generations can potentially diffuse conflict between the traditional 9-5 generations and the less hierarchical Gen Y.

A two-way street

In practice, reverse mentoring has been found to be less ‘teaching an old dog new tricks’ and more of an exchange of information and experience. At General Electric, one of the most basic benefits for the young mentors was simply the ability to gain contacts in the upper echelons of the company. The mutual benefits of the relationship can also be seen in terms of the insight it offers each party. The older participant gains in terms of gaining new perspectives on the company’s industry, and the thinking of its workforce, while the younger gains a better understanding of the company’s strategies and objectives, and becomes better placed to recommend actions or technologies that may support these.

Reverse mentoring – how to do it

In 2013, Boston College’s Sloan Center on Aging and Work published an evaluation of the implementation of a reverse mentoring initiative by The Hartford, a leading US insurance company. The company’s CEO had identified a need for the company to become more confident in its use of digital technologies, particularly social media, and recognised that its younger employees were best placed to drive this forward. Following a successful initial pilot that went onto become a national initiative within the company, The Hartford highlighted the following factors as crucial to the success of any reverse mentoring programme:

  • the creation of a project timeline;
  • identifying the business objectives – link the reverse mentoring programme to what the business is trying to achieve as far as possible;
  • ensure that mentors are fully informed of what mentees are expecting to get out of the exchange;
  • making sure the initiative has clear agendas and timelines;
  • using the mentor role as a way of keeping younger employees motivated; and
  • encourage both mentors and mentees to be open to the relationship and gaining new knowledge, and to respect that each other approaches learning differently.

The final point is echoed by the majority of companies who have used reverse mentoring within their organisation. Initially, Cisco had issues around more senior employees adapting to younger employees’ more informal way of working. As they, and other reverse mentoring adoptees have discovered, though, the key is commitment to the programme, in recognition of the value it can bring to the business.


Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in policy and practice are interesting our research team.

Further reading: if you liked this blog post, you might also want to read Heather Cameron’s post on how entrepreneurship drives growth in the UK.

Supercommuting: is it worth it?

crowd rush on the london tube

By Rebecca Jackson

In recent years there has been a surge in the number of people in the UK being classed as ‘supercommuters’ – people who travel more than 90 minutes to work each day. And figures from the TUC published last week suggest that over 3 million of us now have long daily commutes of two hours or more, a rise of 72% in the last decade.

Rising rent, the London-centric nature of the British economy and the desire to maintain a healthy work-life balance have all been cited as factors which have contributed to this mass commute which millions of us, myself included, go through every day.

Reliance on commuting for ‘better job’ opportunities

In a recent survey it was found that accountants have the longest average commute, at 75 minutes, with IT software developers next at 65 minutes. The shortest average commute belongs to those who work in the retail and leisure industries, who have commute times of between 20-30 minutes respectively.

A recent IPPR report suggested that commuting, or more specifically the lack of ability to commute, was resulting in many job-seekers remaining out of work. As a result, a reliance on commuting for ‘better jobs’ was limiting the growth of the British economy, particularly in areas outside of London.

Commuting, and the resulting inflexibility this gives many jobs, can also be a barrier to many women, particularly those with families or caring responsibilities, taking on roles which are higher paid or higher up the ‘corporate ladder’, including more senior roles in company structures and professions such as accountancy and law.

The costs of supercommuting

So how realistic is a ‘supercommute’ in terms of cost, and in terms of family life and commitments … and is it worth it?

I calculated the cost and time it would take to commute to London from 4 cities: Manchester, Edinburgh, Belfast and Barcelona (I chose Barcelona because I know someone who did it for a year!).

The scenario I used was for an individual who works full time in an office in the City of London, within walking distance of Liverpool Street Station. All prices shown are averages and will fluctuate depending on proximity to amenities, time of booking transport etc. This information also does not take into account the cost of living more generally, food, utilities, socialising etc.

