Industrial Organization (I/O) Psychology and the Film Office Space (1999)
The movie Office Space (1999) although it is clearly a comedy, could almost be a recruiting vehicle, in and of itself, for the profession of industrial organizational (I/O) psychology. According to the web article Careers in industrial organizational psychology:
Industrial Organizational (I/O) Psychology is the study of behavior in work settings. I/O psychology is very important in the workplace for promoting productive worker attitudes and behaviors and for selecting and promoting candidates in the most effective fashion . More and more companies are hiring I/O psychologists to come in and help revamp certain aspects of their company. It seems that today there is a great demand for equal employment, equal pay and an enjoyable yet productive environment.
InTech, the fictional software company that the main character Peter Gibbons, and his equally under-appreciated and burned out friends Samir and Michael worked for, was an example of the kind of organization that could have greatly benefited from the expertise and guidance of an I/O psychologist. Instead, however, business consultants were called in (as is commonplace, in such situations, in real life) to help revamp the company.
While the consultants did in fact (ironically) correctly identify Peter's lack of job motivation, they were also instrumental in both erroneously promoting him and unjustly firing Samir, Michael, and others. Five key aspects, of typical I/O psychological work within organizations: (1) occupational stress; (2) job satisfaction; (2) (3) employee motivation; (4) emotions at work, and (5) organizational change (among others), are vividly, sometimes starkly represented within the movie Office Space.
Occupational stress is, most typically, a matrix of unpleasant emotions, including anxiety, worry, tenseness, irritability, and a feeling of being confused or overwhelmed, that can, and often does occur when one is overworked, fearful of losing one's job, etc. It relates to I/O because occupational stress (now, typically, even more severe than when this movie came out in 1999) is an unfortunate fact of corporate and organizational life today, especially with all the corporate downsizing, jobs being shipped overseas, etc. A good example, from the movie Office Space, of organizational stress occurs near the beginning of the film, when at least three people, including Peter's boss, Bill Lumbergh, harass Peter, one right after the other, about not putting a cover sheet on his TCP report. Additionally, Melvin in the cubicle next door is playing his radio too loud, and a woman in another cubicle is talking on the phone in a very annoying voice. The mere layout of the office space is stressful: everyone seems to be working almost on top of everyone else, and getting in each other's way. Office management in this movie treats occupational stress incorrectly. When the character Bill Lumbergh, the boss, for example, prowls the work area and ambushes various workers with requests (e.g., to work on Saturday, to remember the cover sheet, etc.), that merely contributes to the stress inside this workplace. Lumbergh is also very condescending in the way he talks to his employees, and his annoying habits and speech patterns keep everyone on edge. Lumbergh could cut down on the stress he causes by treating everyone as equals, even though he is the boss, instead of talking down to them so much.
Job satisfaction, or being happy and fulfilled (or not) at work is another implicit psychological topic of Office Space. This topic is important in I/O because one of the goals of I/O is to help companies increase employee job satisfaction. No one at InTech (with the possible exception of Bill) was satisfied with his or her job. They all felt over-harassed and under-appreciated. The task of the consultants was more to weed out people who could be fired than to really explore employee job satisfaction. One thing the consultants did get right, though, was that Peter was under-motivated at work. But promoting to another job he probably wouldn't like, while firing his two best friends, was not likely to make him anymore satisfied than before. From a psychological standpoint, job satisfaction has to do with feeling fulfilled by the work you do and being appreciated as a human being. The consultants did not help Lumbergh understand any of that; they just told him who to fire, which would just keep this problem the same for the people life working there.
Another topic of the movie was employee motivation. No one who worked there had any motivation about the work itself. Their only motivation was to keep collecting their paycheck. Peter said, at one point to the consultants, "even if I do something really well (or quickly, or whatever) I won't make another cent." In terms of employee motivation from a psychological view, I/O teaches that different people are motivated by different things, e.g. money; principle, making the world better, etc. The consultants were not really on track about what would motivate Peter at work. They mentioned stock options, but they missed the cues he was sending out, with his clothes and his general behavior, that what might motivate him would be the opportunity to just be his natural self, at work. The consultants thought that just being busier, having more power, and making more money would motivate Peter, even though he was sending out all the opposite messages. If the consultants had just really looked and listened, they might have seen that none of their impressions or observations were correct.
Emotions at Work
A fourth I/O topic the movie brought up was emotions at work. Emotions at work is, simply, the way a person feels, e.g., happy, interested, stimulated, fulfilled (or bored, restless, angry, unmotivated, etc.) in the work environment. From a psychological standpoint, if one's emotions at work are more negative than positive, the job is having a negative effect. This is what was happening to almost everyone at InTech: Peter; Michael; Samir; Tom; etc. I/O realizes that emotions at work (either positive or negative) impact the employee; the work; and the whole environment. In this movie, Peter's emotions at work were so negative that he invited Michael and Samir to Chotchkie's for coffee, just to get out of there. When the consultants came in, they seemed totally uninterested in anyone's emotions at work, just what they did in their jobs and how their jobs were important to the company. If they had asked Peter about his emotions, they might have gotten more of a clue about what motivated him. Also, even the psycho-hypnotist (before he dropped dead) didn't have Peter elaborate much on his emotions at work, even after Peter said every day at work was bad, withy one day even worse than the one before it. The issue of emotions at work was definitely treated incorrectly in this film; by both the consultants and they psycho-hypnotist, simply because they did not ask peter enough about his emotions at work.
A fifth topic that appeared in the movie was that of organizational change. Organizational change can be many things, such as when a company or organization changes directions, by downsizing, merging with another company, getting new management, etc. From an I/0 standpoint, organizational change is one of the hardest things for employees to psychologically deal with, since it typically makes them feel helpless and not in control of their lives or destiny. Office Space brought out, even if just in a fictional manner, how true this is.
Organizational change, in any form, is generally worrisome to lower-ranked employees of a company (like Peter and his friends) because such employees have no control over the impending changes, and how the changes will impact them. Most worrisome, at times of organizational change, to employees like peter, Michael, Samir, and the others, is the question of rather or not…