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Challenge Your Workforce to Support Intergenerational Collaboration

Challenge Your Workforce to Support Intergenerational Collaboration

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By Dr. Marie Gould Harper
Program Director, Management, American Public University

Recently, I re-watched one of my favorite movies, “The Intern.” I think Robert De Niro’s performance was one of his best.

(Spoiler alert! If you haven’t seen the movie, watch it before reading further.)

‘The Intern’ Offers Great Lessons for the Workforce

Although the movie is fictional, it offers useful lessons for the workforce. Instead of hiring a training company to make your employees aware of today’s business ethos and standards, for example, have them watch the film to learn how business acumen and personal experiences come in all sizes and ages.

Sometimes, we neglect the importance of someone’s personal life is when we are determining how successful he or she can be in the workplace. We have to treat our employees as talented individuals, rather than view them as our indentured servants for 40 hours a week.

Some of the highlights of “The Intern” that caught my attention were:

· DeNiro’s character never allows his age or situation to dictate what he can contribute. Seventy-year-old Ben Whittaker (DeNiro) was a successful businessman who is bored sitting around in retirement. To challenge his mind, Ben secures a position as an intern at a company where he believes he can make a contribution. Ben carries himself with dignity and offers cogent suggestions for business improvement, rather than acting like an authoritarian due to his age and experience.

· Little tidbits can go a long way. Some of the younger workers seek out DeNiro’s advice on the simple things of life. It’s not because they think of him as a father figure, but because they respect the man he has become. At some point, you get the feeling that they would like to copy him and develop some of his traits to incorporate into their own lives.

· You can have fun together. Many articles on how to make an intergenerational workforce successful focus on the assets that all parties bring to the table. We are encouraged to allow these relationships to be built on what each employee has to offer. For example, the younger generation can teach their older fellow employees how to deal with today’s technology; the older generation can assist younger employees with existential problem-solving and critical thinking skills.

· We want to allow relationships to occur naturally as each group identifies its individual roles and what it can contribute. Although we can’t condone illegal behavior, one of the funniest scenes in the movie occurs when the boss, Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway), accidentally sends a scathing email to her mother. A group of employees goes to her mother’s house to delete the email before she can read it and, as they say in Hollywood press releases, hilarity ensues.

· Wisdom doesn’t always come only from the top. When Ben is tasked with assisting Jules, his wisdom turns him into her invaluable friend and respected mentor, both on the job and in her personal life. He becomes her sounding board by providing advice, boosting her spirits when she is at her lowest point, and demonstrating what it means to throw yourself into your work while still finding time to enjoy the simple things in life.

This movie encourages me to believe that we can all work together. All we have to do is be willing to free ourselves of our preconceived prejudices of what different groups are all about.

Let’s give people who are not like us an opportunity to show who they are. Allow them to be who they are, rather than try to force them to become who we would like them to be.

There is value in diversity — diversity of thought, experiences and perspective. Baby boomers, Generation Xers, millennials and Generation Zers all have a space in today’s workforce.

About the Author

Dr. Marie Gould Harper is the Program Director of Management at American Public University. She holds an undergraduate degree in psychology from Wellesley College, a master’s degree in instructional systems from Pennsylvania State University and a doctorate in business from Capella University. She is a progressive coach, facilitator, writer, strategist and human resources/organizational development professional with more than 30 years of leadership, project management, and administrative experience. Dr. Gould Harper has worked in both corporate and academic environments.

Dr. Gould Harper is an innovative thinker and influential leader, manifesting people skills, a methodical approach to problems, organizational vision and ability to inspire followers. She is committed to continuous improvement in organizational effectiveness and human capital development, customer service and the development of future leaders.



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