Untitled 2*Average time, without excessive traffic or delays, for flights includes check in and transfer to Liverpool Street
** Northern Irish “Rates” are slightly different to council tax
*** For a 1 month Zone 1-6 Oyster card OR to fly from MAN; EDI; BFS; BCN to STN and get the Express to Liverpool Street, 3 days per week, returning each night.

The figures seem to show that cost wise, it’s true, supercommutes can save you money if travelling means that you can take a higher wage or better job.

Work-life balance

People who supercommute, while grateful for the better lifestyle it gives them and their families on days off, often highlight how long commutes, which often mean significantly longer working days, impact on their relationships, their health and require significantly more commitment and energy from them as individuals than a ‘normal 9-5 job’ would. An individual’s personal well-being can often be hugely affected by extreme commuting times.

Statistics have also shown that people who supercommute, who have a wife or partner who doesn’t commute with them, or doesn’t undertake a similar length of commute of their own, have a higher rate of divorce and/or separation. And those with children reported stressed and difficult relationships with them too.

Studies have also shown that its not all about the money, and that to equate monetary value to distance commuted, you would need to be offered a pay rise of 40% to compensate for the detriment caused in other areas of life by an extra hour’s commute.

Another factor influencing how realistic supercommuting is as an option for employees, is the willingness of the company, and the ability of the job, to be flexible. Many people who are interviewed, or used as successful case examples of supercomputing, work in jobs where they can work remotely for part or all of the time.

And as you can see in my example above, it is based on the understanding that those commuting from outside London are only doing so on a 3 day week basis, with a view that they would work remotely from home on the other two days. Not all jobs can facilitate this, and neither can all employees.

Is it worth it?

Supercommuting can, therefore, be a way to save money, and offer improved quality of life, enabling people to live closer to family or in the countryside. However it comes at a potential cost to social life and relationships, and to personal well-being in terms of physical and mental health.

Sadly it’s not all afternoon strolls or sangria weekends on a beach in Barcelona, although this can be part of it. It takes commitment to the job and the commute itself and a regular reassessment of the question of “is it actually worth it?”

And, unfortunately for many, supercommuting is no longer a choice, but a situation forced on workers by the state of the housing or employment markets.


Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in policy and practice are interesting our research team.

Further reading: if you liked this blog post, you might also want to read Donna Gardiner’s post on remote working

Sharing the caring – tackling the cultural and financial barriers to Shared Parental Leave

Baby hand in father's palmBy Donna Gardiner

New Shared Parental Leave legislation came into force in England, Scotland and Wales on the 1st December 2014.

The legislation provides much greater flexibility in regards to how parents care for their child over the first year of his or her life. Specifically, a new mother can opt to curtail her maternity leave (subject to a minimum of two weeks), and have the child’s father or her partner take any of the remaining weeks as Shared Parental Leave.

Anticipated uptake and impact

The aim of the legislation is to encourage more men to share childcare, drive greater gender equality in the workplace, and eliminate discrimination around maternity leave. The government estimates that around 285,000 couples will be eligible to share leave from April 2015, and that take up will be around 8%.  However, it is not clear whether significant numbers of fathers will take up Shared Parental Leave in practice.

On one hand, there does appear to be evidence that fathers will welcome the new proposals. Research conducted by Working Families found that many fathers wanted to increase the amount of time they spent at home with their children. Indeed, many fathers, particularly those in the 26-35 age group, felt resentful towards their employers because of their poor work-life balance.

These findings are echoed by the IPPR, which found that one in five fathers wanted to change their working patterns, and another one in five wanted to spend more time with their baby, but couldn’t because of financial or workplace reasons. Another report found that over half (57%) of fathers working full time wanted to reduce their hours to spend more time with their children.

Cultural and financial barriers

However, despite the apparent desire among fathers to spend more time with their children, considerable barriers remain. Continue reading

Learning to manage remote workers effectively

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by Donna Gardiner

As of last month, all employees with at least 26 weeks’ continuous service will have the right to make a request to their employer for flexible working under new Flexible Working Regulations.  Previously, the right to request flexible working was restricted to only those with children and certain carers. Continue reading