Stressed, unbalanced and permanently under pressure. This is how in the movie “Office Space” Peter, a programmer in a big software company, passes his days and therefore hates his bothersome job, his boss and his whole life. When seeking help in hypnosis the therapist dies suddenly and leaves him back in a state of total relaxation and casualness so that he neglects orders to do extra work at weekends, finds the courage to start dating the long admired girl next door, and surprisingly impresses some evaluation interviewers with his new coolness what ends up in unexpected promotion.
In the new position he decides to strike back against his company by installing a virus-like software to invincibly transfer money from the company to their bank account together with his just fired friends Michael and Samir. By mistake, however, the plan gets totally out of control so that they fear their uncovering and decide to secretly return the money, which – after some confusion produced by mentally handicapped Milton who has been humiliated by the boss so far and therefore sets the whole office on fire – finally brings all of them to a happy life in relief, relaxation and harmony.
But before that relaxation can ease his life, Peter is exposed to a variety of stressors (most of them having been discussed in our lesson) at the beginning of the movie. Most prominent are task-related job stressors. Peter is responsible for essential reports to fix millennium bugs in bank software and simultaneously works for eight bosses. This situation sets him under daily pressure when e.g. his boss asks him to deliver a report by the same day he didn’t even start working on by midday, or when he gets negative feedback from all his bosses for a single mistake. Together with high levels of monotony and the fact that he has almost no control on the type and amount of work he’s got to do within rigid deadlines, this situation is a constant source of psychological pressure and imbalance.
Additional stress originates from physical stressors like the need to work in small and stuffed office boxes, disturbances by loud and annoying office equipment or by getting periodic calls from colleagues and bosses, like e.g. Milton, who permanently talks crab and even calls him on the phone for that. Further stressors can be identified as demanding and privacy-hostile working-time arrangements. When he for example tries hard to escape his boss on a Friday afternoon to not risk a “last-minute” weekend shift, but badly fails, one can imagine that the view of a boring and stressful Saturday at work is everything but relaxing.
But even in his private life poor Peter is far from being relaxed and easygoing. When he for instance comes home to relax after a long day in the office, his neighbour can hear every single breath he does and they can talk to each other through the thin wall, which can be considered as a kind of social stressor within his own apartment. The same is true for his fear to talk to the waitress in his favourite lunch restaurant, who he always wants to invite for a date, but never finds enough courage to do so.
All those stressors show obvious consequences and lead to clear symptoms of strain. While no real physiological strain in form of illness or injury is shown in the movie (although I’d be quite sure that he suffers from high blood pressure!), job-related and emotional signs of strain are heavily appearing. In his job, Peter reacts to raising stressors with lack of motivation and a clearly decreased satisfaction in both his professional and private life. Emotional strain can be identified in his general burnout symptoms and e.g. in dramatic loss of patience. The latter is nicely shown at the very beginning of the movie, when he is stuck in heavy traffic and tries to be faster by permanently changing lanes to the assumed faster one – which of course turns out to be a totally wrong strategy and makes him proceed even slower than an old and handicapped pedestrian on the sidewalk.
To deal with his stressors, Peter applies several coping strategies in both problem-focussed and emotion-focussed manners. His activities to start work always late, to avoid real work as good as possible and to play computer games or surf in the internet instead, can all be classified as problem-focussed because they all are an attempt to change the stress producing conditions at work and make his daily routine more relaxed. The same is true for his regular and elongated coffee breaks with Michael and Samir, independently if there is the boss waiting or an urgent deadline approaching. On the other hand, his decision to undergo a hypnosis therapy is an emotion-focussed coping strategy, because it’s an internal process to change his attitude to stressful events, rather than changing the cause of stress itself.
However, I believe those two categories of coping strategies are somewhat flexible and interfering, since a persons’ internal attitude towards a job can become a stressor itself by e.g. setting a person under additional pressure to fulfil certain tasks under high self-expectations. However, it was the hypnosis that finally brought substantial relief and relaxation in Peters life. Due to the – unplanned – fact that he stayed trapped in his hypnotized state, he managed to approach both his work and his private life in a very relaxed and cool way, and even when initially not expected by himself and his environment, led to an increase in his motivation, joy, brought him more credit in his professional evaluation and finally facilitated a relaxed and satisfied life.
Even when the movie is clearly exaggerating at many points, the basic idea of how Peter is coping with the mentioned stressors is quite reasonable to me. In an office environment it is normally quite difficult to change tight work schedules, deadlines or an over demanding boss. For that reason, the attempt to minimize stress by e.g. keeping social contacts in coffee breaks or maintaining short resting phases during work seem to be helpful and applicable coping mechanisms.
If by hypnosis or any other method, the relaxation of internal tension seems to be most reasonable to me. In real life changes will certainly never be as dramatic as shown in the movie, but reducing internal pressure can surely help to find a way back to a relaxed and balanced life, which doubtlessly can increase overall satisfaction, joy and motivation. This can by the way partially be supported by allowing aggressions against bothersome machines like the poor office printer in the movie… I do believe that such behaviour can bring big relief sometimes!