Fight 'Reality TV' with Reality...TV Style

One of the best parts of my job is hearing stories about Gen Y new hires entering the workplace. No matter the industry, location or size company, these stories are fittingly, like their  subjects, digital. A 1 or a 0. Big success or head-shaking, pitiable failure. Most are the latter and theories abound about who or what to blame. Parents? Colleges? I’m going with reality TV.

An HR Director used this very term to describe the effect her Gen Y new hires were having on her company. Gossiping. Sharing inappropriate, sometimes very personal, information. Creating drama. Being confrontational. ‘Survivor’, ‘The Bachelorette’, ‘American Idol’ and ‘The Office’ (that’s pseudo-reality TV, I know) are infecting the workplace. Do young new hires actually believe that the behaviors on these shows are acceptable in this reality?

Obviously, they do and why wouldn’t they?  Reality TV puts bad behavior on a pedestal. The stars of these shows are the raunchiest, most pathological members of the cast. We get a thrill watching them flaunt social rules and cultural norms. Saying and doing things that we’d all like to say or do, but don’t.

The problem is these shows’ stars, in real life, are celebrities and rake in big bucks. Fame and fortune. The line between reality TV and reality is getting blurred and bad behavior is spilling over into the workplace even unconsciously a la “Screaming (or backstabbing or gossiping or crying) worked for ______________ <fill in reality star’s name here>; maybe it’ll work for me here.”

Employers need to confront this problem early (and I mean before you hire someone) and continuously reinforce this message. Tell your new hires straight up that reality TV is NOT reality here. That the behaviors they see on those shows are not appropriate in your company and will have strong negative consequences.

Most important, you need to fight ‘reality TV’ with reality TV style. Don’t even think about using classroom training. BOOOOOORRRRIIIINNNG! And forget your typical PowerPoint-style, e-learning course. New hires will probably complete these at home while watching ‘The Biggest Loser.’ And you’ll lose.

Video is a powerful medium to get your positive messages across. Short videos of positive, productive work behaviors paint a powerful picture of how you want your new hires (all your employees for that matter) to act. Interviews with respected managers and executives talking about how successful employees act and conduct themselves make it clear what your company, and customers, expect. And speaking of customers, their voice can be a powerful influence on behavior. Publicize what they’re saying about your company, good and bad, and use it to make your case.

Recognize, reward, compensate and elevate people who demonstrate the behaviors you want. And make it very clear to offenders early what their drama, gossiping and griping are costing them in compensation and opportunity. And if that doesn’t work, vote ‘em off the island.