In my previous article I discussed the delicate intergenerational balancing act now facing leaders as the psychological contract is being rapidly rewritten by the post-pandemic 'self-centric' employee. It's a significant dilemma and, after giving it some thought, I began to reflect on the role reverse mentoring might play in helping to instill institutional understanding and harmony across the generations.

When we first started hearing the term — way back in the late 1990’s when Jack Welch introduced it at GE — it meant having a bright young twenty-something teach the middle-aged senior manager how to use social media with as little embarrassment as possible.

Now, reverse mentoring has little to do with technology fluency and everything to do with leadership. With nearly half of US employees being under the age of 38, and similar demographics existing in many industrial countries, the generational divide between the leaders and the led is rapidly becoming fraught. The workforce is demanding ethics, transparency, diversity and environmental justice and those that fail to meet this will lose talent, quickly.

Younger workers whose senior leaders don’t — in their view — “get it,” will work for, shop with or endorse someone else. They’re vocal and very clear that values-based leadership is no longer optional. Leaders who just talk the talk but don’t walk the walk will get low ratings and thumbs down. Younger workers have good BS radar – and their fingers are poised above their phones ready to publicize their dissatisfaction and disappointment across multiple platforms. 

Executive leaders over 40 who think some condescending window dressing is adequate might see a surprise both in their Glassdoor ratings and in their year-end bonus.

The solution? Change. And change faster. Start by listening to the younger generation—really listening— and get your structures and policies aligned to their needs. Reverse mentoring is a great tool and place to start. Making it a conversation between the generations within the organization will also offset potential tensions caused by misaligned or irreconcilable expectations among different groups.

Employee loyalty still exists. It’s just going to take more effort to earn it.