The classic definition of a mentor is someone older and successful who can help you navigate your professional life (read: fields manic, late-night emails when you’re having a quarter-life crisis and feel like everything you thought you knew about your career path is wrong—just all WRONG). But now that Millennials make up the largest generation in the U.S. workforce, they are no longer just the mentees, but the mentors. And with the rise of young, tech-savvy managers, there is also less of an age difference between the mentor and the mentee. Enter the friendtor: someone a little bit older and a little bit wiser, but because you’re not that far apart in age, you’re also friends. Millennials have been breaking down all sorts of boundaries in the workforce (the café is the new cubicle and the hoodie is the new blazer), and the friendtor is the latest example. Maybe you go golfing with a direct report on the weekend, or invite a former assistant to your birthday party. But how can you make sure you’re still being effective as an “oh wise one”? Let us show you the ways:
1. Listen up. When a friend calls in the middle of the night, you prop up your pillow and listen to your girl speak her peace. When a younger coworker plops down at your desk on a random Tuesday afternoon (and your mind is a liiittle more alert) it’s easy to think back on your own experiences because you were so recently in her shoes. Instead of projecting what you wish you had done under your own circumstances, ask questions that will help her discover a solution on her own. Things like, “How does that make you feel?” or, “What are you most afraid of?” or, “What is your gut telling you?” will get her to think—and most importantly, arrive at an answer she knows for sure is the right one.
[Related: 5 Ways to Be Memorable in 30 Seconds or Less]
2. Have their back. You’d trust a friend to tell you if you had something in your teeth before a date or a stain on your blouse before an interview. Be the person who will tell your friendtee what’s preventing him from getting ahead at work. Is he making friends with the “complainer” in the office, and developing a nasty attitude of his own? Pull him aside and show him the light. Something like, “People are starting to notice that you’re unhappy—I can totally help you think of how to talk to your boss or even job hunt, but I just wouldn’t want you to end up burning a bridge here.” That way, he can re-position himself to be at his best around older mentors and higher ups within the company.
3. Open the floodgates. Even though you’ve only been working for a handful of years, to your friendtee, your network looks like China compared to her Liechtenstein. Next time you’re invited to a networking event, instead of asking that same coworker who’s always free to come along with you, invite your friendtee. And share a few tricks of the trade—like ordering a white wine spritzer instead of the Cabernet so that a) she doesn’t get too drunk and b) she doesn’t spill and ruin her outfit. Mingle a little, and then because you’re the cool friendtor and not the stuffy mentor, go out for burgers afterward.
4. Ask for advice. A friendship isn’t a one-way street, and neither is a friendtor-ship. Know that this person has valuable insight into Millennials on the young end of the spectrum (because, well, that’s the category they fall into) as well as Generation Z (they’ll be entering the workforce at the end of this decade). Did he find your company’s new app easy to navigate? What would make him and his friends want to buy your product? He’ll feel valuable for his ability to give you—someone he looks up to—an honest opinion.
5. Actually, like, hangout. OK, so inviting a younger coworker out to da club might not be the best idea ever, but instead of just hanging out at the office and tag-teaming on work-related events, invite her to go to a SoulCycle class with you, or even on a walk over lunch. Spend half the time talking about work stuff—what challenges she’s facing and what would excite her more about her job—and the other half talking about real-life stuff. Roommates, how to afford groceries that don’t include ramen, that sorta thing. A healthy balance between the two will make her really feel like she has an ally and confidante.
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