What Can We Learn from Mad Men About Company Culture and Employee Engagement

dondraperVarious lessons relating to the workplace can be learned from the popular and critically-acclaimed television series ‘Mad Men’. The show focuses on the lives of a number of employees in a 1960’s era advertising agency. Even though these are fictional characters and situations, I believe that at the end of the day, they can make us relate to the way employees think, work and react to different circumstances and situations. Let me outline some of the lessons that can be learned in this respect from this series, and I’ll also attempt to link it to a few ideas for employee training as well.

Any business leader can tell you of the importance of an engaged workforce, and I think that the office culture of Mad Men highlights this in various ways. Sometimes it’s about allowing time for a relaxed and social work environment.  Part of it is periodically “loosening your tie” and having fun.  While office drinking and sleeping around (like during the episode of the Nixon election night), or the prevalence of dirty jokes, don’t have to be followed EXACTLY, “fun days” and informal social engagement between employees is important to a healthy work environment.  Having rigid timelines, hectic schedules and other stringent deadlines will not help employees to do their best. Social engagement between employees is also highly important, and this is evident in Mad Men.  Both during the employee training process and beyond, “fun” can be a positive part of new employees feeling more at home in the office, and become more productive workers.  Gamification is an increasingly popular technique which if done right can create a healthy level of competition at work (the office of Mad Men is clearly very competitive, perhaps overly so), and create a more engaged workforce.

Employee engagement partially means that employees need to feel a part of the organization, and they have to be willing to work, as well as participate in different respects. An engaged workforce is also an enthusiastic one, and it can be maintained if realistic targets are set. Getting the Jaguar or Heinz accounts are lofty goals – it’s important to aim high, but also have smaller, daily performance targets as well.  Employees also need to understand what they are supposed to do, and in such a way they will be able to do it better.

In the series, there is a lot of emphasis on the need for employees to stand up for themselves and their rights at the place of work. One issue related to this aspect, is with regards to gender discrimination. One of the characters ion this series, Peggy, has to constantly show that she is fully capable to perform as her male workmates. Thus, any employee, regardless of his gender, needs to be able to demonstrate his/her capabilities, and nobody should be left out or feel demotivated at work.

This calls for management to focus on the way employees are being treated. Therefore, it is crucial that employees are helped to do their best, and if they are not feeling motivated, they need to be assisted in various ways. Training is one of the most effective means of having employees feel more valued, and more motivated. At the end of the day, if the firm invests in employee training, it will be a win-win situation for both the worker, and the company itself. This is because if the employee sees the firm’s willingness to invest in him/her as an individual, he/she will be more motivated to improve his/her performance. Thus everybody will benefit.

If an employee feels uneasy, or not capable enough, then problems will start arising. On Peggy’s first day of work in this series, she is shown the typewriter that she will be using. If she was not capable of using it properly, then it would have been important to show her how to use it. Otherwise, she would have been bound to start worrying, and she would not have been able to complete her work. Besides, a lot of time will have been lost, production will have suffered, and ultimately, the firm will be losing money as well.

This is a small example of the importance of training. Training should never be underestimated. This is even more important in the case of technical training. Moreover, it is important to emphasize the need to provide employee training on a regular basis, and not just induction training to new staff. Even if the employee has been working at the firm for several years, there are bound to be a number of skills that he/she can be trained in to make him/her more employable, more productive and more motivated.

Reward initiatives and employee compensation, are other aspects that can be highlighted in this series. Employees should be assertive and willing to show what they think and feel. Their opinions should be valued, and even rewarded. Employees should also be challenged so as to ameliorate. Training and mentoring are key ways of achieving this goal. Mad Men can give several innovative and interesting tips and instances on how to do this.

Jason Silberman
Jason is the former Lead Author & Editor of TrainingStation Blog
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