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Phishing for the greater good

May 22, 2019

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"Office Space" nailed workplace frustration. It turns 20 today.

Feb 19, 2019
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Ron Livingston, David Herman and Ajay Naidu take revenge on their nemesis, the office fax machine, in a scene from the 1999 movie "Office Space."
Getty Images

Um yeaaaah, we’re gonna have to go ahead and note that Tuesday marks the 20th anniversary of the release of “Office Space,” the 1999 movie that follows a few software company workers who hate their jobs.

It’s a movie that captured the daily indignities suffered by office workers. It’s achieved cult status over the years, is quoted often and changed the way many people think about office culture.

“’Office Space’ is the most influential movie as it relates to how we think about workplace culture, primarily because its humor was so relatable,” said Susan LaMotte, CEO of Exaqueo, a brand and talent consultancy.

The workplaces of “Office Space” are top-down and headed by smarmy, incompetent bosses. The work appears meaningless, and the expectations for employees are muddy. The film makes it clear that unfulfilled employees are not productive employees.

“It’s not that I’m lazy,” explains the main character, programmer Peter Gibbons. “It’s just that I don’t care.”

Increasingly, companies have warmed up to the importance of making employees feel invested in their jobs.

“If you look at ‘Office Space,’ it’s a case study of what not to do,” said Arthur Woods, co-founder of Imperative, a startup that researches workplace engagement. “People are seeking fulfillment in work more than ever before. Only about 1 percent of the population believes they can be fulfilled in life and not fulfilled in work.”

If employees don’t get some kind of fulfillment from their work, they tend to leave. But as much as some workplaces are aware of this, many are not. Which is why “Office Space” remains so relevant.

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