Is Survivor and Big Brother Ruining The American Workforce?

Do reality TV Shows like Survivor and Big Brother foster this duality of personality and scheming by openly awarding those who are best at playing the game?  To be more precise are Survivor and Big Brother undermining present day work environments?

Question that will be posed to Marlene Chism, author of the book Stop Workplace Drama, and PI Window on Business guest on Tuesday, January 25th at 8:00 PM EST

Marlene Chism

When I was first contacted by Marlene Chism’s manager regarding her interest in being a guest on the PI Window on Business, I immediately began doing research into the subject of what Chism calls “workplace drama.”

While there was no shortage of possible directions for me to take the show, the more I looked into the phenomenon which are the daytime dramas that are played out in the workplaces of America on a daily basis, the more I began to appreciate the complexity of the subject matter Chism is attempting to tackle in her new book.

The areas upon which I focused my attention ran the gamut from emotional versus social intelligence to Victor Vroom’s Expectancy Theory of Motivation to the borderline leadership personalities highlighted in Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries and Danny Miller timeless classic Unstable at the Top.  In short, there was a myriad of roads I could have taken and, as demonstrated by the advanced release of the questions for Tuesday’s show below, I ultimately decided that these different roads would likely lead to a coherent if not collective answer.

This being said, and perhaps what stood out more than the U.S. Bureau of Labor Study, which tracked the employment histories of 9,964 workers over a 25 year period and discovered that the average American worker changes jobs every 2 1/3 years, was the advent of reality TV dramas.  In particular Survivor and Big Brother.

Now before you jump to the conclusion that I might be going down the path of blaming societal woes on the idiot box as my father would on occasion call it, I am not.  In fact quite the opposite as I tend to be of the opinion that it is society’s interests that influence the shows that ultimately reach into our homes on a 7/24 basis.   And based on the continuing success of reality programs like Intervention and Operation Repo it would appear that our interests more than anything else, lean towards real-life drama versus tranquil entertainment.

This of course is where the reference to both Survivor and Big Brother come into play.

As represented in the above Big Brother (and Big Brother After Dark) promotional video intrigue, emotions, turmoil, strategy and deception seems to be an intoxicating mix that draws viewers in record numbers.  It would therefor seem logical that such drama would inevitably find its way into the workplace, especially in situations where a job represents a paycheck versus being a career passion.

As for pure drama and celebrity pull, Survivor is hard to beat.  Just watch the following video:

In the end, one cannot help but wonder if Chism’s book is tantamount to a salmon swimming upstream in that it would appear that stopping drama whether in the workplace or for that matter anywhere else goes against the flow of our natural tendencies.


Click to Order!

Remember to tune in on Tuesday, January 25th at 8:00 PM EST when I welcome to show the author of Stop Workplace Drama Marlene Chism.  In the meantime, have a look at the questions that I will be asking and perhaps call in with your thoughts on what is undoubtedly an interesting topic.

Click to Listen

Advanced Release of Questions for January 25th show with Marlene Chism:

Segment 1 (Workplace Drama . . . A Top Down Affair?)

Host Comment: In my January 21st post in both the PI Window and Procurement Insights blogs titled “Will the real Daffy Duck(s) please stand up” about the ongoing shenanigans at HP, SAP and Oracle I wrote the following:

“Let me explain it to you this way Jon,” offered one of my lecturers in a course I was taking . . . “it’s like you are a passenger on the Titanic and after striking the iceberg you run to the Captain’s deck to let him know what happened and discover that the Captain is Daffy Duck!”

I first heard that analogy as a means of explaining the cast of characters from the book Unstable at the Top.  Written by management consultants Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries and Danny Miller, Unstable at the Top was a collaborative effort that sought “to combine action and reflection in helping companies overcome leadership problems.”

This leads to a number of questions regarding your book Marlene:

  • To start, how much of workplace drama has its origins in the upper echelons of a company’s management?
  • Based on the Kets de Vries and Miller book, which includes a reference to a “bank executive who wore Mickey Mouse ears at work,” it seems that some of our greatest captains of industry were or had odd perhaps even borderline personalities such as Henry Ford, Tex Thornton of Litton Industries, Addressograph’s Roy Ash, Harold Geneen of ITT, John DeLorean, Bernie Cornfeld, the Hunt brothers.  While disruptive, these companies did experience exceptional success.  What does this tell you?
  • I had made reference to the old saying that “you don’t have to be crazy to work here, but it helps,” but suggested that for many employees they are reduced to being spectators in these business melodramas which leads to cynicism, ambivalence and downright disenchantment. Question, to what degree can a solid management team play in terms of creating a stable environment?
  • Conversely, if there are mini-dramas being played out in the workplace amongst the rank and file, to what degree does uninvolved or wishy washy (great term) management play in perpetuating the problem?
  • While the reference to emotional intelligence (knowing and mastering oneself) versus social intelligence (understanding and responding effectively to the environment in which you live or work) has gained considerable traction in recent years, what are your thoughts regarding these two different yet integral elements of human behavior?
  • Is there a difference in the importance of one over the other based on your position in an organization?  If yes or know, please elaborate.
  • How does the presence or conversely absence of either emotional or social intelligence impact workplace drama?
  • I had recently read a commentary which stated that “right actions are not the result of environment but right thinking.”  What does this statement mean to you in relation to the question of workplace drama?

