How to Mentor Gen Z

Updated May 11, 20224 min
How to Mentor Gen Z

How to Mentor Gen Z

Caroline BantonUpdated May 11, 20224 min
How to Mentor Gen Z

Sources of learning have never been so prolific. Traditional schools and universities compete with online institutions. There are webinars, discussion forums, and online certifications. Remote and in-person coaching is easy to find. With such resources at their fingertips, Gen Z-ers need to be convinced that a mentoring development program will be worth their while.  

This article explains how to design a mentoring program to engage Gen Z because they are tomorrow's workforce. Companies are seeking ways to improve staff retention and avoid a costly revolving door, so this article focuses on the types of mentoring that will appeal to this social media savvy generation.

What Is Mentoring?

Mentoring is a way for a person to receive guidance or advice on their professional lives. A mentor, the person who provides the advice, is usually someone with more experience and credentials that qualify them as mentors. The mentoring relationship may be between individuals within an organization, or the mentor might be external. A mentor can also be a family member or a trusted friend.

Mentoring should not be confused with coaching or counseling. With mentoring, no strict measurables are involved. The mentor acts as a sounding board for the mentee, providing input but not actively steering them in any one direction or toward a set goal.

Why Mentor?

Workers are transient, but employers can’t afford a revolving door and need ways to retain staff and keep them engaged. Development programs like mentoring appeal to Gen Z’ers because they give them the tools they need to manage their own careers.

Thus, mentoring programs are a way to improve the employee experience so that they will be active and enthusiastic contributors to a robust workforce and less likely to want to leave.

A mentoring program must be designed with the mentee in mind. Different individuals may prefer a different type of mentorship, so here's a look at the characteristics of Gen Z-ers in general terms and the types of mentoring that may or may not suit them.

Characteristics of Gen Z

Gen Z-ers were born between 1997 and 2012. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation (AECF®), a philanthropic organization that gives access to opportunities for young people and children, Gen Z-ers have been shaped by a very different world than Millennials.

Sta­tis­tics com­piled by the Pew Research Cen­ter show racial diversity, a native use of digital technology, and financial savvy to be core characteristics of Gen Z. This generation is more likely to come from a sin­gle par­ent or mul­ti-racial house­hold, and they are tolerant of race, sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion, and religion.

Gen Z has lived and breathed technological innovation and social media, but that has had both desirable and undesirable consequences. On the one hand, they have access to many more learning channels, but constant screen time and the COVID pandemic have left them isolated and lacking social skills.

Gen Z-ers are savvy consumers and use social media to canvas their connections before making decisions. They are swayed by real people rather than celebrities and marketers. Lastly, the Gen Z generation is more likely to be politically progressive and inde­pen­dent thinkers.

So, with this understanding of Gen-Z characteristics, how will they react to mentoring, and what type of mentoring would be best? Here's a look at different mentoring approaches and their suitability for Gen-Z.

Mentoring Frameworks and Styles

There are traditional and modern mentoring styles. While, of course, there are exceptions to the rule, conventional mentoring is probably a bad idea for most Gen Z-ers. A conventional mentoring relationship involves an older, more experienced staff member is paired with a younger staff member. Typically, the two meet so that the senior-level person can impart their wisdom to the junior employee and answer any questions they have.

There are two glaring problems with this. First, there is an assumption that the older employee is wiser than the younger. Second, the role of modern technology and new methods of communication are ignored.

This staid and dated approach might work for a baby boomer, but it will not engage a Gen Z-er who is used to engaging in real-time, practical, and purposeful activities that use digital tools to fast-track the process. 

Modern Mentoring

So, what are modern mentoring techniques? Three worth mentioning are reverse mentoring, group mentoring, and flash mentoring.

Reverse Mentoring

With reverse mentoring, instead of senior employees mentoring younger workers, the younger employees have the opportunity to also mentor the senior employee. They can demonstrate their tech acumen and gain institutional knowledge from the senior employee at the same time. The result is that the two may find ways to apply technology that benefits both and may be adopted by others.

Combining two sources of knowledge is a succession planning strategy that prepares the next generation for future leadership roles.

Group Mentoring

Group mentoring, or team mentoring, assigns a group of mentees to one or more mentors. The team members are typically at the same career level with similar job functions, while the mentor is at a different career level.

Gen Z employees may appreciate group mentoring because they can learn from their peers, who are likely to be on the same wavelength regarding technology, social media, and the work environment.

Flash Mentoring

Flash mentorship programs can be described as on-demand mentoring. It might be used when a person is learning a new skill or coming up to speed with a new process. Flash mentoring is characterized by immediate knowledge sharing, but not in the more formal traditional sense. Job shadowing is an example of flash mentoring.

How to Make Mentoring a Success

A mentoring program could be based on one or all of the above styles. While there should be some structure, a mentor-mentee relationship should be allowed to develop organically and those involved should be given considerable autonomy. Some ways to make mentoring a success are the following.

Use Mentor-Matching Tools

Randomly matching one person with another does not allow each person to be actively involved from the outset. Both parties need some level of autonomy, so they should have some say in who they will be partnered with.

Mentor-matching digital tools, like Qooper and Glider, allow a mentee to search for a mentor according to the criteria or skills they would like a mentor to have. This will help to ensure a good fit and a good outcome.

Set Goals in Advance

While no measurables may be used to track the progress of a mentoring relationship, it does need some direction. The mentee should think about what they hope to get out of the process and make it known to the mentor. This will help to ensure a good match, and give those involved a better idea of the expectations.

Allow Mentoring Relationships to Be Ongoing

An individual probably needs more than one mentor because they need guidance in different aspects of their professional lives. One person cannot be expected to be knowledgeable in everything.

Also, as a person’s career progresses, they will need mentors who have experience in higher management levels. So, in that regard, a mentoring relationship will not have a finite beginning and end date but be an ongoing part of networking.

Mentoring and Gen Z

Gen Z has experienced a world that is more diverse and technologically advanced than ever before. They have learned different ways to communicate, such as real-time digital collaboration, but they have also experienced more isolation caused by the rise of social media.

For Gen Z’ers, mentoring should be structured in a way that makes sense professionally, socially, and technologically. Matching senior-level staff with junior-level staff brings new perspectives. Also, allowing autonomy in mentoring relationships and finding ways to incorporate technology will encourage all parties to leave their comfort zones and engage in a meaningful mentoring program.0

Caroline Banton
Expert on career acceleration and business topics with vast experience writing for globally-recognized publications

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