Parks and Recreation: A Workplace Sitcom for your IO, OB, or HR class

This is an old blog post originally posted on my Wordpress from 2015 and reposted here since I’m not sure how long I’ll keep the old Wordpress site going and because of a conversation on Twitter. It’s slightly updated with new clips since some of the old YouTube clips have been removed. Enjoy!

NBC should be giving me kickbacks because I’m writing about one of their programs  again. My favorite current sitcom Parks and Recreation ended this week.  Despite a ton of critical acclaim (especially from one of my favorite TV bloggers Alan Sepinwall) Parks and Recreation only has a small (yet incredibly loyal) fanbase that I’m a  happy member of. The show is beautiful and hilarious. I feel really good after I watch an episode. Most importantly it’s a terrific workplace sitcom in the tradition of Taxi, Cheers,  Newsradio, and Just Shoot Me! (there are many others that I haven’t seen, feel free to leave suggestions in the comments below). As a spin-off of the Office it makes sense that Parks and Recreation has this strong workplace component. If you want a quick overview of the characters check out this thank you note written by the Indiana Office of Tourism and Development.

I came up with an idea about 48 hours ago to put together a short list of Parks and Rec video links that a professor could use in an I/O Psych, Org. Behavior, or HR class. Maybe this’ll even make it into the SIOP Teaching wiki (do I dare to dream?)I hope these clips add a little flava to your classroom (you can also achieve flava by wearing a giant clock to class). However, this piece has ballooned way beyond my original intentions and will not only be a list of teaching resources but will also serve as a memorial to one of my favorite sitcoms. After the finale last night it ranks number 2 behind the Golden Era of the Simpsons on my favorite sitcoms list.

Women as Leaders and Mentors

The first aspect of Parks and Recreation that sets it apart from many other sitcoms is the strength of its female characters. I just don’t see a lot of great examples of female leaders in media. I have had a hard time finding great examples of female leaders to use in my classes during discussions of leadership. The two speeches  below are amazing examples of Parks and Recreation’s main character, Leslie Knope and her ability to show real leadership in the form of two campaign speeches (both since removed from YouTube so here’s a video of the speech heard round the world)

One of my good friends from graduate school did her dissertation on mentorship, a topic I had little interest in. As I’ve read more on the topic I have started to see the value of mentorship and its role in diversity and the workplace. Its rare that you get to see a clip like the ones below where two professional women (Leslie Knope and political consultant Jen Barkley in the first clip, April and Leslie in the second) discussing their careers and supporting one another. These scenes are why  Parks and Recreation passes the Bechdel test! And check out this supercut to see one of the most well-developed female friendships in all of television.

In addition to women supporting one another the clip below, shows Leslie Knope’s husband, Ben declaring his support for his wife as a leader and as an independent woman without diminishing his own masculinity. As an educator, this is the kind of message I want to send to students. That’s what makes this clip so powerful. Men and women can make choices and support one another in both family and career. If you have other examples of female leaders in media please leave them in the comments below.

Oh Jean-Ralphio, what will I do without you? (I’ll probably get run over by a Lexus)This clip is a perfect example of an applicant (in this case the zany Jean-Ralphio) lying on his resume and getting a job he’s not qualified for. If you want to show your students why selection batteries (i.e. a test on Quick Books) are important this clip is for you. This is a great way to show how a poor selection system can lead to both terrible workplace behaviors (i.e. Jean-Ralphio’s sexual harassment) and a quick exit for the low-performing employee.

Innovation

Innovation and creativity are topics I usually discuss in my Organizational Behavior class. It’s always fun to get students’ views on these topics. It might be fun to start your discussion of innovation and creativity by using these two silly cuts of Tom Haverford discussing his names for food (Zerts anyone?!) and his incredible list of bad business ideas.

How to have fun at work (AKA Organizational Citizenship Behaviors) 

Sometimes organizational citizenship behaviors are more than just helping sometimes they are embodied by Amy Poehler rapping some of the Fresh Prince’s best rhymes!

If those rhymes don’t make your workplace more enjoyable I don’t know what will. Perhaps a sing-a-long to “Time After Time” with April Ludgate, Ann Perkins, and Donna Meagle! Both of these clips show co-workers who truly get along doing things that are only tangentially related to work.

However, fans of the show know that April excels at counterproductive work behavior. As evidenced by this clip when she stops a potential meeting for her boss.

