Sriharsha Achar has been able to appreciate his laptop better since Parul Chatterjee came into his life as a mentor. His Excel and PowerPoint skills have also improved. “This makes my presentations that much more polished. I can also now copy photos, snip them and crop them,” he says happily.

Achar, 52, is Chief People Officer at Apollo Munich Health Insurance. Chatterjee, 39, is Senior Manager, Human Resources. They have been colleagues since 2010. When an opportunity to handle employee engagement and internal communication opened up, Achar persuaded her to move in from her training coordination role, promising he would mentor her. She, in turn, has taught him skills his generation is not so comfortable with. “Mobile phone technology is one area which sees a lot of reverse mentoring. It helps older colleagues move very nicely to the next level,” he says.

Keeping them engaged

A few organisations in India have adopted reverse mentoring in recent years. PwC started the process a couple of years ago. Says Jagjit Singh, Chief People Officer, PwC India, “We have been hiring a lot of young people. They want to be heard and engaged differently, and have different perspectives. This suits the organisation’s aim of offering an inclusive work culture and becoming much more cohesive.”

According to a 2016 report by Deloitte, 52 per cent of Indian millennials surveyed expect to leave their current employers in the next couple of years. This figure moves to 76 per cent when the time frame is moved to 2020. This is a big challenge to businesses employing a large number of young people – and now millennials account for the largest section of the workforce, the survey says.

Millennials prefer to work for companies that share their values. A good work-life balance, good products and services, and flexible work options are the other factors that sway their choice of employer.

Diverse cultures

DP Singh, Vice-President & Head – HR, IBM, India and South Asia, says every generation deserves respect. For IBM, generation diversity is a part of the bigger picture that includes gender, LGBT issues and the specially-abled. At IBM, there is a Millennial Corps Community, a voluntary activity that is not age-dependent. The “millennial-minded” are welcome. Young people are invited to discuss new tools and technology for better productivity. There is individual reverse mentoring as well.

Social skills

DP Singh himself has a younger colleague mentoring him on social media skills. “I write a lot of blog posts on IBM Connections, our internal social platform, but they were never public. Now I have the confidence to blog openly,” says Singh. New senior colleagues are offered a social coach when they join IBM. It has more followers on social media now, thanks to the younger set. People at IBM who were not on social media earlier now are, and are becoming comfortable with it, says Singh.

According to PwC’s Singh, his firm’s Millennial Council evinces interest from young people. “Leaders are allocated younger employees as mentors. They are also encouraged to pick informal venues such as coffee shops or restaurants for meetings and mentoring sessions.”

At PwC, from baby boomers to centennials, all with diverse backgrounds, work together. Over 80 per cent of employees are millennials. “The mentoring by the younger generation helps us learn different perspectives in a fast-paced growth environment, engage with a younger workforce, and use social media as a key tool for receiving feedback or engaging, branding, and such,” says Singh.

Policy changes

Leaders also hold jam sessions and people can join online and debate. “These sessions are more in demand when we are reviewing policies, generating ideas to innovate and/or taking up new initiatives.” Many of the firm’s flexibility benefits such as work-from-home and flexi-work weeks, its Full Circle programme for women with children/care-giving duties, revamp of the performance management process to make it real-time feedback-driven, are outcomes of reverse mentoring conversations.

It takes a while

IBM’s Singh says the start was “somewhat slow” but soon the seniors were asking, ‘Have you run this past the young ones? Have they given inputs?’ “There are no bottlenecks as people realise the mutual advantage.”

Apollo Munich’s Chatterjee says the ‘mentee’ has to be “very open-minded and ready to be coached”. The mentoring is not just one way, the younger colleague also gains from the association with a senior. Singh of PwC says there was some resistance initially to being mentored by the younger ones. “But we needed to do it. It’s not like the seniors are giving away their roles. Reverse mentoring breaks hierarchical work structures. It creates a much more caring and informal work culture and leads to better ideation. There are really a multitude of benefits.”