Two for one: Matching Millennial Workers with GenX Mentors

An earlier post on mentioned mentoring as a way to further engage Generation X employees. For organizations looking to cultivate a leadership mindset in mid-level GenX managers—and pass on valuable skills to younger and newer employees—pairing Millennial employees with GenX mentors is a way to accomplish both in one fell swoop.

Piece of cake, right? Not so fast. Though GenX and Millennials may be generation-adjacent, they are in fact very different when it comes to their approach to work. But that’s the idea. Pairing GenX mentors with Millennials matches the complementary skill sets of both generations so that each benefits.

What a GenX Mentor Can Teachboard-784349_640

GenX employees have decades of career experience in a corporate culture that has undergone massive transformation in a relatively short amount of time. They’ve seen things. This experience, combined with GenX attributes like pragmatism, loyalty, and independence are strengths that younger generations can benefit from. Here are just a few things Millennial employees can learn from GenX mentors:

  • Pragmatism. One of the traits that GenX-ers are most known for is their ability to realistically accomplish goals. They understand that compromise is often necessary to move things forward, and thus many GenXers seek middle ground willingly in the name of progress. Millennials, who are more idealistic (much like their Boomer parents), may be more hesitant to move toward a goal if conditions don’t seem favorable. GenX mentors can teach their mentees how to analyze existing systems and frameworks, negotiate with stakeholders and get things done.
  • Self Reliance. Often called the least-protected generation, GenX knew early on they’d have to figure out a lot for themselves. This trait has served GenX employees well. They are known for working well independently and seeking to expand their skill sets. For Millennials accustomed to group work and collaboration, they can learn from their GenX mentors how to be more self-starting and confident in their solo work.
  • Workplace culture. For employees in their early careers, getting a sense of organizational culture and politics can be a steep learning curve. A mentor who has a strong sense of culture can guide their mentee and shorten the learning process.

What a GenX Mentor Can Learn

Mentoring is viewed as a strong engagement tool because in an ideal arrangement, everyone benefits. As trust is built on both sides of the mentoring relationship, it can evolve into more of a mutual coaching model. GenX mentors stand to learn a lot from their Millennial mentees, such as:

  • Optimism. Negative and cynical are two terms often associated with Generation X. Yet Millennials—the same generation that’s facing down crushing student loan debt and shaky job prospects– are the most optimistic of the generations and they take that with them into the workplace. They believe in positive change, and that they can have a direct impact on bringing it about.
  • Self-advocacy. Millennials are quite known for their ability to advocate for themselves, and they can show GenX a thing or two in this regard. Studies show that GenX values recognition just as much as other Millennials, but they may not be actively seeking it.
  • Good ideas can come from anyone. Hierarchy is not important to Millennials. (That can be a sword that cuts both ways.) Raised to value collaboration and teamwork, Millennials believe that ideas are equal regardless of the source and that everyone is a major stakeholder.

Each generation has unique strengths and skills. Mentoring can facilitate the sharing of these in a way that rewards all involved, including the organization that supports it.

Readers: Does your organization have a mentoring program? What has been your experience with mentoring in your career? Share in the comments below.


  1. Great Article, Heidi!
    As a Millennial, I agree with the points on our self-advocacy, ideas, and optimism & I’m proud of those traits- but, we definitely have lot’s to learn from Gen Xers and each generation before us with years and years of experience. It’s really cool to see the different things each generation is bringing to the table and it seems companies would benefit most through mentorship programs so that we can all hone in on each of these skills. I personally would love to have a mentor & hope the opportunity arises in my career!

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