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A growing trend called "reverse mentoring" is bridging a technological, and generational, divide at many companies. Law firms could also learn a thing or two by adopting the practice, experts say.
Reverse mentoring is a fancy name for something many older workers already do every day: Seek the help of younger, more tech-savvy coworkers to learn new technological tricks.
The practice was widely implemented by General Electric in 1999, when 500 top executives were assigned to underlings to learn how to use the Internet, The Wall Street Journal reports. Older workers got up-to-speed with new technology, and young mentors "got visibility," GE's former CEO Jack Welch told the Journal.
The win-win reverse mentoring strategy is taking off. Young mentors are no longer just teaching their superiors how to surf the web, but also how to become savvy with social media like Facebook and Twitter.
Young associates are also teaching executives to use online videoconferencing services like Skype, and how to take full advantage of their smartphone apps.
One executive, who credits a young mentor for helping him "jazz up his Twitter posts," told the Journal that reverse mentoring also boosted office morale and job retention. Young workers feel their voices are now being heard, he said.
Another case in point: Cisco Systems, which kicked off its "Gen Y Reverse Mentoring Program" two years ago. "It became a badge of honor," a Cisco manager told the Journal. "When the word got out that a few execs had a [junior] mentor, others wanted one too."
Reverse mentoring can also work for law firms, where employees are driven with a desire to build their professional skills. A recent study by the West LegalEdcenter found 95% of law firm associates cited mentoring as the most important professional-development activity.
The bottom line: Reverse mentoring can build relationships between younger and older workers, one workplace expert told Fox Business. It can also open doors to educational and learning exchanges that go far beyond the keyboard.