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Employee Engagement at Initech

Oh, Initech: Mike Judge’s 1999 vision of a cubicle farm during the dot com boom is a study in what companies shouldn’t do. But what can we learn about employee engagement from Office Space?

milton office space


Milton, the squirrely man with the thick coke bottle glasses, is a great example of the cowed employee. He is generally passive, letting Bill Lumberg move him into worse and worse cubicles until he’s finally in the dark basement. But it’s Milton who wins in the end, sticking to his word (albeit, mumbled) that he would burn the building down. Unless your employees already want to burn the building down and have purchased one way tickets to somewhere exotic, a little recognition goes a long way. It reminds them why they applied to start with, and why they would do it all again. At the very least, make sure the people-to-cake ratio isn’t too big.

Problem: Total disengagement, no communication.
Solution: Milton could have used some serious communication with Initech about his stapler and the location of his desk, especially with the accounting department about his paycheck.

lumberg office space


Probably the most written about and feared manager, Lumberg is a great example of who your managers shouldn’t be. No one likes a middle man, let alone one that micro manages all of their direct and indirect reports. The way he addresses employees is always a bummer — he never comes over to see how their day was, or to check up on how they feel about the project. Besides, yeaaaaah, he probably wants them to come in on Saturday. He’s really not grrreaaaaat.

Problem: poor communication skills.
Solution: Transparency! Give your employees a way to talk to management, either making suggestions or venting frustrations.

office space the bobs

Peter Gibbon’s 8 bosses

When Peter forgets to put a cover sheet on his TPS reports, eight people come to talk to him about it. Not only is this inefficient, how well could each of those eight bosses really know him? They can’t, really, besides that he was the guy who forgot to put the cover sheet on his TPS report. (What is a TPS report, anyway?) Being over managed and reminded of past missteps is a great way to alienate your employees. The more direct connection between manager and employee, and the better the two can know each other, the better. Building an actual relationship helps to make the boss an actual human, not just a suit.

Problem: overmanagement, insincere connections.
Solution:Know your employees beyond just their employee number. Set aside some time to check in with your employees about their lives, their health, and their performance, not just their cover sheets.

tom smykowski office space

Tom Smykowski

Tom isn’t sure what he does at Initech. Your employees should have a good idea of what their role is at your company, and how what they do affects the company at large. It can help to give them ownership, and not just: “I deal with the god damn customers so the engineers don’t have to. Can’t you understand that?” How engaged can an employee be if they can’t give a concrete answer to: “So, tell us, what do you do here?”
Problem: Self Awareness (or a lack thereof)
Solution: More communication! Goal setting helps employees own their projects and know exactly what their role is in their company.

peter gibbons office space

Peter Gibbons

Wait– hear me out. “But, Peter Gibbons is the example of what a disengaged employee looks like!” I want to talk about Peter Gibbons once he finds fulfillment at Initech: cleaning up the rubble. He gets his hands dirty, is excited to come to work, and has a decent work/life balance. If you want your employees to get their hands dirty and be excited to come to work, let them shine and be fulfilled at their jobs, and not just cleaning up the rubble from it.

Can you identify your office’s Miltons, Lumbergs, and Tom Smykowskis? Want to know how to turn your company’s culture around? Chat with one of our company culture experts to learn how or get started for free today!

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