Tag Archives: workplace

Smoking Room (2002)

 Smoking Room is a spanish-language, english-subtitled movie about a middle-level executive Ramirez (Eduard Fernandez) who is outraged when the U.S.-based top management of his company decides to ban smoking in the whole office building. Ramirez believes that this mandate is being imposed on his office without regard to the acceptability and pervasiveness of smoking in the Spanish culture. He sets out on a signature campaign against the smoking-ban rule. At first he finds a few colleagues who support his petition, but he soon becomes embroiled in office politics where every body has their own agenda and loyalties are changed with convenience.

Anyone who spends some time thinking about smoking will realize that it has gone from being completely accepted in many countries (including in the United States) to becoming a socially unacceptable practice. most public places now ban smoking, movies and TV shows are encouraged (or required) to not associate glamor with smoking, and smokers are expected to step out of the office (or go 20 feet away from the office) if they want to light up. The glamor associated with smoking has almost gone, and now smoking is associated with diseases like cancer and bad health. In such an environment, are companies discriminating against smokers when they are required to go out if they want to smoke (sometimes in freezing cold and sometimes in burning heat)? And, if smokers do take smoking breaks during work hours, should companies allow non-smokers to take equivalent breaks too? (Click here for a pro-smoking blog and here for an anti-smoking blog). Smoking in the workplace raises a number of questions. Smoking Room doesn’t answer any/all of them, but it does make them more salient. (Interestingly, it seems like employers are now testing for nicotine smoking like they test for drugs and alcohol).

The movie is really slow and not very engaging. Plus, it’s in a spanish, with English subtitles. If you can use non-English language movies with your audience, this may be a good movie to consider.

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Swimming with Sharks (1994)

 Swimming with Sharks (1994) is the story of a young, ambitious Hollywood executive Guy (Frank Whaley) who gets a job as a personal assistant to a Hollywood movie mogul Buddy Ackerman (Kevin Spacey). Guy is fresh out of school and looks forward to working with Buddy to learn the movie business. Unfortunately, Buddy turns out to be an abusive boss who treats his employees like slaves, abuses them verbally, physically, and emotionally, and publicly humiliates them. Buddy’s behavior is so abusive that it not only affects Guy psychologically and emotionally, it also has a tremendous impact on his relationship with Dawn (Michelle Forbes0, a young movie producer. Finally, when Guy has had enough, he takes matters in his own hands and decides to show Buddy how it feels to be abused and humiliated.

This movie is about abusive workplace behavior. The fact that it is set in Hollywood, the dream destination of many young people, makes it an interesting watch! It shows many behaviors that abusive supervisors use against their employees. The scene where Guy needs to go to the bathroom but Buddy does not let him go certainly takes abusive supervision to a whole different level. When Guy complains about the way he is treated, Buddy is dismissive of him. Buddy’s attitude towards Guy’s complaints is that he just has to learn how to be tough and take it like a man, if he wants to succeed. (Click here if you want to read about abusive supervision at United States Postal Service, a high-visibility employer in the United States!). Just as in the movie, it is not uncommon for abusive supervision to lead to workplace violence. Click here if you want to read the No-Axxhxxe-Rule some recommend for employees who feel they may be in an abusive workplace.

The movie is somewhat slow, but it is a good movie is for courses or classes discussing abusive supervision, deviant work place behavior, human resource management, and organizational behavior.

The China Syndrome (1979)

chinasyndrome.jpg The China Syndrome (1979) is thriller story about a sudden unexpected breakdown at a nuclear power plant. Two TV reporters, played by Jane Fonda and Michael Douglas, are in a nuclear plant for a news-report on energy production. The two unexpectedly become witness to what they later realize is a cover-up at the nuclear plant. The company they work for is not interested in running the news story and the nuclear plant will do anything to hide the break-down from the public. The two reporters manage to get to the heart of the story with the help of a whistle-blower, who ends up being killed in trying to prevent the plant for pursuing business interests over serious safety issues.

I am not sure what people thought about the plot when the movie was being made or on the day it was released, but within a few days of its release The Three Mile Islands accident happened at a nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania. (For an official summary of the accident click here). Many scientists believe that nuclear energy is the future. The movie and the accident that followed it was a wake-up call for many that the dangers associated with nuclear plants are very real.

This movie was also a great example of the dangers associated with whistle-blowing. The whistle-blower at the nuclear plant was just trying to do what he thought was the right thing to do. We talk a lot about whistle-blowing in schools and colleges encouraging our students to speak up when they see something wrong in their workplace, the movie is about how far things can go for whistle-blowers.     

Office Space

officespace.jpgThis 1999 movie starring Jennifer Aniston and Ron Livingstone is one of the funniest Hollywood movies I have seen. It is the story of three men working at a computer company (called Initech Corporation in the movie, but it could be any company in the world) just trying to make it though each workday without getting in trouble or getting laid off. The main character, Peter Gibbons, played by Ron Livingston, spends most of his day staring into space and doing almost nothing. He is also repeatedly nagged by different managers telling him over and over the things he is doing wrong, making him want to ignore his job even more. After some cajoling by his girl friend, Peter agrees to see a hypnotherapist, who dies after hypnotizing Peter into a new state of mind that changes his perspective on life. He doesn’t show up to work any more, and stops putting any effort into even pretending to work. Around the same time, his company brings in restructuring consultants to make major changes by downsizing and laying off workers. Peter’s candid remarks about the company, casual attitude towards work, and body language somehow impresses the consultants who reward him, while his two best friends Michael and Samir are fired. The three friends decide to take revenge from the company by planting a virus in the computer system that will withdraw pennies from the company’s account and put money into their personal account.  After the plan goes into effect, they realize that the virus is not stealing pennies, but is moving thousands of dollars. Peter decides to return the money to the company and take the blame so his friends don’t get into trouble. He writes an apology letter and leaves it under his boss’s door. However, when he goes to work next morning the office building has been burned down (by another disgruntled worker). The movie ends with the three friends doing whatever it is they like doing instead of sitting in their cubicle all day.

The movie does a good job of presenting the average workplace- boring and political. I especially liked the scene about the TPC report, where some obscure paper report employees need to complete becomes so important that everybody just wants to talk about it. Not only about its contents, but the proper way to complete it (with a cover sheet!). Having worked in a few places myself and seen how documentation takes a life of its own (becomes a goal in itself), I can see why a creative, hard working, and innovative employee would feel bored and useless. I recommend this movie to all those who like watching comedies, especially comedies about the workplace (be careful about the profanities and obscene language, especially if you have kids around).