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Avoid a Case of the Mondays - Office Space (1999)

January 14, 2019

Does anything feel more like "A Case of the Mondays" more than the first week of January coming back from the holidays? 2019 brings new changes, new chances, and new hope, but if you had to schlep to work over the holidays, you may be left feeling burned out and hopeless. Keep the faith though, another reason to celebrate 2019 is the revelation that Mike Judge's cult hit film "Office Space" turns 20 YEARS OLD this year! (I know, now I'm really feeling it too.....) It remains a beloved film for desk jockeys that has inspired memes, sold staplers (I have one on my desk) and has supported us through the years as something that understands us, and I haven't worked at an office yet where someone didn't quote this film. Upon a re-watch in celebration of its anniversary, I realized that the real theme of the film is motivation.

 

My previous blog talked about the "talent wars" in our industry, and this film really explores the biggest ammunition in the talent wars - motivation. With  a current shift in generations occurring in the business world, the rise of millennials in leaderships positions, and the job market leaning in the employee's favor, big firms these days are really starting to examine what actually drives employees. Many a LinkedIn article, news brief, business blog, and social media link have talked about what really motivates employees; be it remote work capabilities, stock options, acute goal setting, or upward mobility. This movie really predicted something 20 years ago that companies and firms are just now starting to seriously examine with a microscope.

 

In the first act of the film, main character Peter discusses with his friends and neighbor what each of them would do with a million dollars. The point of the question is to examine your inner motivation and what your career passions are. Motivation hasn't always been a priority for companies; the generational thought until recent years (no doubt brought on by the explosion of success of high profile tech firms such as Google and Facebook) was exactly what you read on the banner hanging in the office in the film - "Is it good for the company?" 

 

The Review

Office Space starts with the dreary life of Peter Gibbons, a cubicle dwelling desk jockey at a computer software company called Initech. Peter's daily life has become a depressing routine. He has a frustrating commute, tiresome coworkers, an annoying boss, and a girlfriend that is probably cheating on him. His fellow routine-based coworkers Samir and Michael Bolton (no relation to the musician), share in his daily struggle, and his only confidant is his laid-back construction worker neighbor Lawrence. The one thing he has to look forward to is Joanna, a waitress at the local Applebees knockoff restaurant that he hasn't gained the courage to talk to yet. 

 

The monotony of their routine is broken up by the announcement that their firm, Initech, is bringing in a couple of consultants to help "improve efficiency" by interviewing many of the employees; a sign that they perceive as the beginning of the end for their careers. The only one unphased by the developments is Milton, an overlooked quirky employee that was laid off but never told. He is constantly threatening to "set the building on fire" from the frustration of having his desk moved too many times and his stapler taken away. 

 

While attempting to make sense of his career and his life, and trying to fix things with his cheating girlfriend, he visits a hypno therapist that hypnotizes him into a new relaxed state with a more positive outlook on life. In an ironic turn of events, the therapist dies of a heart attack before completing the procedure, leaving Peter in a permanent positive outlook-state. The next morning he awakens feeling great, despite it being a Saturday on which his boss, the inane and idiotic Lumbergh, had asked him to work. By Monday, he shows up at work with a forward approach to everyone and everything, asks Joanna to lunch with him, and gives the honest truth to the evaluation consultants that her refers to as "the Bobs". Peter explains to the Bobs in plain terms that his lack of motivation stems from his frustration of having to answer to seven levels of management including a micromanaging boss, file useless reports, and deal with his annoying coworkers and company culture. 

 

All this honesty leads to the last thing Peter would expect - a promotion for him and the ax for his friends Michael and Samir. Their frustration leads them to put a plan into motion that will hack Initech's software and siphon off pennies from the interest computed by the company. The plan goes off without a hitch and the friends celebrate their success, until they find out that their plan worked too well. Peter is shocked, scared, and contemplates what to do about his situation, but ultimately makes the wiser and more honorable choice. Milton, on the other hand, has different plans on how to deal with Initech.

 

 

The Take

When I started out as a marketing assistant, I did all of our printing in house. Every morning that I needed to print, the copier would jam up on me, so much so that I nicknamed it Bob Marley. Those moments, similar to being in Michael Bolton's shoes, I had a chance to really examine my situation and evaluate where I was going in my career. I obviously worked at my job because I needed a paycheck (and in Southern California no less), but I kept circling back to the opportunity that I had at a company where someone believed in me and thought that I could be so much more with hard work and an open mind. So I decided to stay. Years later I would nearly break my neck from all of the nodding that I did while reading articles about motivating the next generation of employees with training programs, career paths, flexible schedules, and project opportunities. 

 

It turns out that I was in the middle of a paradigm shift, and every industry, including AEC, was swept up in it. The days of employee stock options, retirement accounts, and medical benefits as motivators were dwindling. Coming from a generation that had just survived a recession, a housing market crash, countless government scandals, and breach of trust in our institutions, investment in a company didn't seem to really matter to me anymore. I wanted to be like my peers, be part of a winning marketing team, and work on the next big thing in our industry. I found out where I could apply my skills, and more importantly, my team recognized it, and applied my value where it would be of the best use. Most importantly, I carved out an identity for myself.

 

Over the years I have struggled to maintain that identity in an industry that barely understands what marketing even does for them. No fault or blame, but it is possible that the AEC industry itself is still struggling to understand marketing's identity and the part they play in the industry's success.

