Five HR-related shows to watch on Netflix

Films and shows have the power to transport us into other worlds, times – and workplaces.

With the lockdown in place and people limiting their time outside, many are turning to online streaming services like Netflix to pass the time. The rise of subscribers was so high it caused service outages across the US and Europe.

A number of Netflix’s popular shows use the workplace as their setting, highlighting the weird, wonderful, and ever-confusing minefield of unspoken rules and professional expectations. These shows can be great fun, or very uncomfortable to watch, especially for HR who work tirelessly to ensure their organisations are safe and suitable for all their employees.

Woman sitting on sofa watching TV image

The team at Cezanne HR has compiled a list of five Netflix TV shows and films with real HR issues, which will either have you itching to get in there to work your HR magic, or thanking your lucky stars you don’t have to work somewhere so dysfunctional!

*Contains mild spoilers

1. Aggretsuko (2018-ongoing)

Understanding how workplace stress affects employee wellbeing

This animated series by Sanrio, the company behind Hello Kitty, gives an insight to employees’ everyday struggles in a toxic workplace, how they deal with them and the impact they have on their wellbeing. Set in a world with animal characters, the show follows Retsuko, a 25-year-old red panda, and her daily life working as an office employee. She is shown to be overworked, unappreciated and even bullied, which causes her stress. She lets off steam by doing death metal karaoke after work.

According to a survey by Investors in People, 80% of UK workers have experienced stress at work. Whether you can relate to Retsuko’s frustrations or not, HR needs to ensure the workplace provides a good environment for employees, and this series shows what happens when that’s not the case.

2. The Social Network (2010)

Bringing innovation to hiring and company culture

This film is promoted as the biographical story of Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, and the birth of his multi-billion-dollar company. It demonstrates two things: much-needed skills and talent can be discovered through unconventional means, and company culture is nurtured by example.

We see Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) and his then-best-friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) join together to create thefacebook.com. Despite the questionable or even controversial projects he worked on, the film shows that Mark drew the attention of various people, from his Harvard seniors to Napster co-founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), with his innovative ideas and programming abilities. Mark’s creativity is also displayed in the way he hired his very first interns – a hacking competition/party among his college peers. His work-hard/play-hard (or ‘break things fast’) nature is put forward as Facebook’s culture today.

The film shows HR that employees are more likely to buy into a company’s culture and values if senior members are seen to follow that culture. The friction and eventual falling out of the co-founders in the film demonstrates what happens when they don’t. The importance of everyone being aligned to the company mission, values and culture in terms of how it can lead to the growth and success of a company is very much reflected in The Social Network.

3. Moneyball (2011)

Taking a more analytical approach

For the analytics enthusiasts out there, this film based on real life, is a story of how a baseball manager used data-driven methods to scout the best players for his team. With a limited budget and star players leaving, baseball club Oakland Athletics’ general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) was tasked to build the team in preparation for the next tournament. He meets Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), an economics graduate who shows an unconventional method in assessing player value. Peter looks beyond the prospective scouts’ experience and considers their perceived potential instead.

With analytics-driven HR gaining more attention, this is a great film that showcases the benefits of attempting something new in a space where the traditional approach has been unchallenged for a long time.

4. Mad Men (2007-2014)

What happens to the workplace without HR

This critically acclaimed TV show demonstrates what happens without a strong HR presence. Set in 1960s New York City, it revolves around an ad agency during an era when the workplace is filled with smoke and glamour. Throughout the series, we see countless scenes that would bring on nausea for any HR pro: gender discrimination, inappropriate affairs, fraudulent employees, day drinking, and more.

Although this series gives the modern viewer a sense of accomplishment for “coming a long way” with workplace policies and legislations, and even knowing that HR works very hard to ensure compliance, HR teams continue to tackle many of these issues today.

5. Brooklyn Nine-Nine (2013-ongoing)

Effective teamwork for a great work environment

Your workplace might not be a police station, but this sitcom highlights the benefits of having a diverse team, with various backgrounds and skillsets, who know how to work together and make a workplace fun.

The show starts with the assignment of a new commanding officer, Capt. Ray Holt (Andre Braugher), in Brooklyn’s fictional 99th Precinct. His team members include childish genius detective Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg), competent people-pleaser Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero) and strong ex-field officer Sergeant Terry Jeffords (Terry Crews), and they are a group of rowdy employees. Yet, when it comes to getting the job done, they collaborate well and find ways to resolve differences that might otherwise hinder their work. Captain Holt’s ability to discipline and commend his subordinates when necessary, also contributes to the building of trust and a positive relationship between him and the team.

Finding the right people to hire, and ensuring they get the training they need to work and develop as both individuals and as a team, are important tasks for HR.

What other TV shows or films have HR themes that you think we should watch? Let us know, we’d love to hear your recommendations. 

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