5 Famous Movies About Workplace Culture and How Their Mishaps Could Have Been Avoided

In thinking about how the workforce has evolved, it’s instructive to look at movies about workplace culture – how they envision the problems of work; how today’s technology and job economy present potential solutions to old problems. Well, it’s not only instructive, but entertaining. Movies and films teach us about the problems of our culture, society, and economy at certain points in time, but they’re also fun to watch.

Below, we discuss 5 fun movies about workplace culture and how the conflicts that drive them might have been avoided today.

5 Great Movies About Workplace Culture  

1. 9 to 5

This movie might not be hugely popular today, but it’s a classic workplace comedy. Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton play three women working for Consolidated Companies under a sadistic boss played by Dabney Coleman. The film concludes with Fonda, Tomlin, and Parton ousting the cruel executive, who gets sent to Brazil for a lengthy project, and taking charge of their careers. But not before overcoming an extensive power struggle and a lot of obstacles in their path.

How It Could Have Been Avoided

In real life, this situation should never have happened. (Though we’re glad it happened in this classic movie!) The three main actors should have been able to communicate their frustration with their executive through neutral, objective channels. 

Workforce communication is key – and thankfully today, with new communication tools available for distributed and remote workforce, it’s easier than ever to be transparent. As we’ve discussed before, the distributed workforce can benefit from better online and offline communication tools. 

Of course, such tools are only as helpful as the spirit in which they’re used. That’s why it’s important to cultivate a culture in the workforce that’s empathetic, one where individuals are willing to be honest and speak their minds no matter their position in the company’s genealogy.  

2. Death of a Salesman

Okay, this one isn’t quite a movie, but a famous 1949 play of which the 1985 TV adaptation is considered a classic. (You can watch it above.) In case you haven’t seen Death of a Salesman, it’s about the final days of a lifelong salesman as the company for which he is a salesman turns their back on him. It’s a sad play, a tragedy, but a wonderful one. But regardless of Loman’s fate, the company he represented on the road could have done much, much better by him. 

How It Could Have Been Avoided

Famously, at the end of Death of a Salesman, the company founder’s son tells Willy that he’s essentially useless and can no longer be associated with the company. Willy is already in need of more business, so this is hugely traumatizing for him.

Willy is part of what today we would call the distributed workforce, even if he wasn’t part of direct selling as we know it. He doesn’t work from a central office, instead he goes on the road and sells his associated company’s products. For one thing, he seems to have been losing money for a long time. His company could have communicated transparently that he was not going to make much of an income with them anymore, well before they actually did so – at the moment when it would cause the most damage for him.

In 2019, half of adults aged 65 and older received less than $47,357 in annual income from all sources, the median average retirement income for seniors according to the US Census. Willy’s employer could have taken that into account and been transparent about his limited opportunities for the future. In today’s world, they might have used streamlined communication tools to ensure everyone in the workforce knows where they stand. Instead, they were callous and did not act with Willy’s best interests in mind. This tragedy could have been avoided, though we’re glad it wasn’t, because this is one of the great plays and movies about workplace culture.

3. Office Space

This one is a beloved movie, a must-see comedy that will lighten your heart after Death of a Salesman. Even if you haven’t worked in an office, the movie’s jokes, gags, and characters will resonate with anyone who’s ever made an income. In effect, it’s a movie about poor management, dreadful working conditions, and a disengaged workforce. (The main characters’ boss, Bill Lumbergh, even has his own ‘best of’ reel.) 

In Office Space, a group of employees at a software company grow disaffected with their jobs and find various, hilarious ways to retaliate – like by smashing a printer. The whole movie is a comic sendup of work culture in the 1990s, which thankfully has been transformed through the rise of transformations like distributed work, gig work, and remote work.   

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How It Could Have Been Avoided

Office Space is such a fun watch that we’re not sure it was worth avoiding – but the rise of a more distributed, remote workforce will absolutely help Office Space-like situations from occurring in the future. According to a statistic in Forbes, more than ⅓ of US workers are part of the gig economy. 

While a good portion of these people might be in-office freelancers, many of them are using apps like TaskRabbit, Uber, and AirBnb to make part of their income, not even going to an office at all. Such a situation makes it less likely that individuals will have to face their own Bill Lumberghs. The Bill Lumberghs of the world should also consider that not much can be gained by micromanaging their workforce. Rather, they can use the advances of the digital transformation to help motivate higher performance in their workforce organically, from the bottom up – check out more about Rallyware to learn more. 

4. Clerks

Clerks is a movie from the 1990s about two extremely bored coworkers at a grocery store – as a certified “cult classic,” it has its share of devotees. Though the movie doesn’t have much of a plot, it’s full of fun hijinks as Dante and Randal find ways to keep themselves entertained. Caution: it can get a bit raunchy, so make sure you’re ready before you turn it on.  

How It Could Have Been Avoided

This one is simple – Dante’s and Randal’s management or store owners could have (if the movie took place today) used performance enablement technology to engage and motivate them. Dante and Randal are bored – it is the mid-1990s, after all – but today, it wouldn’t have to be that way. 

Rallyware, for example, uses Incentives & Promotions tools to drive sales and performance in retail. Rallyware’s app might show associates like the movie’s protagonists a notification on their phone alerting them of an incentive for higher sales being offered by their employer, or updates about their sales leaderboard – showing them who’s sold more this week. Click here to read more about Rallyware’s retail solutions in our recent article.

5. Horrible Bosses

This is another classic workplace comedy featuring an ensemble cast of Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Colin Farrel, Jamie Foxx, and Jennifer Anniston. It’s a hilarious and dark film about a group of friends who loathe their bosses so much that they plot to do the unthinkable – we’ll leave it at that. And their bosses are awful, hilarious to watch on screen but no doubt difficult to deal with for these lovable characters. 

How It Could Have Been Avoided

Though Horrible Bosses came out in 2011, near the height of the Great Recession, today’s workforce has more options and opportunities. The main characters in this movie didn’t have to resort to the unthinkable – if the movie took place in 2022 or 2023, these characters could have quit and joined the gig economy, where they wouldn’t have had to deal with a traditional “boss.” Instead, they could have sold their skills on a freelance basis, and even done ad-hoc tasks to supplement their freelance income. 

There are so many new, exciting ways to make an income today. Ones that go well beyond the traditional “boss-employee” relationship. And with a “Great Resignation” that apparently isn’t over, it’s likely that these beloved characters would have resigned in the very first scene of the movie, and it wouldn’t have taken place at all.

In any case, they would have had recourse to the gig economy, where the workforce can power their own growth, their own way, at their own pace. No doubt, today, movies about workplace culture would look different if they incorporated the reality of the workforce in the 2020s, more flexible and dynamic than ever.

With Rallyware, retaining and engaging the workforce is made easy. Why? We unlock workforce potential by centralizing training, incentivization, opportunity management, and more in a single performance enablement app that can be customized as companies wish. Click here to request your demonstration today.