Considering Cross-Generational Mentoring to Tackle Workplace Bullying: Part 2

January is National Mentoring Month (, so each Friday this month, we’ll explore different aspects of mentoring and how this form of training can benefit your organization. Today, we hear from mentoring experts, Beth N. Carvin and Kerrie Main, in an article they wrote that first appeared on

In last Friday’s Advisor, we looked at bullying in the workplace and how mentoring can help alleviate it. Today, we give tips for an effective mentoring program.

Cross-generational mentorships can help with workplace bullying issues in that they can help junior employees improve communication with colleagues and senior leaders, which is an area that is connected to many bullying incidents. Furthermore, mentorships give junior employees a “sounding board” in their mentors—someone they can talk to about sensitive issues who will give them candid advice and feedback about a particular situation.

Tips for cross-generational mentoring programs

1. Set clear ground rules for the mentorship. Include items such as the frequency of meetings, level of confidentiality (especially important with workplace bullying), an exit plan, etc. When you talk about these things at the beginning of the mentorship, you avoid future problems and issues.

2. Assure participants small talk is good. One of the most integral keys to a successful mentoring partnership is the relationship—one in which both parties feel trust for the other. If all you’re talking about is business and careers, it may be a challenge to build that bond. Without that trust, young mentees may be reluctant to raise their concerns about bullying.

The mentor in the relationship should take the lead on this initially, as some mentees may be hesitant to stray from business discussions. Mentors can build in small talk opportunities at the start of calls to establish and maintain the personal relationship.

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3. Schedule meetings, yet allow for impromptu communications. Set clear meeting times and adhere to them, as a mentorship can be derailed easily by last-minute cancellations or scheduling conflicts. At the same time, mentees should feel confident to reach out to their mentors outside of normal meetings when they have urgent questions, issues, or problems. Bullying doesn’t happen on a schedule!

4. Share personal stories or insights. Depending on the nature of the relationship, mentees/mentors in a virtual relationship may find it helpful to learn more about each other, especially if the mentor has experienced bullying himself or herself. When you’re communicating exclusively via phone and e-mail, the relationship tends to feel very formal, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

5. Allow mentees to select their mentor. When it comes to sensitive issues like workplace bullying, a mentee is more likely to open up to a mentor with whom he or she is compatible. While a senior leader with a strong personality who challenges the mentee may be excellent for skills development, a mentee who is facing bullying issues might interpret the mentor’s behavior as bully-like.

Other mentees might like a “tough” mentor who can help them strengthen up to deal with their bullying situation. A self-matching system can be easily implemented with the use of mentoring program technology, such as Mentor Scout.

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Bottom line on bullying

Whether a situation warrants the label of bullying or not, the feeling of being bullied is real and it impacts the effectiveness of the workplace. Employees young and old can feel picked on, making showing up for work each day a struggle. It helps to have a trusted confidante of someone with maturity and experience to help manage through these difficult situations. It takes time to develop thick skin, and a helpful mentor can provide life-lasting skills in this area.

Beth N. Carvin is president and CEO of Nobscot Corp., whose Mentor Scout division ( provides Web-based software for large companies and association mentoring programs. Kerrie Main is Nobscot’s communications manager. Carvin can be reached at, and Main can be reached at

In next Friday’s issue, we’ll learn about exciting new youth development mentoring projects in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) subjects.