Have you seen the movie Office Space? Directed by an astute observer of society, Mike Judge, Office Space shows what the little guy goes through in the daily course of his pathetic cubicle existence. The movie opens with one such average guy, Peter Gibbons, trying to min-max his way through the Monday morning rush hour.

Peter arrives at work at Initech, a faceless software firm, but before he can zone out in front of the computer screen, his douchebag boss arrives to casually complain about trivial bullshit.

If you could recognize this guy, that would be great

If you could recognize this guy, that’d be great

Peter is a spineless loser who can’t say “NO!” to his boss, puts up with crap from a girlfriend who is way out of his league, and essentially gets no respect, except from his two colleagues, Michael and Samir. Peter’s girlfriend, Anne, suggests that the two of them go see an “occupational hypnotherapist”, who puts Peter in a relaxation trance but gets a heart attack before cancelling the suggestion. At this point, Peter just stops giving a fuck about everything and that’s when the movie gets interesting.

Squashing Y2K bugs

Initech is in the middle of downsizing and a pair of “efficiency consultants” interview employees to decide who gets axed. Peter, in his newfound state of lucidity, tells them that he only does enough work to not get fired, which is actually about 15 minutes per week. Why? Because he is not motivated to do any more than that.

The plot quickly becomes much more epic as Peter starts enjoying life, taking more risks and eventually decides to rob Initech with his two buddies. Their highly improbable plan involves shaving off a few cents from each transaction and siphoning it to a separate account, supposedly generating millions over time. Peter also dumps his former bitchy girlfriend and upgrades to a hot waitress.

You might have seen her before

You might have seen her before

Office Space is worth watching just for the printer destruction scene, but there are many subtle hints about what the profit-driven capitalist system does to the regular guy who just wants to have a normal life.

The idea of motivation as a crucial factor that determines efficiency in a corporate environment is well known and understood. However, the ways to make employees motivated are not that obvious. Some companies decide to motivate them with awkward team building exercises while others hire motivational speakers who give speeches peppered with fake zest. Neither of these has a long lasting positive effect, if it has one at all.

So, why not just pay employees more? Throwing money at a problem until it fixes itself seems like the best possible solution, but that’s not the case at all. There have been numerous actual studies done about this problem and the answers are surprisingly unusual. As it turns out, this is also the secret to personal satisfaction in the workplace. These are the three factors that cause people to just space out in the workplace:

1. You don’t have any autonomy

Everyone has the inherent desire to be self-directed and possess a feeling of agency. This means the ability to set your own goal and choose the means to achieve that goal. This is completely against how management and top-down decision making works.

Not only are you not allowed to make any decisions, but due to political correctness, everything you say or do can and will be subject to harsh criticism or other repercussions.


Each cog has the illusion of movement, but stays firmly in place

After a certain amount of time spent in such environment, you will either adapt by becoming a faithful servant to the machine and learn the art of passive-aggressive backstabbing or quit outright. In other words, management is great for situations where compliance and abiding by the rules is of utmost importance. For any other situation that requires innovation or creativity, it simply doesn’t work at all.

2. Your job can’t be developed into a mastery

Not only does each cog in the machine have its place, but it has to have its own, strictly defined function and never be allowed to deviate from it. That’s because employees who do one thing only are easily replaced and loss of any of them doesn’t stop the business from earning more money.

Employees that can learn something other than the given function may become crucial for the business and therefore set their own terms. From a purely economic standpoint, having specialized workers as a way to maximize profits is completely understandable.

Well, as long as profits keep rising

Well, as long as profits keep rising…

However, economists also think that having fun or hobbies is absolutely unreasonable. Why would you ever want to do something that’s not making you money?

The truth is, from the day you are born, you strive to become better at things you do, whatever those might be. The ultimate reason is personal satisfaction. Having an insufficient outlet for mastery at work makes the person depressed, apathetic, and waiting for the work hours to run out every single day.

3. Your job lacks purpose

Finally, we come to the most transcendent issue—having a job with greater purpose rather than just simply making money. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be religious and believe in a supernatural being. Simply put, your job has to have some noble cause, it has to somehow do good deeds and make the lives of others better.

Without a greater purpose, the worker will do his job sloppily and run the risk of becoming corrupt, since there is nothing he won’t do for some extra cash.

Office Space screen Milton

I was told there will be a greater purpose

If this sounds too romantic, let me remind you of the most recent case where greed and corruption had a global impact—the 2008 financial crisis. Instead of being money-lending institutions that gave money to people so they can buy houses to live in (a noble cause), banks turned into profit-driven machines that sought whatever generated the most cash.

The end result was the global recession that rivaled The Great Depression from the 30s. Even though those bank managers had autonomy and mastery at what they did, they pursued their own selfish agendas and ended up threatening the entire world.

Don’t stop dreaming

Thankfully, you don’t have to slave at the cubicle anymore if you don’t want to. Globalization has made the world a much more hospitable place for English-speakers, while the internet has opened up countless new and exciting ways to make money while you sit in your underwear at home.

Who knows, maybe it’s your version of sexy Facebook that’s going to provide you with the lifestyle you always wanted.

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