 

Firstly, we are communicators. Our motivations are different because our success metrics are different. For example, some may say that marketing is a success when the contract amount of the project has so many zeros behind it, while others (myself included) would say that marketing is a success when the client decides to rehire you for another project. In the film, Initech employee Tom (who eventually gets laid off) explains why client and customer service is so important when talking to the efficiency evaluators. He frustratingly explains "I already told you: I deal with the g*d d**n customers so the engineers don't have to. I have people skills; I am good at dealing with people. Can't you understand that? What the hell is wrong with you people?" A funny and sad-but-true scene that anyone who interfaces with clients can relate to, he makes an excellent point that not all motivation is based in numbers.

 

Secondly, don't always assume that people have the extra time. Again this is where communication is key in maintaining the work-like balance; it counts for employees and managers alike. In the film, Peter is constantly harassed by his unfeeling boss, and then said boss also tells - not asks - him to come in to work on a weekend. Employees have lives outside of the office, and many an irreparable rift has occurred by forgetting this fact. The logic behind maintaining this idea is simple - don't demand when a question will do. Asking someone to give up their extra time as an equal maintains the human value of your employees. I know this goes back to basics as far as business etiquette and principles, but every now and again we need to remind ourselves of the basics. Those that forget them may end up alongside Wells Fargo in terms of operational ethics. In AEC marketing, where wins are determined by successfully maintained relationships, asking trumps telling anyday. 

 

Thirdly, what's in it for the employee? Janet Jackson once famously asked "What have you done for me lately?" And while employers may believe that they have the upper hand since they control the paycheck, that question also goes both ways. Employees are making an investment of time by deciding where they want to spend eight hours of their day. This is important since that investment is the sum of all of their motivational factors. When Peter is explaining to the Bobs about his motivation, he sums it up brilliantly, by stating:
 

"It's a problem of motivation, all right? Now if I work my a** off and Initech ships a few extra units, I don't see another dime, so where's the motivation? And here's something else, Bob: I have eight different bosses right now.....So that means that when I make a mistake, I have eight different people coming by to tell me about it. That's my only real motivation is not to be hassled, that and the fear of losing my job. But you know, Bob, that will only make someone work just hard enough not to get fired.

 

In Peter's case, he seems to be doing all of the work, and receiving none of the thanks nor the consideration. The same principle applies as being in a romantic relationship - why would you maintain a relationship with an employer that offers nothing in return? I know what you're saying with the argument that the employee receives a paycheck, but that exchange covers the investment of time, not effort. Effort requires a different motivation altogether. In our marketing realm, motivation for effort could be a good strategy, a great team, or a possible win. Proposals take several days if not weeks worth of work, so the promise of a contract or paycheck is hardly enough motivation for the extra effort that goes into some proposals.

 

My partner has also been through his share of jobs, and his philosophy is to mentally "interview" the company while they interview you. If the facilities are clean, the people look happy, and people interact with each other positively, the hiring employer may pass your "What's In It for Me?" test. These tell-tale signs serve as evidence that the firm is a place worth investing your time in. Likewise, he also says that if you accept a position and find out that the company culture and processes are different than what you initially discussed in the interview (and this has happened to me) then the company "lied on their application." This may even apply moreso to AEC firms since as a marketing specialist, you will be spending a lot of time there. The BD/marketing process is more involved and stressful than many realize, and being in an environment where you know you are respected, appreciated and rewarded accordingly is crucial to success.

 

Lastly, and maybe most importantly when employing marketers, is to keep their minds engaged. This can actually apply to all employees since humans are natural problem solvers, but I can speak from experience that it is redundant to hire a creative person for their creative talents and then put them in a position to repeat a broken process until they quit. You are quite possibly creating an insane person. The best way I have heard it put was "It does not make sense to hire chess players and then treat them like chess pieces."

 

Cultivating a team for their strengths and then using those strengths to achieve (something I have also previously written about) is the biggest challenge a manager can face, and an achievement that I greatly respect. Although, too often have I seen managers fill in a schedule on a spreadsheet placing people in timeslots and call it managing. If that is all it took to manage a team, I am very overdue for a raise. Not that I am here to bash former managers, I am sure that there is a website for that. Instead I ask that marketers in this industry can always do better and be more, myself included.

 

As managers you have the duty and challenge of leading the best of us out there, and as marketers we don't have to be weary or afraid to insist on doing what we do best. Creative people still need leadership and support, and that is where upper management should shift focus to. My first marketing assistant position (the one where I did weekly battle with Bob Marley) I took because the first sentence on their career page states their mission is "To find outstanding professionals and give them the freedom and support to do what they do best." That has always stuck with me as the way management ought to go, and it has taken as many years to find another company that believes that, and acts on it.

 

A new year means a new chance to evaluate how you are doing and decide where you want your career to go. Maybe as a manager it's taking some extra time to listen to your employees. As a marketer, maybe it's evaluating your current situation and deciding if it's where you want to be. Maybe all of us need to inventory what really motivates us. Give it some thought, take some chances, and remember the only constant is change. Be like Peter, stop and pay attention to why you do what you do. He pleads with his friends and sums up how we all feel by exclaiming:

 

"It's not just about me and my dream of doing nothing. It's about all of us. I don't know what happened to me at that hypnotherapist and, I don't know, maybe it was just shock and it's wearing off now, but when I saw that fat man keel over and die - Michael, we don't have a lot of time on this earth! We weren't meant to spend it this way. Human beings were not meant to sit in little cubicles staring at computer screens all day, filling out useless forms and listening to eight different bosses drone on about about mission statements."

 

Think about it a bit before you do something crazy like setting fire to the building. Also, if your printer is acting up, your boss is getting  you down, or you just need a five minute mental break, enjoy this iconic (and so totally NSFW music filled) clip of every office worker's fantasy. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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