Returnships – Live, Learn, Mentor

Dec 4, 2019

Does art imitate life, or does life imitate art?

Both philosophical positions share the idea that life and art mirror each other.

In 2015, Totem President, Debbie Schultz, watched The Intern during a night at the movies with her husband. The movie followed 71-year-old widower and retired executive Ben Whittaker (Robert De Niro).

After retirement became boring for him, Ben applied and was accepted for a senior citizen intern program. He joined a millennial-heavy company where he brought a unique wisdom and the value of experience. He became a friend, confidant, mentor, and motivator to his coworkers and boss. For Ben, the internship was a returnship.

As they left the theater, Debbie turned to her husband and said, “that’s what we need to do.”

Seasoned team members can help guide less experienced members.

Staffing the Totem Benefits Consulting Service Center

The pillar and crux of benefits consulting services is open enrollment when thousands of employees of large employers have two weeks to enroll, update, and change their pre-tax benefits.

Every year, Totem interviews a large number of individuals for open enrollment. The pool of many is narrowed down to the final seasonal team. The HR team seeks out the proverbial needle in a haystack – a strong candidate who is otherwise unemployed and willing to commit to seasonal employment. The process requires time and resources and is inherently flawed.

Inspired by The Intern, Debbie catalyzed an initiative to recruit retirees for the seasonal staff.

Totem sought out seniors- who like Ben, were bored in retirement. The company posted on Facebook, reached out to friends and family, and sponsored Bingo Night at a nearby senior center. Recruitment efforts attracted former principals, educators, IT specialists, and business owners. Each wanted to work, contribute, and offer their own unique skill set. Senior interns were called “returnships.”

Returnship Success

Returnships provided increased bench strength at the benefits service center. They became role models and mentors. Totem’s team matured and grew.

Without creating a formal mentorship program, Totem’s clients benefited from the elevated service and professionalism. The team benefited from the synergistic chemistry of experience and enthusiasm.

Concurrently, returnships got their foot back in the workforce, which provided a sense of purpose and maintained the flexibility they desired (and a 401k contribution).

While they were only required to commit to open enrollment and related training, some chose to work peak days or periods throughout the year and others chose to work a permanent job share with another returnship.

The future is bright.

As current employees look to retire or slow down, the goal is that they will make the decision to “return” instead.

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