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September 03, 2007
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Just Hit the Reset Button

If shopping malls are a cultural reflection of the society in which they exist, then the sea of chain stores, fast food courts, crowded parking lots and lovely teenagers smoking cigarettes and hanging out at the front entrance is not the representation of the America that you or I might prefer.  Nonetheless, it is what it is. 

A mall in Des Moines, Iowa; Richmond, Va.; Modesto, Calif.; or Coral Springs, Fla. has a look of sameness and a lack of diversity that transcends time and space. There may be hundreds of stores in the mall but somehow they all look alike. One mall in South Florida has, at last count, over two dozen women’s shoe stores. Granted, visiting women’s shoe stores is a cultural mandate in America, but are two dozen of them really necessary to achieve shoe immortality or to discover where the real “sole” of America lies (Sorry!)?

Another common feature of the mall besides shoe stores and food courts is that they seem to contain at least one video arcade, required by the mall gods.

Much like the way many people allow their children to be raised by default and abdication by video games and television, the video arcade takes on an image, at least to the HR Doctor, of a warehouse or cloak room where people deposit their children while they shop and then come back later to claim them. 

A quick walk through an arcade in a mall, or for that matter a conversation with many kids in America on their gaming skills, allows you to observe some of the video game industry’s impact on the development of the next generation of our society. The HR Doctor urges you to spend some thoughtful time playing video games with your child, or at least observing what goes on. Many of the games have very violent content. You “win” by killing characters in the games or by amassing the largest and most deadly collection of weapons. It’s not a matter of playing Space Aliens on an antique Atari machine from the 1980s. It’s a matter of hijacking cars and killing other people while suffering little or no apparent harm or danger to the player.

If you lose the game, all you have to do is hit the reset button and you get to start all over as if the killing in the previous game never happened.

It has long been a contention of the HR Doctor that when you expose vulnerable young people, in the prime period of their social and thought process development, to anything in excess, you set in motion dangerous trends that affect their own future as well as the futures of those around them — including relationships with coworkers and clients.

This over-exposure takes a primary form in America when we realize that the average person watches about four hours of television a day. It also results in a pattern of relationships where, at least according to a recent survey by Los Angeles-based Kelton Research, a person spends more time with their computer than they do with their spouse. 

On television we see a constant flooding of information about food and the joys of eating, interspersed (ironically), with an endless stream of diet commercials.

Our society’s over-exposure may take the form of an “I want it now” entitlement society, perhaps exemplified by the regular stream of commercials tantalizing all of us to take out loans that can be approved in less than 10 seconds online and to get into debt to buy what we want right now.

Once again, with similar irony, the very next commercial may be a get-out-of-debt credit counseling service. Hardly a day goes by at the HR Doctor’s house without a “pre-approved” credit card offer clogging my mailbox.   In life, it’s good to be pre-approved.

All of these social and societal anomalies are not healthy for the development of the next generation. Perhaps the saddest and most troubling of the anomalies is the constant stream of violence with attendant subtle messages of how to solve problems between people and how to address complicated issues. 

The ease with which violence equates to “winning” and satisfaction in the world of video games, or the correlation between the degree of extreme violence and the profitability of movies, is not only a reflection of what’s going on in the society but arguably a cause as well as an effect.

Here is a challenge to consider: Name something that you can expose a young person to hundreds of thousands of times as they are growing up without having some kind of significant and sustained effect on their behavior, their thinking and their relationships with others.

The HR Doctor is hard-pressed to come up with any single thing that you can do that often without having an impact — except hugging, praising and making expectations clear.

Some of the impacts of hyper-involvement can be absolutely wonderful, such as exposing a young child to the joys of learning and playing music, perhaps through the Suzuki Music program. It seems easier for young children to learn to play the violin or to learn to speak Mandarin Chinese or Spanish, if not English, than it is as they grow older. These are the kinds of exposures that lead to a broadening of outlook and a sense of appreciation of a wider world. 

Sitting at home for hours at a time, however, engaged in activities centered around tallying the amount of destruction you can wreak upon an opponent, or learning your behavior from role models such as Jerry Springer, Don Imus or the World Wrestling “gentlemen” represents to this author a very negative effect of the abdication of responsibility by parents.

Fast-forward 15 or so years and many of the inhabitants of the mall video arcade or the gaming consoles in their rooms now find themselves at work, perhaps for a local government. If they are not working for one, they are very likely to be the clients of a local government. This can be for very happy reasons such as when you buy your first home or visit the county clerk’s office for a marriage license.

Frequently, however, it is under unhappy circumstances such as when you are booked into a county jail or when behavior or performance trouble on the job is moving you toward termination of employment. 

The point is that in real life it is extraordinarily difficult and often not practical to just hit the reset button and find that everything has been returned to the way it was before.

We all make choices in life, but we often look for the ways to avoid or blame others for the consequences of some of those actions. This type of “I’m a victim” attitude in local government leads to a workplace arrogance and entitlement philosophy, which ends up hurting the taxpayers and clients of government service. It contributes to workplace bullying, unlawful discrimination and personal trouble at home as well as at work. It leads to personal health problems as well. 

On the other hand, it is refreshing and a real joy to be able to work with and mentor persons who come to the office with a broad world view.

These are the people who come with a sense of optimism, a sense of compelling urgency to make a difference, and a sense of being curious and ready to explore new projects and take on additional responsibilities. A typical corollary to this philosophy is a strong sense of humor.

The difference between these two types of employees is increasingly clear as the search for great employees becomes harder and harder. The differences are also affected by the behavior encountered in the workplace. It certainly is a factor of how well supervisors provide leadership, role modeling, mentoring and opportunities. The foundation received as a child while growing up plays as important a part in their success at work as any intervention after the fact by a supervisor. 

It may be possible to hit the reset button after something goes wrong at work. However, things are very much better for everyone if the reset button is pushed much earlier in the life of a growing young person than when that person is now an adult who arrives in the Human Resources department.

In HR, the reset buttons are not always plugged in!

Phil Rosenberg
The HR Doctor •


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