Ever flip through the channels on a lazy Saturday afternoon and come across an oldie but goodie? This happened to me recently with the movie Office Space, a workplace classic. While I can’t imagine a world where everyone hasn’t seen Office Space, here is a quick plot summary.
Peter Gibbons (played by Ron Livingston, pictured here) generally has no motivation in life. He hates his job as a programmer at Initech, and hates his boss Bill Lumbergh, a smarmy coffee-mug-holding you know what who makes Peter work weekends and constantly bugs him about the status of his “TPS reports.” Convinced to attend an occupational hypnotherapy session where the therapist dies of a heart attack after hypnotizing Peter, he wakes up relaxed and with a new take on life. He ignores Lumbergh’s calls and, instead of heading into work over the weekend, goes to Chotchkie’s (a T.G.I. Friday’s parody) and asks out Joanna, a waitress played by Jennifer Aniston, whom Peter seemingly has had a crush on for a while.
While Peter’s relationship with Joanna progresses, his professional life similarly thrives. He goes into work in flip-flops, plays video games on his computer, and essentially ignores Lumbergh’s directions at every turn. Better yet, the “two Bobs”–outside consultants brought in by Initech to assess operations and assist in targeting employees to be downsized–meet with Peter and become enamored with his no-holds-barred take on the problems with working at Initech (as one of the Bobs says, “that’s just a straight shooter with upper management written all over him”).
When Peter learns, however, that the jobs of two of his closest co-workers, Michael (“Why should I change [my name]? He’s the one who sucks”) Bolton and Samir Nagheenanajar, will be eliminated, the trio hatch a plan to get even by installing a computer virus on Initech’s computers designed to divert fractions of pennies (amounts too little to notice but that cumulatively will result in a decent haul) into their own bank account. When they discover that a misplaced decimal point in the virus caused hundreds of thousands of dollars to be taken within only a matter of days, amounts that will be clearly noticeable to Initech, panic ensues. Let’s just say that things work themselves out thanks to Milton Waddams, a mumbling introverted Initech employee, whose actions unintentionally get Peter and company of the hook.
There are a host of other movie subplots, some of which raise rather interesting employment workplace issues:
Milton. When the two Bobs come in and take a look at Initech’s operations, they discover that Milton was actually laid off years earlier. Because of a computer glitch, though, he continues to receive regular paychecks. The two Bobs inform management that they “fixed the glitch” so that Milton will no longer be receiving a paycheck, and thus the situation will just “work itself out naturally.” Contrary to the two Bobs’ position, the glitch hasn’t been fixed. By willingly having Milton come into work, Initech has “suffered or permitted” him to perform labor for the company’s benefit. As a result, he must be compensated as an employee under the federal and state wage and hour laws. Initech also would be wise to return Milton’s red Swingline stapler to him.
Joanna. As a Chotchkie’s waitress, Joanna is required by company policy to wear 15 “pieces of flair” on her uniform, which she does. Yet, her manager constantly reprimands her for merely wearing “the minimum” as opposed to Brian who goes above and beyond and wears 37 pieces of flair. Chotchkie’s should tread carefully. If your company policy requires only 15 pieces of flair, disciplining or reprimanding employees who meet this requirement could permit a disgruntled employee to claim disparate treatment. My suggestion: Just get rid of the flair – people come to Chotchkie’s for the atmosphere and the attitude, not the flair.
Drew. Peter’s co-worker Drew is “that guy.” You know, that guy who tells you he’s gonna take out that new chick from Logistics and if things go well he might be showing her his “O-face.” You know, that guy who makes managers and supervisors worry about a sexual harassment lawsuit. That guy whom employers should probably have a talking to about appropriate workplace conduct before an incident occurs.
Peter, Michael, and Samir. I guess one of the most obvious lessons from this trio’s heist is to ensure that your organization has the appropriate firewalls to shield access to company data from employees. This also includes instituting an appropriate confidentiality policy to be distributed to employees and creating password protections for certain levels of corporate information. I guess the other lesson is don’t hire a guy like Lumbergh who will alienate your workforce. Oh, and make sure to have a printer that works or else your employees may take it from the office, transport it to the middle of some field, and unleash years of frustration by beating it to a pulp with their bare hands.