Jamie Mackenzie: Stranger Things and HR lessons from the 1980s

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Employers are misjudging the possibility of a severe issue affecting their staff

The beloved Netflix show Stranger Things has come back for a third season and it’s filled to the brim with 80s nostalgia, classic movie references and neon bright fashion. It’s a show that’s captured the attention of many, with its fun storyline, cool scenes and entertaining characters. It’s also a series that reminds us of how far we’ve come along – presenting a world where things like mobile phones and the internet are non-existent.

Season three has also given us a deeper insight into some of the workplace habits of old, and really highlights how much has changed in the world of work. So, strap on your wrist rocket, grab your D&D manual and turn on your walkie-talkie, because we’re going to look at some of the ways work has changed since the 1980s.

Beware – some mild spoilers to follow!

Back to Hawkins

Aside from technology and attitudes, the way people approach work has shifted massively since the 80s. The decade was a time where modern practices like flexible or remote working were non-existent, and the role of HR was limited to hiring and firing. The employee experience was just as limited – a job was a job and anything beyond a pension and a Christmas party was considered luxurious. Nowadays, we have everything from cycle to work schemes, childcare support and even quirkier benefits like onsite dry cleaning, cinema vouchers or weekends away with the team.

However, it’s not just the employee experience that has changed since the 80s. The role and responsibilities of the business have also increased. Leaders can’t just hide themselves away in an office anymore; they need to sit with the team and get involved with the day-to-day. Managers need to inspire and develop people as well as do their own job. On a larger scale, businesses have an increased responsibility to recognise and support employee wellbeing, ensuring staff are happy, healthy and motivated with the business. No longer are staff just drones in the business, clocking in and out; they are now a team, a unit and in some cases a family.

The Demogorgon in the room   

There is also a bigger aspect at play which has changed significantly since the 80s, and it’s actually something Stranger Things directly addresses in its latest season. Workplace discrimination is a part of our history that many people would rather ignore, but it was the norm even as recently as the 1980s.

And discrimination in the workplace wasn’t restricted to gender. While one Stranger Things character faces challenges from her male dominated environment, her boyfriend also struggles to integrate into the business, having come from a poorer family than his colleagues. These attitudes are now unacceptable in our modern world, and it’s good to see businesses applying practical solutions to encourage diversity in the workplace. Whether it is establishing blind recruitment practices, running diversity sessions or simply building a more inclusive environment, organisations are trying to overcome bias – both unconscious and otherwise – in their teams.

It’s also an ongoing discussion, with both industry and government-led initiatives looking to build increased diversity in the workplace. While there is still plenty of work yet to be done, it’s positive to see organisations doing far more than they did a couple of decades ago.

Escaping the upside-down

It’s fair to say that the majority of workplace advancements have been for the better – improving output, productivity and quality of life. However, in our increasingly fast-paced world, there are a few lessons that the 80s can still teach us. Because while the increase in speed and efficiency is undoubtably a good thing for business, it can lead to negative outcomes for employees if not properly managed.

In today’s hyper-competitive market, employees are under considerable pressure to deliver. The advent of remote working, combined with benefits such as work laptops and phones, has quickly led to many organisations having an ‘always on’ culture. This lack of downtime isn’t good, however; employees who are working unreasonable hours and feel unable to switch off from work are likely to have increased levels of stress, poor mental wellbeing and a general lack of motivation.

It’s here that businesses need to look back to go forward. A few decades ago, businesses tended to stick to contracted hours and encouraged their staff to take their lunch break away from the office, giving them the chance to return to the job refreshed and motivated. Today’s business leaders should really do the same, as this approach will not only improve productivity, but also provide a better work-life balance for the team.

While Stranger Things gives us all that warm feeling of 80s nostalgia, it’s important to consider some wider lessons too. New technology, combined with a greater focus on diversity and wellbeing, has led to a more transparent, efficient and productive workplace. However, that doesn’t mean we should completely dismiss the 80s as an outdated period. There are certain ‘traditional’ working habits that will help to keep staff healthy, happy and motivated as well.

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About Jamie Mackenzie

Jamie has been with Sodexo since 2013 and is responsible for the company strategy, proposition development, brand management and communications. He brings over 15 years of business and consumer marketing experience in senior roles within blue chip organisations. Jamie is excited about the positive impact to our existing and new customer base, that our expertise and products bring.

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