Mentoring 2.0: Why Gen Y Demands a New Approach

If asked to picturing mentoring in action, you’d most likely imagine a seasoned, grey-haired veteran out to lunch with an eager 20-something, sharing his or her hard-won business wisdom. But is this the same image you’d get if you asked a member of Gen Y (aka, the Millennials), who, after all, actually make up the majority of modern day mentees?

Not at all, argues Randy Emelo, CEO of Triple Creek, who recently argued on Business Insider that the latest generation to hit the workforce is shaking up old ideas of mentorship. While it’s true that, as the head of a company that sells mentoring software, Emelo has a strong incentive to paint a picture of next gen mentorship that aligns neatly with his product, the picture he paints of changing notions of mentoring is worth considering. He argues that there are three key differences between old-fashioned mentoring and the new, Gen Y version:

  • Immediate learning, trumps eventual advancement. “While Boomers embraced mentoring for career advancement, Millennials see it as a simple way to learn what they need to know, helping them quickly and effectively meet their most urgent learning needs,” writes Emelo.
  • Virtual is fine. Face-to-face mentoring might have been the old gold standard, but “Millennials do not make distinctions between conversing face-to-face, on a phone or via text or IM,” according to Emelo.
  • Why stop at one mentor? Gen Y’s “desire for diverse connections” is transforming mentoring from a one-to-one exchange, into a broad sourcing of input from a variety of experts.

In response to these changing conceptions of mentoring, Emelo recommends companies supplement existing, formal one-to-one programs with open opportunities for talented young employees to gain knowledge from a variety of senior people, and use all the technology at their disposal to connect them.

Other experts weigh in

So is Emilo right about Gen Y’s views of mentoring? Experts at HBR have also argued that with senior employees now shifting jobs nearly as often as career starters, the traditional mentorship as a means to advancement within a given company is as over as avocado appliances, suggesting young people trade in individual mentors for a “personal board of directors.” And Australian business site Smart Company has reported that smaller businesses Down Under are successfully using technology to allow their young talent access to a wider array of mentors.

Finally, Tammy Erickson, an expert on generations in the workplace, has written that “Y’s, when faced with a new challenge, tend to function like a heat-seeking missile—single-mindedly pursuing the person in the organization with the most relevant experience,” supporting Emilo’s claims that Gen Y views mentoring relationships as a direct route to solutions for present problems rather than an opportunity for long-term career advancement. (Erickson does add that the cozy relationships that can develop between boomer mentors and eager beaver Gen Ys can drive Gen X middle managers to distraction.)

All in all, Emilo’s description of Gen Y attitudes to mentoring, though not without an element of salesmanship, holds up to the prevailing notion that Gen Y are hungry for hand holding and happy to embrace technology. Perhaps your organization’s mentorship program needs a rethink to suit a new generation of mentees.

London-based blogger Jessica Stillman covers generational issues and trends in the workforce for BNET.com.

(Image courtesy of Flickr user horncologne, CC 2.0)