I first watched the movie “Office Space” while in the office space. My coworkers and I were the same age as the guys in the movie. We worked in cubicles and wore ties. Sure, we had serious jobs to do, but we weren’t there to do the work as much as we were there for each other.
The movie nailed a lot of what it meant to work in 1990s corporate America—from the slimy, corporate weasel of a boss to the guy that talked to himself about staplers and squirrels.
What this movie really captured more than anything was what it meant to be a committed and long-term employee. At one point in the film, the main character, Peter, says his fear of getting fired will only make him work just hard enough to avoid getting fired. In the late 90s, Peter was speaking some serious truth about the cubicle farms of the time. Initech was the fictional company in the film, and I doubt their fictional employee engagement plan was focused on rewarding employees for doing the bare minimum.
Peter gets rewarded for doing the bare minimum. When interviewed by an outside consulting firm, he is frank and even aloof about his lack of drive and interest in doing no more than the required work. They find this so refreshing, they offer him a promotion while deciding to fire some of his co-workers, his friends, for playing the game.
The movie shines a light on the fact that many companies were focused on processes and procedures at the expense of motivating their employees. The efficiency experts have been called in to help streamline things, and they demonstrate that they’ve got it all wrong.
It was easier, and probably healthier, for loyalties to lie with co-workers rather than with employers.
I’ve heard from many hiring managers that “no one wants to work,” or that “candidates are asking for too much nowadays.” We are living through a unique hiring climate right now. How many articles or posts have you read with the same cry: “What is going on with today’s workforce?”
A few years ago, I was meeting with a customer service manager about recruiting support. I asked him why he had been with the company for nearly 10 years. It’s a question I ask of hiring managers in our first meeting. My thought is that the answer to this question can provide some insight to the a company’s culture.
“I like it here because it’s easy,” he said. At first, this answer sounds laughable. This is not what a manager is supposed to say, right? He was likely being honest, and at least he answered quickly—like right away. He didn’t even need to think about it. Over the years, I’ve asked the same question and received different answers.
This guy’s answer sticks with me, not just for its comedic value, but for its honest clarity. How would you answer this question? Why do you come in every day? If compensation weren’t an issue, would you still work at your job? Would you still think your company is a great place to work? Since this time, I’ve put a lot more thought into how I communicate my enthusiasm for my job and my company.
If you want to retain good employees, make sure you are honest with yourself about why you choose to stay.