What “Office Space” Teaches Us About Employee Engagement

September 11, 2014
“Sounds like somebody’s got a case of the Mondays.” Even if you haven't seen Office Space, I'm sure you've heard someone say they have a case of "the Mondays" at one point in time. The movie, released in 1999, explores the worklife of main character, Peter, and a handful of his peers who are unhappy with their jobs at a software company called, Initech. This movie has become very popular because of the various workplace humiliations that are portrayed, to which much of the general white-collar population can relate. Whether the scene involves Milton and his stapler, sitting in awful commuter traffic, or this classic moment, this satire depicts scenarios that - while extreme - occur every day in some organizations.

  peter“So I was sitting in my cubicle today, and I realized, ever since I started working, every single day of my life has been worse than the day before it. So that means that every single day that you see me, that's on the worst day of my life.”  Office Space comically portrays the problem of poor relationships between upper management and employees, which is evident in the frustrating dynamic Peter has with his unenergetic boss. But, when we take the time to think about the message this cult classic is addressing, it is pretty obvious that this is a real problem with a lot of organizations today.

Why are employees in Office Space so unhappy?

peter "Is there any way that you could, sorta just sock me out so that like I...I don't know that I'm at work?"
  • Employees are given meaningless goals. A TPS Report becomes the goal for the company’s employees to achieve. During the whole movie, all they talk about is completing the report and getting it right, causing the document itself to be the goal to attain. You can see why a creative, hard worker feels bored and useless.
  •  Initech rewards the wrong behaviors. While drastically downsizing, the company decides to keep Peter over his peers and give him a raise; despite his unsavory remarks, bad body language, and casual attitude; showing how out of touch management really is at the company.
  • Benefits and fair compensation are insufficient or non-existent at Initech; therefore, employees claim there is no incentive to work hard. Peter spends his day doing mostly nothing, and is happy to admit it.
  • The workplace is boring and political, which creates actively disengaged workers.
To combat their unhappiness, Peter and two other disgruntled colleagues decide to take revenge on Initech by stealing its money. Because of the company’s poor separation of duties, the workers were able to snatch the cash. In the end, Milton, another very unhappy worker, decides to take his rage a step further and burn the whole building down.

Office3_LHow could this have been prevented?

Well, I’m not suggesting that your employees will go and steal the company’s money or burn the place down, but if they are not motivated or engaged it could cause other big problems for your organization. Environments like this cause workers to dislike their jobs, which is bad for business. It affects service to your customers and your bottom line. peter"The thing is, Bob, it's not that I'm lazy, it's that I just don't care. It's a problem of motivation, all right? Now if I work my ass off and Initech ships a few extra units, I don't see another dime, so where's the motivation?" Effective Management: Hearing from multiple managers what you’ve done wrong with no guidance on what would be right causes resentful employees. It is important for managers to treat their employees with respect and dignity and provide a path to success. Motivation: Employees don’t want to work in a place where they don’t get recognized for a job well done. If the business environment causes low employee moral, it will decrease productivity. Company Culture: The problem with Initech’s culture isn’t that they move employees' desks around, or that a lousy printer that causes people misery. The real problem is that employees feel the company is the enemy, and the answer is in the company’s core values.  An organization needs to create a culture of success by valuing employees, recognizing their efforts, and providing the opportunity for improvement. peter"That's my only real motivation is not to be hassled, that, and the fear of losing my job. But you know, that will only make someone work just hard enough not to get fired." Office Space accurately depicts what happens when employees are underappreciated and unchallenged. Initech’s employees don’t see themselves as part of the company they work for, and don’t understand how their jobs make the company better. This causes them to feel as if they aren’t really needed and therefore do not care about any business outcomes. Ultimately, it is important to keep your employees motivated and challenged if you want them to do their best. Otherwise, you might end up with a missing printer or worse...

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