The new movie "The Intern" is a hit at the box office and I hope it hits the right cord with hiring managers everywhere. It's a comedy that uses humor to demonstrate the value of creating a multi-generational workforce - with the central character a 70-something retired executive played by Robert DeNiro.
It's refreshing that the movie doesn't resort to gratuitous "Grumpy Old Men" humor but instead infuses humanity and dignity in the lead character. In a world that often glorifies twenty-something billionaires and disregards issues of ageism in the workplace, this is a movie that ultimately promotes the practice of mixing generations and allowing a variety of work habits to prevail.
I was glad to see that while the "senior" intern brings wisdom, experience and balance into the frenetic workplace of an Internet startup, the movie also honors the energy and creativity of the Millennials who are driving today's tech economy. The movie really succeeds when it shows the value of integrating the best of both generations.
As people live longer we will naturally see the numbers of older workers increase. Some will stay in the workforce because they are healthy and able while many others will work out of financial necessity. In the most recent TransAmerica Retirement Survey some 82% of today's workforce say they expect to work past age 65.
So it is vital that policymakers, educators, and business leaders examine the dynamics of a multi-generational workforce and development supportive management practices. While the movie tagline "experience never gets old" should be reason enough, business should take note that when asked why the fictional company should take on "senior" interns the young executives noted: "gray is the new green."
One organization at the forefront of examining this new reality is Encore.org that operates with the mission to "shift from the 20th-century idea of retirement as the freedom from work to a new life stage that offers the freedom to work and to contribute in new ways - and to new ends."
The DeNiro character certainly introduces "new ways" to co-workers when he emphasizes conversation and personal contact over social media and electronic connectivity. While one young colleague was busy trying to mend a broken relationship via texting, DeNiro found ways for the couple to re-engage the old-fashioned way - using comforting words, tears and hugs and not emojis. And it worked.
Historically, cultures have honored the wisdom of the elders, a practice that disappeared in the U.S. after World War II as we shifted to a more youth-oriented society eager to take on all the challenges the world had to offer. It certainly worked, but it may be time to recognize there are some limitations to being so youth-oriented and tap into a great resource among us: the older adult.
Here are 5 lessons from DeNiro's character Ben Whittaker that will help older adults continue to make great contributions - in the workplace and beyond.
1) Sleep. Ben went to bed at 10 pm and used an alarm clock to wake. Regular sleep schedules and bedtime routines are important. This healthy practice allows your body to get the proper amount of sleep, regenerate, and strengthen your immune system. The National Institute on Aging is a great source of information on sleep and aging.
2) Exercise. We see Ben doing Tai Chi which is an excellent form of exercise for all people, especially older adults. This helps with core strength and balance which can prevent falls in older adults and is also great for relaxation and beneficial for all ages. Additional benefits are being studied by scientists at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging and the School of Medicine at Tufts University who are examining the benefits of Tai Chi to relieve fibromyalgia symptoms and its positive effect on knee osteoarthritis.
3) Friendships. The movie opens with Ben enjoying the company of friends and weaves that through the movie. Before connecting with the startup Ben had a morning Starbucks routine because, as he said it made him "feel part of something." A meta-analysis of 148 research studies show people with stronger social relationships had a 50% increased likelihood of living longer.
4) Volunteering. Taking on an internship in a business environment is one form of volunteering but older adults may also consider providing time and expertise to a nonprofit organization. VolunteerMatch.org is a great place to find the right opportunity for you.
5) Lifelong learning. An openness to new ideas keeps your mind active and you more relevant. In the movie Ben turned to his grandson and young colleagues to mentor him on using technology. Other older adults are seeking courses offered at universities and local adult education organizations including the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Tufts, which is part of a 119 university network throughout the United States.
And while I am a huge proponent of formal education, I also appreciate the value of popular culture which is why I hope this movie makes an excellent contribution to the realities of today's workplace.