Segment 2 (Poking The Alligators)

Host Comment: I cannot help but refer back to the last question in the previous segment in terms of individuals taking ownership for their behavior.

In essence, is workplace drama – which has always been around to a certain degree, become more prevalent because of wrong thinking.  I want to examine a little  more closely the role that the individual plays in either diffusing or igniting the fires of a chaotic workplace:

  • Let’s begin by referring to a recent segment I did with 5x bestselling author Larry Winget in which it was suggested that far too many people look at employment as being a right and thus enter the workplace with an attitude of entitlement.  To start, do you believe that an attitude of entitlement amongst the workforce is becoming an increasing problem?  If yes or no, please elaborate.
  • It seems obvious (at least to me) that people thrive on gossip and turmoil by the advent of reality shows such as Intervention, Cheaters and Operation Repo to name just a few.  And let’s face it, on those rare occasions when I come across his show while channel surfing, every episode of Maury Povich seems to involve some form of paternity test.  This appetite for controversy has crept into the workplace giving one the impression that it is a growing phenomenon.  Is this the case that it is indeed a new trend or, has it always been a big part of the workplace in the past only it was never discussed?
  • Do reality TV Shows like Survivor and Big Brother foster this duality of personality and scheming by openly awarding those who are best at playing the game?  To be more precise are Survivor and Big Brother undermining present day work environments?
  • In a guest panel segment last year on outsourcing we touched on the fact that the cradle to grave concept of employment – which interestingly enough within the context of history is a relatively short-lived, 20th century idea, no longer exists.  According to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Study, which tracked the employment histories of 9,964 workers over a 25 year period in which the age of the worker at the start of the study was 14 to 22, with the last group interview being conducted between the ages of 39 to 48 found that the average worker had 10.5 jobs during that period.  This means that each worker changed jobs on average every 2 1/3 years.  The question here is quite simple, what impact (if any) does a frequently changing cast in the workplace have on the level of “drama” within an organization versus a more stable workforce?
  • I have also written extensively about the fact that unlike any other time in the history of business, there is a greater likelihood today that 4 different generations are simultaneously employed within the same enterprise?  What (if any) impact do generational differences have in terms of workplace drama?

Segment 3 (This above all: to thine ownself be true . . . )

Host Comment: Once again, and referring back to the commentary that right actions are not the result of environment but of right thinking, I immediately thought of Victor Vroom’s Expectancy Theory of Motivation.

For those unfamiliar with the theory, it was developed by Vroom in 1964 while he was at the Yale School of Business.  The premise is fairly straight forward in that Vroom concluded that people made a conscious choice while deciding whether or not to perform at the workplace.”  He then went on to say that this “choice was made by the employee depended entirely on the employee’s level of  motivation which in turn was a function of three factors” which are Valance, Expectancy and Instrumentality.

This opens up an entirely different line of questions relative to employees taking responsibility proactively or, fading into a morass of chaos reactively:

  • In referencing valence, which Vroom described as being the emotional orientation of a person with respect to the satisfaction that one hopes to receive, he stressed that “Whether one is willing to thrust oneself in the midst of an anxiety ridden situation, or is willing to give up almost anything in order to avoid a chaotic situation, depends entirely on one’s mental make-up.”   He then goes on to say that a “person who values money will be motivated to work towards a goal that would ensure him/her of a better compensation,” while one who values peace of mind will do almost anything to shy away from work and responsibilities if one perceives that these will not go hand in hand with peace of mind.”  Taking into consideration the focus of your book, will the people who value money versus peace of mind be negatively impacted by a more symbiotic environment if it meant that financial reward would be reduced?
  • In other words can you achieve harmony while still maintaining a competitive perhaps even edgy environment because let’s face it, some of the greatest accomplishments were achieved under the most onerous of circumstances?
  • What is the difference between healthy and again I will use the word edgy competition and what you would refer to as unnecessary and detrimental workplace drama?
  • How do you foster one, while keeping the other at bay?
  • Is part of the problem (or perhaps reason would be a better word) that workplace drama exists is because there is a poor match between employee and company culture?  In other words, if the money employee were in a let’s give each other a hug environment or conversely the employee who is intent upon avoiding conflict at all costs worked in a high paying job where there was a degree of chaos or anxiety these according to Vroom would be poor matches.  What are your thoughts?
  • Is it safe to say that similar to the old saying that an ounce prevention . . . a great many problems could be avoided if proper hiring procedures or methodologies were used in the first place?
  • Finally, and with the economy the way it is, people are more inclined to hold on to unsatisfying jobs to ensure a pay-check.  Is this fair to the employer and, what can employer do recognizing the truth of this situation?


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