How are you personally limiting the company you work for?

Are stereotypical perceptions of people limiting potential in the workplace and society generally? And how can reverse mentoring help? Rebecca Wooding reports.

Rebecca Wooding talking about reverse mentoring at the recent ACE Skills Summit.

On 6 June 2018 at the Skills Summit, ACE Progress Network launched the first ever guide to reverse mentoring in the industry. This was the result of a nine-month cross-industry pilot with 11 pairs from large firms to SMEs operating in the natural and built environment sector. 

During the launch presentation of our reverse mentoring guide we asked the audience two questions:

1. What is the stereotype of millennials (born early 1980s - early 2000s)?
2. What is the stereotype of baby boomers (born 1954 - 1964)?

The results were unanimous. Millennials are seen as impatient, lazy and fidgety, while baby boomers are seen as luddites, resistant to change and cynical.

Whilst we joked about our stereotypes, the underlying issue is actually quite a serious one. These attitudes and perceptions limit us in the workplace and in society. They limit how likely we are to collaborate, communicate and grow with resilience. We need to take a step back and ask ourselves why we have these stereotypes and is it just a misunderstanding of what is actually a positive characteristic?

Millennials have grown up in a connected world with an answer to any question at their fingertips in milliseconds, in a world where change happens faster than ever before. I started university with a basic Nokia. Four years later I graduated with a smart phone with 3G. I couldn’t have even imagined 3G when I started university.

Impatience is a perception only. Millennials have simply grown up in a different, rapid-moving world and to survive we have to change with the world. This is not impatience, this is an innate ability to keep up.

Likewise, it is incredibly detrimental to start any relationship thinking in the back of your mind that this person is lazy simply because of the year that they were born. Studies show millennials understand the need to prioritise work-life balance more than any other generation previously. This doesn’t make them lazy, it gives them a healthy mental attitude in a demanding world, which sees an increase of work-related illness such as chronic back pain, stress and fatigue. They are used to using technology to find more efficient ways of doing something. This is not laziness, this is resourcefulness in improving your personal effectiveness.

For baby boomers to been seen as luddites is equally damaging and often leads to quite frankly vulgar, condescending behaviour. Part of the problem is you don’t know what you don’t know, particularly if change is happening more so in a different demographic. I just found out that my cousin only uses a certain application to communicate with her friend - I’d never even heard of this and I’m supposed to be from the tech-savvy generation!

Millennials equally need to understand and value the experience of seniors, which lead to being cynical in the first place. When a more measured thinking approach is coupled with the enthusiasm of a millennial there could be very powerful results. 

Reverse mentoring is a cost-effective, simple yet powerful tool to remove some of these blockers. Even by just reading this you will begin to think about re-wiring your preconceived assumptions of those you work with.

So, the next time you go to a conference or event, find the person in the room you’d least likely talk to, go up to them and challenge yourself out of your comfort zone.

Rebecca Wooding is an infrastructure advisor at the Department for International Development and the national vice-chair of the ACE Progress Network.

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