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'The Intern' Offers Workplace Lessons For Millennials and Baby Boomers

Nancy Meyer's new movie "The Intern" -- her first in six years -- has moments that are nothing short of slapstick.

In one hilarious and unforgettable scene, Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway) accidentally sends an email to her mother. In the subject line: "Her," and the body: "Why is my mother such a raging bitch?"
In attempt to conduct damage repair, the founder, working mother, and hallmark Brooklynite teams up with her 70-year old intern (Robert De Niro) to break into her mother's house and steal the computer. 
Of course, such antics feel jarring in a movie that's primarily about an e-commerce startup, but the scene brings up questions about the inter-generational conflicts that are as real as they are critical to modern workplaces. 
Meyers has famously centered many of her films around women (often, middle-aged), and has received multiple Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations for hits like "Private Benjamin," "The Parent Trap," and "It's Complicated."
A crusader for equality in the workplace -- and, perhaps more urgently, in Hollywood -- the director said she conceived of the idea for "The Intern" while driving to work one day: "What if an older person took a job as an intern? It just made me laugh."
In the movie, Ben Whittaker is a widower and a retired marketing executive. To alleviate the ennui, he takes an internship with a Brooklyn-based e-commerce retailer, appropriately called "About the Fit." 
At face value, Jules neatly embodies the Millennial zeitgeist. She rides a bike to get around the office, works odd hours, and doesn't have a private office (because nobody at the company does). As doting mother, she often forgets to eat, and refuses to hire a CEO to better balance out her workload.
The story arc should seem familiar to many successful business owners. At eighteen months old, Jules' startup has already achieved its five-year-goals, but the investors are concerned about her ability to scale. Throughout the movie, the continued success of "About the Fit" is largely the byproduct of Jules' relationship with Ben.
The partnership is one that Jules initially rejects -- and it's hard not to pity Ben in the opening scenes. He shows up to work, in all of his dapper glory, only to find zero emails in his inbox. He runs errands for Jules, and drives her to work, rather than helping her with the important corporate questions. 
Ultimately, the alliance forged is one that employers everywhere, regardless of age or creed, can learn from. Baby Boomers and Millennials, take note.

1. Not all stereotypes are bad.

At first, Jules doubts that Ben could be helpful to the company. He sports a briefcase, has never used Twitter, and prefers to have conversations in person rather than email. Representing a stereotype about Baby Boomers, he is at first resistant to new technologies, and appears to be cemented in his less-than-efficient ways.
Even so, it's Ben's archaic attention to detail -- for instance, by noticing patterns in the company's demographic data -- that makes him a key player. 
In true Millennial form, Jules is connected in ways that only technology can afford. While en route to a meeting, for instance, she Skypes with one of her partners back at the office.
Both Jules and Ben learn to let go of their negative judgments, and instead work together towards the same, common goal. That's neatly conveyed when Jules helps Ben to set up his Facebook account, and they discover a shared passion for Billie Holiday. 
The takeaway: Rather than labeling members of another generation, try getting to know them. You might be surprised by what you can learn from one another.

2. Set boundaries between business and personal life.

Both main characters are devoted to their paramours. Jules' husband is a stay-at-home father, a circumstance which predictably causes marital tension. Ben, as part of one especially underdeveloped plot line, enters into a relationship with the company's office masseuse.
Although the two do share details about their personal lives, they don't probe.
The takeaway: It can be tempting to want to know everything about your team members' personal lives, but your company will be much more successful if you let accept that your workers' lives outside of the office should be kept personal. 

3. Remember: We're all human.

Meyers has a knack for creating characters that are painfully human. Jules is no exception. When she discovers that the investors want to bring on a CEO, she cries at her desk. Ben notices, and displays empathy.
The takeaway: No person -- and certainly no entrepreneur -- is perfect. Recognizing this quality within your peers is crucial to getting along.
Meyers wraps things up in a bow, thus adhering to the very formula she set out to distance herself from.  Regardless, "The Intern" is an entertaining comedy with lessons for all generations and employers. 


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