Self Concept

In my Psyc 101 courses I have a lot of fun talking about people’s different selves and self concept. We don’t get to talk a lot about this in I/O but I have discussed this topic in Organizational Behavior and it seems to strike a chord. What better way to show this than to show clips of Ron Effin Swanson as his alter-ego Duke Silver. You’re not the same person at work as you are at home and you don’t have to be.

Workplace Illness

Arguably, the greatest episode of Parks and Rec is one entitled “Flu Season” where the entire Parks department gets sick. These clips are great indicators of why you might not want to show up to work when you’re under the weather. These clips are great when talking about absenteeism and presentism at work. The first clip is a terrific example of why people come into work when they’re sick and includes a terrific line reading from Chris Pratt (aka Star Lord)

This next clip is all about taking advantage of your health insurance. If you’re not feeling well, you may need to depend on your co-workers and it might make even simple work tasks very difficult for you. My favorite part of the clip below? Watching Ron try to eat a hamburger with a hernia.

The food poisoning example below is ridiculous and amazing. Once again how much harder are everyday tasks if you’re feeling too sick to even move?

While this last clip is one I’ll never end up using in the classroom it’s one of the most oft-quoted lines in P&R history.

Self Care

Since we’ve discussed illnesses we should also talk about self care. Who better to do that then the team of Donna and Tom who created Treat Yo’ Self? Maybe the best way to handle stress is through retail therapy!

Sometimes we need someone to tell us to go eat a banana. Instructors can use the clip below to illustrate the importance of employee wellness programs. In this specific situation, Ann Perkins (resident nurse) orders Ron Swanson to eat a banana. If laughter is the best medicine watching Nick Offerman try to eat a banana could probably cure you of a hernia.

Workplace Bullying

Since most of the clips are off YouTube you can use this supercut of Jerry experiences to show workplace bullying

Functional Turnover

If you want to show your class a situation where turnover is necessary, you need to call Harris and Brett, Animal Control! They are arguably the worst employees in the history of Parks and Recreation and their marijuana influenced antics are a perfect way of a discussing drug testing and the need for the occasional firing.

Career Development

Unlike many sitcoms, Parks and Recreation is able to illustrate the concept of career development. Rarely has a sitcom had its characters go through as many career transitions as this one has. Most sitcoms try to maintain a status quo but P&R let its characters grow, change, suceed, and fail. Whether its Tom Haverford going from government employee to slick businessman, Andy Dwyer going from rock star to shoe shine boy to potential policeman to TV host Jonathan Karate

Each and every character on the show experiences a variety of career transitions.These transitions are one of the most amazing parts of the show, people change jobs and they’re always chasing a new dream. There’s a new horizon for everyone in Pawnee, Indiana.  This is a terrific message to communicate to students. I hope all my students have as many careers as they could ever desire. I hope they keep trying new things. I hope my students stay hungry, and stay foolish just like these characters.  Sometimes as students progress through their college careers, they get caught up in finding the one perfect job. Maybe there isn’t one perfect job and who knows what amazing adventures await students if they remain open to all of life’s possibilities?

Work Proximity Associates

Perhaps my favorite part of Parks and Recreation are the work proximity associations (friendships) among the characters. We spend so much time at work and yet we often don’t think about the relationships we build there. Oftentimes, we forgot how much better life is if we find the right team to make the work feel good. But that’s not just reflected in the show. Watch the clip below and you’ll see true affection between actors Chris Pratt and Aubrey Plaza. The emotions that these two actors exhibit is real and is reflected on the show. The real camaraderie among the actors is what makes the show so damn good.

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We can also see this emotion reflected in Aziz Ansari’s post about Harris Wittels who died last week. ( My condolences go out to Harris Wittels, his family, friends, and co-workers.) He died too young but left an indelible impression on his co-workers.  Aziz expresses his admiration for his friend and co-worker. We all hope to work with people we respect and highlighting these sorts of relationships in the workplace is a great message to give students. If we can change students’ attitudes about their future in the workplace we might improve their relationships on the job.

Sometimes our viewpoint of work is one of tedium but Parks and Recreation shows that the work we do and those we work with can fill our lives with happiness.  Parks and Recreation espouses that view and that’s why it ends with Leslie Knope referencing this Teddy Roosevelt quote:

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I hope you find your work worth doing. If you need a reminder of what that special kind of work looks like, fire up your Netflix account and check out Parks and Recreation. I literally can’t wait for you to enjoy it the way that I have. Farewell, Parks and Recreation I’ll catch you in reruns!

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