Inspiring Fearlessness in “Uncertain Times”: What Office Space Can Teach Us

“The thing is Bob, it’s not that I’m lazy… it’s that I just don’t care.”    –   Peter Gibbons

Office Space Movie inspiring fearlessnessYou won’t find Peter Gibbons delivering an inspirational TED Talk on organizational culture or employee engagement. But his insights are as on-the-nose as those of Shawn Achor or Simon Sinek. They definitely set the tone of inspiring fearlessness if in unconventional ways.

If you’re a fan of the 1999 cult film, Office Space, by Mike Judge, you know Peter well. Stuck in what he sees as a meaningless job at tech firm Intech, and accidentally transformed emotionally by a hypnotic therapy session gone horribly awry, Peter’s attitude about his job, and his life, take a 180-degree turn.

Business at Initech is suffering. When a pair of efficiency experts dubbed “The Bobs” are called in to evaluate the Intech staff, their roles, and their responsibilities, they sit down with Peter to learn more about what he does and how he sees his role at the company.

“What’s a day at Intech like for you, Peter?” one asks.

“Well, I generally come in at least fifteen minutes late. After that I sorta space out for an hour. Yeah, I just stare at my desk, but it looks like I’m working,” he says. “I do that for probably another hour after lunch too. I’d say in a given week I probably only do about fifteen minutes of real, actual, work.”

Says one of The Bobs to Peter’s boss after the interview: “We had a chance to meet this young man, and boy he’s just a straight shooter with upper management written all over him.”

Silly as it sounds, there are aspects to Peter’s attitude that are, ironically, highly valued by forward-thinking employers: He is brutally honest. And he’s fearless.

We are currently entrenched in an era of deep uncertainty. Steady, secure jobs, in so many sectors, are scarce and those who have them are clinging to them as hard as they can. Work responsibilities have changed. Even our own health and safety seems constantly at risk. According to a study by Robert Half International, a staffing agency, workers can be so focused on “being needed” that they no longer take chances or speak the truth. The survey revealed that:

  • 30 percent of people said their biggest fear is making a mistake
  • 18 percent said they are scared of difficult customers
  • 15 percent said they are afraid of conflicts with a manager
  • 13 percent of workers are afraid of speaking in front of others
  • 13 percent of workers are fearful of arguing with their co-workers

It’s only natural in times of uncertainty that people retreat to what feels safe. Flying below the radar can seem like the path of least resistance. But when team members are too fearful to speak the truth, small issues are left unresolved—and can grow to become bigger challenges. Inspiring fearlessness in your teams starts with you.

As a leader, among your responsibilities is fostering a work environment where team members feel safe enough to speak the truth. Do you have a plan for inspiring fearlessness in your employees—even when the world is an uncertain place?





Be a Fearless Leader

  • Communicate with your team members clearly and concisely. As reported in Swift Bunny’s Multifamily COVID-19 Employee Impact Study, employees overall gave their leaders great marks on providing candid and relevant updates to their company’s response to the pandemic. The challenge now is to maintain that high level of communication as the pandemic drags on.
  • Set expectations and articulate them often. Guesswork can cause a great deal of stress. Keep your employees free of that stress by keeping them informed, especially now as policies and procedures change constantly as your business adapts to the new circumstances.
  • Create and maintain an atmosphere of trust. When faced with health and safety risks, it’s critical that your team members feel that supervisors have their back. In our Multifamily COVID-19 Employee Impact Study, some respondents shared a troubling perception that leaders were out of touch regarding what front-line community team members were actually managing on a daily basis. Make sure that isn’t happening in your workplaces by encouraging leaders to be in the trenches with their teams.
  • Relax the rules a bit. There are times when policies and procedures must take a back seat to performance and COVID-19 is one of those times. Some of the rules and norms from life before COVID-19 don’t work so well today. Be flexible and put your people before your policies.
  • Acknowledge the unique set of challenges that your employees face. More than half of participating employees in our Multifamily COVID-19 Employee Impact Study agreed that they are worried about the future. With so much uncertainty, it’s a valid concern. Show compassion for the hardships your team members are enduring, including their fear of an uncertain future. At the same time, lead with optimism and action and invite your associates to be actively a part of the solutions your company is implementing.

So, is Peter Gibbons the ideal employee—or an employer’s worst nightmare? Is it his fault that he’s totally unmotivated and uninspired, and that his job is so incredibly unrewarding? I have my own thoughts on inspiring fearlessness, but perhaps you should add Office Space to your weekend entertainment lineup and decide for yourself!


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