Every office-based TV show and movie needs an HR department. But what would happen if you were trained in HR by watching TV shows and movies? You'd probably learn both good and bad things. Mostly bad, though, because let's face it, HR isn't exactly portrayed accurately in Hollywood.
Don't believe me? Let's examine some popular shows.
HR Representative: Toby Flenderson, played by Paul Lieberstein.
Toby is as boring as can be and is constantly insulted by his boss, Michael Scott. It's pretty clear that Toby doesn't report to Michael, but he doesn't stand up to him either. Toby also allows lots of unacceptable behavior in the office. Which is good for the show, because that's essentially the whole plot. Nevertheless, Toby stinks as an HR manager.
What to learn from Toby: While Toby is a terrible HR representative, he does do some things right. He develops relationships with the rest of the staff but does so by keeping his distance. This is actually important for HR managers — if you get too close to individual employees it could impede your ability to make good, objective decisions.
Office Manager: Joan Holloway, played by Christina Hendricks.
Joan is old school HR. So old school, that she's labeled an office manager, even though she focuses on hiring and training of the secretarial staff, phone operators and "steno pool" (something that really doesn't exist anymore). Joan is a stickler for rules, enforcing Roberts Rules of Order. She runs a tight ship in a way that would no longer be acceptable in the business world. If Mad Men does one thing, it shows how things have evolved.
What to learn from Joan: Despite the problems at the business, Joan does a great job climbing up the corporate ladder. She recognizes that personnel isn't a completely siloed department, and she deftly moves out of one role and into another. The best HR managers know the business and can do well in a variety of roles.
"Up in the Air"
HR Consultant: Ryan Bingham, played by George Clooney.
Ryan isn't a real HR representative — he's not involved in development, he doesn't make business plans and he doesn't conduct trainings. He simply fires people. Yes, he flies around the world firing people. This movie is like a blueprint on how not to fire people. Sure, the whole plot is about how his way is best, but his way is not recommended. HR consultants know that the person who fires someone should be the direct supervisor, with HR support.
What to learn from Ryan: Ryan is a master of professionalism, even though his job requires him to practice bad HCM. He has a very difficult task, which is to lay people off, and he does it very well. Sometimes HR is faced with a difficult task, but we can't get too emotional — at least not on the job.
"The Drew Carey Show"
Assistant Director of Personnel: Drew Carey, played by Drew Carey.
Just when you thought HR was boring, enter the wacky world of Winfred-Lauder, the fictional store Drew works at where the personnel department is never boring. HR can't afford to be as crazy — there's too much work to be done!
What to learn from Drew: Drew actually has work-life balance. He has friends, he goes out — his whole life doesn't revolve around HR. It's important for HR leaders to not get so wrapped up arguing for work-life balance for everyone else that we forget it ourselves.
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