I just finished reading a post discussing a new sit-com pilot on FOX with the working title HR. I’ll link to that article a little bit later, but for now let’s consider what this new show might mean to the world of Human Resources.
I certainly support the idea of a new comedy based around the Human Resources profession–no loss for material there. But I can’t help but wonder if HR will be short-changed. Now before you think that I’m just being a Debbie..er Donnie Downer, hear me out.
People spend the majority of their waking moments at work. Sadly, for many it’s anything but funny. It’s dull, boring, and monotonous. Only 48% of U.S. workers are satisfied with their jobs according to The Conference Board–a nonprofit research organization that has conducted the Job Satisfaction Survey since 1987.
So why are workplace comedies so popular? I think Bob Newhart explained it well, “Laughter gives us distance. It allows us to step back from an event, deal with it, and then move on.”
When weary workers arrive home to ultimately plop in front of a screen, they’re looking for something. They want to escape. They want to get distance from their day. This can be done countless ways, but workplace comedy provides the opportunity to both escape and laugh at oneself. And for many, that is more than entertainment, it approaches a type of therapy.
So I know that I won’t find many sympathetic souls to join me in questioning the idea of HR as comedy. In fact, at first blush, the profession may seem to be tailor made for it. Even HR professionals themselves would likely agree that their jobs can frequently incite laughter, or at the very least amusement. People do funny things, and at work HR is there to…document it.
However, there is a risk that the Human Resources profession could–as often occurs–be unfairly painted with a broad brush. Frequently, HR is seen as the rule maker, rule enforcer, and both the source and destination for workplace grievances. Sure, a comedy could succeed in laying bare the hilarious truths and absurdities that HR silently, compliantly deals with–and that’s a great start–but what about the genuinely positive role of HR in the workplace? How is that story told?
The Other Side Of The Coin
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to be a buzz kill here. A sit-com is not a social movement or cause. There is no requirement that it simultaneously function as a PSA either. Its goal is to maximize the number of people tuning in to laugh on a weekly basis.
But in looking back at some popular workplace comedies, yes, they were hilarious, but they also treated the professions they satirized with dignity. Think of TV series like M*A*S*H, Taxi, WKRP In Cincinnati, and Cheers. These shows produced a ton of laughs, but they also developed depth in characters, especially the lead roles. In this way, these comedies became something more for the viewers.
Of course, there are other workplace sitcoms with well developed characters, but these weren’t alone in portraying the dignity of a profession to the masses. These sit-coms were counterbalanced by a TV drama that focused on the same profession. For instance: Scrubs could be over-the-top zaney because ER was grounded; Night Court brought humor to the courtroom, while Matlock brought justice; and the motley team of detectives in Brooklyn Nine-Nine are a nice reprieve from Law & Order: XYZ.
Where Will “HR” Land?
As I said, a comedy around the HR profession should have no trouble providing hilarious stories. I will be watching the pilot episode, and I hope the show is funny and ultimately lands a series. But more importantly, I hope that this show succeeds in creating characters who portray the positive aspects of Human Resources professionals.
Yes, let’s laugh at the self-martyring employees, office pranks gone awry, and innocent, but thoughtless and inappropriate, workplace behavior. But let’s also see the real humans behind these HR roles, the ways in which they are trying to enhance the lives of employees, provide guidance on difficult personnel matters, and how they are trying to make the workplace less dull, boring, and monotonous.
If we can walk away from the pilot episode of HR with a dozen laughs and a greater appreciation for the work of Human Resources professionals, then I think FOX may have a very promising comedy in its hands. To learn more about HR, you can check out the SHRM post here. It gives you a detailed overview of the concept, the cast of characters, and a fun discussion about possible plots for this new show–it’s a fun read.
ExactHire provides hiring software for small- to medium-sized businesses that enables Human Resources professionals to spend more time with people and less time on process.