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What HR Leaders Can Learn from ’The Intern’

Lynda Spiegel

Founder, Rising Star Resumes

Last weekend, I saw the recently released film, The Intern. And while I thoroughly enjoyed it, I was also struck by how amusing it ought not to have been.

The movie follows a 70-year-old retiree, Ben, who — out of sheer boredom — joins a program matching senior citizens with companies needing interns. Ben is assigned to a startup founder named Jules, who begrudgingly agrees to go along with the program. Surrounded by millennial and Generation Z colleagues, Ben quickly overcomes his technical illiteracy ("I had to call my 9-year old grandson to find out what a USB port was"), and becomes a confidante to Jules, mentor to the Gen Zers and touchstone of business acumen for the entire company.

Fade to reality. Ben stands about as much of a chance at getting hired at 70 — even as an unpaid intern — as he does at winning the lottery. From an employer's perspective, the objections to hiring older workers simply overrule the benefits, despite the best efforts of the AARP and SHRM. And even if Ben did get hired, there is the undeniable friction between millennials and Boomers, whose views aren't always harmonious.

But does that mean HR leaders should laugh The Intern off as an unrealistic Nancy Meyers flick, or is there something more to be gleaned from the film?

Why Baby Boomers Make Great Hires

While 65 is still the widely accepted age for retirement in the U.S., older workers increasingly want to remain in the workforce and, like Ben, they still have valuable insights to contribute.

The Intern carries an important message for HR leaders: It's time to get ahead of the curve in your recruiting strategy. Bring in some older workers and pair them with younger team members. While the synergies created by this multi-generational mix caused some hilarity in Meyers' movie, senior citizens with leadership experience really do have something to offer younger talent.

Five Reasons to Hire Older Workers

In fact, for nearly every perceived disadvantage to hiring a Baby Boomer, there is actually an upside. Let's explore a few "Baby Boomer" generalizations, and why they don't hold water:

1) They aren't tech savvy!

When technology goes down temporarily, they probably know other ways to get things done. And besides, if the Boomers learned Boolean search methods, they can learn newer technologies, too. Experience at learning is as valuable as the skill learned.

2) They're too old to put in the long hours we keep here!

But they're also more experienced at working more efficiently, and may be able to meet deliverables within realistic timeframes.

3) Their age means they won't be with us long!

This provided a chuckle in The Intern, when an interviewer asks Ben, "Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?" Ben smiles, and the young interviewer opts to skip the question. But in all seriousness, you'll likely retain Boomers longer than millennials, who typically job hop every 2 years.

4) They'll be taking time off for all those doctor appointments!

Statistically, older workers don't miss any more work than younger workers, many of whom have child-care issues that require them to take time off.

5) They don't want to listen to a younger boss!

Many employers claim that young managers are uncomfortable with having considerably older people reporting to them (as my own millennial son put it, "It's embarrassing telling your mom what to do") and older employees resent having a younger, less experienced person calling the shots. While these concerns have some merit, it has more to do with people skills than age. Effective employees understand that just because you've worked for 50 years doesn't mean you know everything, and just because you were recently promoted to "manager" doesn't either.

While there is an abundance of articles and statistics relaying the benefits of hiring older workers, the actual number of Boomers getting hired doesn't sync. Corporate America is losing out on a valuable asset. So, HR leaders, buy yourself a movie ticket and sit down with your talent strategy — you'll likely find that there's a greater need for soon-to-be retirees than you thought.

Photo: Warner Brothers

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